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Glossary Of Environmental Cleanup Terms Q Through Z

This glossary lists common terms related to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's voluntary cleanup, brownfield, and inactive hazardous waste disposal site programs.


Environmental Cleanup Terms from Q to Z
Term Description
Qualitative exposure assessment An evaluation to determine the route, intensity, frequency, and duration of actual or potential exposures of humans and/or fish and wildlife to contaminants.
Quality assurance (QA)/ quality control (QC) A system of procedures, checks, audits, and corrective actions to ensure that environmental sampling and testing are of the highest achievable quality.
Reactivity The ability of a substances to undergo change, usually by combining with another substance or by breaking down. Certain conditions, such as heat and light, may cause a substance to become more reactive. Highly reactive substances may explode.
Real-time monitoring During construction or investigation activities, continuous monitoring of air with equipment that gives immediate read-outs; that is, samples don't need to be sent to a laboratory to obtain results.
Recharge The replenishment of groundwater by infiltration of rain and snow through the soil.
Reclassification A process by which the Division of Environmental Remediation redefines the threat posed by a hazardous waste site to public health and the environment by developing and assessing site information and, based on findings and conclusions, assigning the site a new classification code (see Site Classification.
Record of Decision (ROD) A document which provides the definitive record of the cleanup alternative that will be used to remediate a hazardous waste site. The ROD is based on the Remedial Investigation / Feasibility Study and public comment.
Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites in New York State Often referred to as "the Registry," this is a compilation of all known and suspected hazardous waste sites (meeting certain criteria) in New York State.
Release Any pumping, pouring, emitting, emptying or leaching, directly or indirectly, of a contaminant so that the contaminant or any related constituent thereof, or any degradation product of such a contaminant or of a related constituent thereof, may enter the environment, or the disposal of any contaminant.
Remedial/ remediate/ remediation Refers to any procedures or strategies used to address a hazardous waste site. For example, a Remedial Investigation determines what areas of a site need to be addressed (cleaned up or remediated), a proposed remedial action plan describes remedial actions (cleanup methods or corrective actions) that have been recommended for a specific site; remediation of a site could include removing contaminated soil.
Remedial action (RA) Action taken to remove, destroy, reduce, or prevent the spread of contamination at a hazardous waste site.
Remedial construction (RC) The physical development, assembly and implementation of the alternative selected to remediate a site. For example, remedial construction could include installing a groundwater collection and treatment system. Construction follows a remedial design stage.
Remedial design (RD) The process following finalization of a Record of Decision in which plans and specifications are developed for the implementation of the alternative selected to remediate (clean up) a site.
Remedial Investigation (RI) Studies designed to gather the data necessary to determine the type (nature) and extent (location) of contamination at a hazardous waste site. The RI is usually performed at the same time as a Feasibility Study in a process known as the "RI/FS." This process is designed to:
  • Establish criteria for cleaning up the site.
  • Identify and screen cleanup alternatives for remedial action; and
  • Analyze in detail the technology and costs of the alternatives.
Remedial program DEC's efforts to investigate and clean up remedial sites. A remedial program is designed to correct releases or potential releases of hazardous materials into the environment. DEC takes several steps as part of each site's remedial program: it investigates contamination (Remedial Investigation), analyzes different methods to address threats posed by the site (Feasibility Study or Remedial Alternatives Report), proposes a cleanup plan (Proposed Remedial Action Plan), selects a final plan (Record of Decision or Decision Document), and designs and implements the plan (Remedial Design and Remedial Action).The program includes post-remedial site management.
Remediation See remedial program.
Remedy Actions taken to prevent or mitigate the release of hazardous materials into the environment at hazardous waste sites and brownfield sites. The word "remedy" is used in the sense of a "cure" or "corrective action."
Removal action Often less burdensome and extensive than remedial actions, a removal action is intended to be a quick, temporary response to a release or the threat of release of a hazardous material at a hazardous waste site. A removal action could involve removing drums of hazardous material, contaminated soil or contaminated sediment and taking these items to a proper disposal facility.
