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Glossary Of Environmental Cleanup Terms A Through F

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 A to F
Term Description
Acid Chemicals that have a high concentration of hydrogen ions. Acids have a pH of less than 7 on a scale of 0 to 14. Strong acids, closer to 0 on the scale are corrosive, and weak acids, with a pH closer to 7, are not. An acid is the opposite of a base.
Activated carbon A highly absorbent form of carbon, formed primarily from coal and lignite, that absorbs organic compounds. "Activated carbon treatment systems" are used to remove odors and toxic substances from liquid or gaseous emissions.
Acute effects Health effects that have a rapid onset, a short course, and pronounced symptoms and termination. A reaction that occurs shortly after exposure to a chemical.
Acute exposure A single, short contact with a chemical. It may last a few seconds or a few hours, but no longer than a day.
Administrative order on consent See Consent order
Administrative record Part of a site's Record of Decision (ROD) which lists and defines documents used in the development of DEC's decision about selection of a remedial action.
Adsorb/ Adsorption Molecules of gas, liquid, or dissolved solids that adhere or "stick" to the surfaces they come in contact with. Some chemicals adsorb strongly to soil particles. This differs from absorb: "to take up or make part of the existing whole," like a sponge absorbs (sucks up) water.
Air sparging Injecting air or oxygen into an aquifer to strip or flush volatile contaminants as air bubbles up through the ground water. The air is captured by a vapor extraction system. (See soil vapor extraction system).
Air stripping A treatment system that removes or "strips" volatile organic compounds from contaminated groundwater or surface water by forcing an airstream through the water and causing the compounds to evaporate.
Ambient The surrounding environment. Ambient usually refers to the surrounding outdoor air, water, or land.
Anaerobic Absence of oxygen. Some organisms, such as certain soil bacteria, thrive under anaerobic conditions in soil.
Analyte A chemical being tested for in a laboratory test.
Arsenic An element used in wood preservatives and pesticides.
Applicable or Relevant
and Appropriate Requirements
Any state or federal statute that pertains to protection of human life and the environment in addressing specific conditions or use of a particular cleanup technology at a Superfund site.
Aquifer An underground water-bearing formation of soil or rock commonly used for drinking water.
Aquifer recharge See Recharge
Aquitard Geological formation that may contain groundwater but significant quantities of water will not move through it under normal conditions. May function as a confining layer.
Area of Concern or "AOC" Any existing or former location at a site where contaminants are known or suspected to have been discharged which is considered a source area. These include locations where contaminants were generated, manufactured, refined, transported, stored, handled, treated, disposed or where they have or may have migrated.
Attenuation See Natural attenuation
Availability session A scheduled gathering of program staff and members of the public in a casual setting, with or without a formal presentation or agenda but usually focusing on a specific aspect of a site's remedial process.
Background level
The concentration of a substance in air, water, or soil that occurs naturally or is the result of human activities not related to a hazardous waste site; conditions in the area near, but not affected by, a hazardous waste site. "Background samples" are often taken to compare an area's natural or pre-existing conditions to conditions at a hazardous waste site.
Barrier protection layer A layer of soil covering a geomembrane designed to protect the geomembrane from wear and tear caused by the weather, animals, etc.
Base Bases are chemicals that have a large concentration of hydroxyl (one hydrogen plus one oxygen atom) ions. A basic compound has a pH of more than 7 on a scale of 0 to 14. Strong bases, pH closer to 14, are corrosive. Weak bases, with pH closer to 7, are not. An acid can neutralize the effects of a base.
Bedrock The continuous solid rock of the continental crust. Bedrock can be found anywhere from the surface to hundreds of feet below ground. Bedrock can be solid or it can contain numerous cracks (fractures). Groundwater and chemicals can move through fractured bedrock.
Benthic bottom-dwelling; usually refers to aquatic life living at the bottom of a river, stream or lake.
Bentonite A very fine clay, expansible when moist, commonly used to provide a tight seal around a monitoring well. Also used in slurry walls.
Bioaccumulation The build-up of toxic materials in body tissues of fish and animals.
Bioavailability The extent to which a substance can readily be absorbed by an organism or is ready to interact in an organism's metabolism.
Bioremediation The degradation (breakdown) or stabilization of contaminants in the environment by microorganisms. There are many remedial techniques that use microorganisms, such as bacteria, to break down contaminants. Any of these techniques may be called bioremediation.
Biota All the living organisms in a given area.
Borehole Hole made with drilling equipment.
Boring See Soil boring
Brownfield Any real property, the redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a contaminant. A contaminant may be hazardous waste and/or petroleum. Brownfield sites can pose environmental, legal, and financial burdens on a community and its taxpayers.
Cap See Landfill cap/ Landfill cover system
Carbon adsorption A process by which contaminants are removed from groundwater or surface water when the water is forced through tanks containing activated carbon, a material that attracts the contaminants.
Carbon tetrachloride A colorless, nonflammable liquid with a characteristic odor used as a solvent and in the synthesis of fluorocarbons.
Carcinogen A cancer-producing substance.
Catch basin or catch-basin 1) A structure used to catch sediments for contaminant retention, often on a stream. 2) A cistern or vault at the point where a pipe from inside a factory or a street gutter discharges into a sewer, to catch bulky matters which would not pass readily through the sewer.
Carcinogenic Capable of producing or inciting cancer.