Residual / residue The quantity of a substance, its degradation products, and/or its metabolites remaining on or in the soil or groundwater. "Residual contamination" usually refers to low levels of chemicals that may be left in soil, bedrock or groundwater after cleanup of hazardous wastes.
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Federal law governing the treatment, storage, handling, disposal, and overall management of solid and hazardous wastes.
Responsible parties See Potentially responsible parties
Responsiveness summary A formal or informal written summary and response by the DEC to public questions and comments. A responsiveness summary is prepared following a public meeting about a Proposed Remedial Action Plan and may also be prepared after other public meetings. The responsiveness summary may list and respond to each question, or summarize and respond to questions in categories.
Reverse osmosis A type of pressurized filtration system in which water is forced through a semipermeable membrane that allows the passage of water but restricts many contaminants.
Riprap Large fragments of broken rock, thrown together irregularly or fitted together (as on the down-stream face of a dam). Its purpose is to prevent erosion by waves or currents and thereby preserve a surface, slope, or underlying structure. It is used for irrigation channels, river-improvement works, spillways at dams, and sea walls for shore protection.
Risk The chance of an injury, illness, or death caused by exposure to a hazard.
Risk assessment The qualitative and quantitative evaluation performed in an effort to define the risk posed to human health and/or the environment by the presence or potential presence and/or use of specific pollutants.
ROD See Record of Decision
Sampling Small amounts of air, water, or soil are obtained and tested to determine the levels of different hazardous chemicals contained in them.
Sanitary landfill See Landfill
Saturated zone A subsurface area in which all pores and cracks in rock and/or soil are filled with water.
Scrubber A device for removing unwanted gases or particles from an air stream by spraying the air with liquid (usually water) or forcing air through a series of baths. Scrubbers are often put on smoke stacks.
Sediment Soil, sand, and minerals washed by rain from land into water that accumulates on the bottom of ditches, streams, rivers and lakes.
Selected alternative (1) The cleanup alternative selected by the state as the most feasible. (2) The cleanup alternative selected for a site on the National Priorities List based on technical feasibility, permanence, reliability, and cost.
organic compounds (SVOCs)
Chemicals similar to volatile organic compounds but that do not evaporate as readily. Polynucleated aromatic hydrocarbons are semi-volatile compounds.
Site classification DEC assigns inactive hazardous waste disposal sites classifications established by state law, as follows:
  • Class 1 - A site causing or presenting an imminent danger of causing irreversible or irreparable damage to the public health or environment - immediate action required.
  • Class 2 - A site posing a significant threat to the public health or environment - action required.
  • Class 3 - Site does not present a significant threat to the public health or the environment.
  • Class 4 - A site which has been properly closed - requires continued management.
  • Class 5 - A site which has been properly closed, with no evidence of present or potential adverse impact - no further action required.

DEC assigns non-registry sites classifications as follows:

  • Active (A) - Work is underway and not yet complete.
  • Completed (C) - Remediation has been satisfactorily completed under a remedial program.
Site management The activities undertaken as the last phase of the remedial program at a site which continue after a certificate of completion (closure letter) is issued. Site management is conducted in accordance with a site management plan, which identifies and implements the institutional and engineering controls required for a site, as well as any necessary monitoring and/or operation and maintenance of the remedy
Site management plan (SMP) A document which details the institutional and engineering controls required for a site and any physical components of the remedy required to be operated, maintained and monitored to assure continued effectiveness
Sludge A semi-solid residue from any of a number of industrial processes or air or water treatment processes. Sludge can be a hazardous waste.
Slurry A watery mixture that does not contain a significant amount of dissolved materials.
Slurry Wall An underground wall designed to stop groundwater flow; constructed by digging a trench and backfilling it with a slurry rich in bentonite clay.
Soil boring A circular hole made in the ground by an auger or mechanical drill rig to collect soil samples deep in the ground. Representative samples are collected for testing to see if the subsoil has been contaminated. Sometimes these borings are converted into groundwater monitoring wells.
Soil gas Air in the spaces between soil particles. Contaminants can be trapped in this air.
Soil gas survey A method for investigating underground distributions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by looking for their vapors in the shallow soil gas. The presence of VOCs in shallow soil gas indicates the VOCs may be in the unsaturated (dry) soil or in the groundwater below the probe. This survey is used to trace the outline of a contaminant plume and help determine the best location to install groundwater monitoring wells.
Soil Vapor Extraction System (SVE) An in-situ remediation technique that applies a vacuum to a series of wells ("vapor extraction wells") and induces air flow through contaminated soil. As the air migrates through the soil, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) volatilize (evaporate) and move with the air to the extraction wells where they are removed from the subsurface. If the concentration of VOCs in the extracted air is high, the air maybe treated by a carbon adsorption system before being released to the atmosphere. In some cases, dual phase vacuum extraction is used to treat both groundwater and the overlying soil.
Solid waste Non-liquid, non-soluble materials ranging from municipal garbage to industrial wastes that contain complex, and sometimes hazardous, substances. Solid wastes also include sewage sludge, agricultural refuse, demolition wastes, and mining residues.
Solubility The amount of a substance that can be dissolved in water or (sometimes) another substance.
Solvent A substance (usually a liquid) capable of dissolving one or more other substances. For example, paint remover is a paint solvent.
Sorb To take up and hold by either adsorption or absorption.
Source area An area from which groundwater contamination is believed to originate. For example, Company A spilled a 55 gallon drum of trichloroethene (TCE) onto the ground near a loading dock at their facility. The TCE spread through the soil and contaminated groundwater around the facility. Because the contamination originated in the loading dock area, this area is the "source area." Over time, the highly concentrated TCE in the source area would continue to slowly spread through groundwater and soil, acting as a continuous "source" of groundwater contamination. Thus, the most effective way to slow down and prevent further spreading of contamination would be to address the source area.
SPDES permit (pronounced SPEEDIES) See State Pollution Discharge Elimination System
Split samples A soil sample from a hazardous waste site that is divided between the potentially responsible parties (PRPs) and the DEC or the Health Department. It functions as a system of checks and balances since both the PRPs and the DEC analyze their half of the sample. The results of the two analyses can then be compared.
Split-spoon Sample A sample of unconsolidated material taken by driving a sampling device (split spoon) into the soil ahead of a drill bit in a soil boring. A split-spoon sampler is typically driven into the soil by repeatedly dropping a weight.
Standards, criteria and guidance values (SCGs) Values that indicate acceptable or normal levels of various contaminants in the environment. These values are used to establish cleanup goals at hazardous waste sites. Depending on the chemical, the values are developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, DEC and/or the New York State Department of Health.
State Pollution Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit A permit issued by the DEC as part of the SPDES program, which is designed to maintain New York's waters with reasonable standards of purity. State law requires a SPDES permit before construction or use of an outlet or discharge pipe for wastewater discharging into surface water or groundwater, and for construction or operation of disposal systems such as sewage treatment plants.
Sump A pit or tank that catches liquid runoff for drainage or disposal.
Superfund Federal and state programs to investigate and clean up inactive hazardous waste disposal sites. The federal program gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the funding and authority to investigate, rank and con-duct or supervise cleanup of sites on the National Priority List. New York State's program gives DEC the same authority to deal with sites that do not qualify for the federal superfund list, but meet certain other qualifications.
Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) Modifications to CERCLA enacted in 1986. Sometimes referred to as the "Right to Know Law," it requires, among other things, that industry provide the government with information on the use and release of certain chemicals into the environment. This information is then made available to the public.
Surface water All water naturally open to the atmosphere. Refers to water in rivers, lakes, reservoirs, streams, impoundments, seas, estuaries, and so on.
Swale A slight depression, sometimes swampy, in the midst of generally level land.
Technical and Administrative Guidance Memorandum (TAGM) An official internal Division of Environmental Remediation document that outlines divisional policies or recommended guidance for topics such as determining cleanup goals at hazardous waste sites.
Technical Assistance Grant Program (TAG Program) A NYS grant program that provides funds for qualified citizens' groups to hire independent technical advisors to help them understand and comment on technical decisions relating to state cleanup actions at sites that pose a significant threat to public health or the environment.
Technical and Operational Guidance Series (TOGs) DEC Division of Water's documents listing water quality standards and guidance values.
Test pit A small excavation at a hazardous waste site. Investigators dig test pits to get an idea of subsurface conditions at hazardous waste sites.
Tetrachloroethene (Perchloroethene) A clear, colorless, non-flammable liquid with a characteristic odor. It is a widely used solvent, especially as a dry cleaning agent and as a degreaser.
Threshold A dose or exposure below which there is no measurable adverse effect.
Toxicity The degree of danger posed by a substance to animal or plant life.
Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure Laboratory test used to determine the mobility of organic and inorganic contaminants present in liquid, solid, and multiphase wastes. If an extract from a representative sample is shown to contain any contaminant in an amount exceeding the levels allowed by regulations, the waste is banned for land disposal unless properly treated.
Toxic substances A chemical or mixture that may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.
Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 A federal law that provides for testing of manufactured substances to determine toxic or otherwise harmful characteristics and regulation of the manufacture, distribution, use, and disposal of regulated substances.
Treatability studies (1) Tests of potential cleanup technologies conducted in a laboratory. (2) Pilot-scale type tests conducted at hazardous wastes sites to determine if a treatment technology will work for that site's particular set of environmental conditions.
Treatment, storage, and disposal facility(TSDF) A site where a hazardous substance is treated, stored or disposed of. TSDF facilities are regulated by EPA and states under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
1,1,1-Trichloroethane (1,1,1 TCA) Colorless, non-flammable, man-made liquid solvent used as a degreaser, a dry-cleaning agent, and a propellant.
Trichloroethene or Trichloroethylene (TCE) A colorless, man-made liquid used primarily as a solvent for removing grease from metal. It has a variety of other uses such as a dry cleaning solvent and in the production of other chemicals. It generally gets into drinking water by improper waste disposal.
Unconfined aquifer An aquifer in which water is not contained by an impermeable layer of rock or soil. The water level in the aquifer may rise or fall according to the volume of water stored, which varies according to seasonal cycles of natural recharge.
Unsaturated zone The area of soil and rock between the land surface and the water table. The spaces between soil particles (pore spaces) in the unsaturated zone contain mostly air, but water occurs there as soil moisture.
Vadose zone The underground zone between the land surface and the water table; essentially the unsaturated zone.
Vapor The gas given off by a solid or liquid substance at ordinary temperatures.
Vapor Intrusion The process where volatile chemicals move frm a subsurface source into the indoor air of overlying or adjacent buildings.
Vinyl chloride A colorless gas used in the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride and other resins, and as a chemical intermediate and as an industrial solvent. Vinyl chloride is a carcinogen.
Viscosity The property of a fluid describing its resistance to flow.
Volatile Description of any substance that evaporates easily.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) Carbon-containing chemicals which readily evaporate (cleaning solvents, gasoline, etc.). Many common industrial chemicals are VOCs, including trichloroethene, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, and tetrachloroethene.
Waste Any garbage, refuse, sludge from a waste water treatment plant, water supply treatment plant, or air pollution control facility, and other discarded material, including solid, liquid, semi-solid, or contained gaseous material resulting from industrial, commercial, mining, and agricultural operations or from community activities, and source, special nuclear or by-product material.
Water-bearing zone The area underground in which pores and cracks in rock and/or soil are normally filled with water. Therefore, if a well is drilled into this area, water can be drawn out on a regular basis.
Water table The level of groundwater; the boundary between the unsaturated zone and the saturated zone.The water-table generally reflects surface topography and varies with changes in land surface elevations.
Weir (1) A wall or plate in a open channel to measure the flow of water. (2) A wall or obstruction used to control flow from settling tanks, clarifiers, or a drainage system to ensure a uniform flow rate.
Wetlands An area that is regularly saturated by surface water or groundwater. Examples of wetlands include swamps, bogs, fens, marshes, and estuaries.

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