CERCLA See Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation, and Liability Act
Chlorinated hydrocarbons Chemicals containing only chlorine, carbon, and hydrogen. These include some pesticides, such as DDT and heptachlor, and solvents such as trichloroethene and chloroform.
Chlorinated organics See Chlorinated Solvents
Chlorinated solvents A group of organic (carbon-containing) solvents which contain chlorine as a part of their molecular structure. Chlorinated solvents are widely used for metal parts cleaning, dry cleaning, chemical processing, and photographic film making. Common chlorinated solvents include chloroform, methylene chloride, carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethene, tetrachloroethene, and 1,1,1-trichloroethane.
Chloroform A clear, colorless liquid with a characteristic odor. Chloroform was one of the earliest general anesthetics but this use was abandoned due to toxic effects. Now it is widely used as a solvent in the production of lacquer, pharmaceuticals, fluorocarbons, and plastics.
Chronic effects A long-term or repeated reaction that occurs after an exposure to a chemical. Chronic effects are the opposite of acute effects.
Citizen participation (CP) A process to inform and involve citizens in the decision-making process during identification, assessment and remediation of inactive hazardous waste sites. This process helps to assure that sound decisions are made from environmental, human health, economic, social and political perspectives.
Citizen participation plan A document that describes the site-specific citizen participation activities that will take place to complement the investigation and clean-up activities at a hazardous waste site. A plan may be updated or altered as public interest or the technical aspects of the program change.
Citizen participation record A series of documents prepared at a major remedial stage which describes the citizen participation activities required at that stage. A CP record also directs a scoping process to determine if additional citizen participation activities are appropriate and feasible.
Citizen participation specialist A DEC staff member within the Office of Communication Services who provides guidance, evaluation and assistance to help the project manager carry out the site-specific citizen participation program.
Classification See Site classification
Cleanup Action taken to respond to a hazardous material release or threat of a release that could affect humans and/or the environment. Also called remedial action, removal action, response action, or corrective action.
Combustion Burning.
Comment period A time period for the public to review and comment on various documents and Division of Environmental Remediation (DER) actions. For example, a 30 day comment period is provided when DER issues a Proposed Remedial Action Plan (PRAP).
Community relations The Environmental Protection Agency's program to inform and involve the public in the Superfund process and respond to community concerns.
Community relations plan
The formal plan for Environmental Protection Agency community relations activities at a Superfund site. The CRP is designed to ensure citizen opportunities for public involvement and allow citizens the opportunity to learn about a site.
Comprehensive Environmental
Response, Compensation,
and Liability Act
of 1980 (CERCLA)
A Federal law passed in 1980 and modified in 1986 by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act. CERCLA created a special tax that goes into a trust fund, commonly known as Superfund, to investigate and clean up abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. Under the pro-gram, EPA can either pay for site cleanup when parties responsible for the contamination cannot be located or are unwilling or unable to perform the work; or take legal action to force parties responsible for site contamination to clean up the site or reimburse the government for the cost of cleanup.
Cone of depression/
Cone of influence
A depression in the water table that develops around a pumped well.
Concentration The amount of one substance in another substance. For example, a concentration of 10 milligrams per liter means there are 10 milligrams of a substance in 1 liter of another substance.
Conceptual design The general outline of planned actions that will be taken to address a hazardous waste site, such as building a landfill cover system. The conceptual design is incorporated into detailed design documents during Remedial Design.
Confining layer
(confining bed)
A layer or bed of impermeable or distinctly less permeable material lying below or above one or more aquifers. When the confining layer lies between two aquifers, it keeps water from the upper aquifer separated, or confined, from water in the lower aquifer.
Consent order A legal and enforceable negotiated agreement between DEC and responsible parties where responsible parties agree to undertake investigation and cleanup or pay for the costs of investigation and cleanup work at a site. Also called an "Order on Consent."
Construction and demolition
(C&D) debris/ waste
Waste building materials, dredging materials, tree stumps, and rubble resulting from construction, remodeling, repair, and demolition of homes, commercial buildings and other structures and pavements.
Contact list Names, addresses emails, and/or telephone numbers of individuals, groups, organizations and media interested and/or affected by a particular hazardous waste site.
Contaminant Hazardous waste and/or petroleum as such terms are defined in 6 NYCRR 375-1.2(g)
Contamination The presence of a contaminant in any environmental media, including soil, surface water, sediment, groundwater, soil vapor, ambient air or indoor air.
Contaminant mass The volume and area of contaminants in a polluted material, such as soil or groundwater. The goal of waste cleanup is to reduce the contaminant mass (e.g., reduce the amount and area of contaminants in soil).
Contaminant plume see Plume
Contract Laboratory
Program (CLP)
The Environmental Protection Agency's program that approves laboratories that provide chemical testing services of known quality using a wide range of standard methods and maintaining consistent quality control.
Corrosive Having the power to degrade or wear away a material by chemical action.
Cost recovery A legal process where potentially responsible parties can be required to pay back the federal or state government for money spent on cleanup actions. Cost recovery actions usually begin after the government has completed a site cleanup.
Cover material (1) Soil used to cover compacted solid waste in a sanitary landfill. (2) See Landfill cap/landfill cover system.
Cover system See Landfill cap/landfill cover system
Deed notification A notice placed on a property deed to alert future buyers about contamination on a property.
Deed restriction An encumbrance on a property that controls the use of the property. The restriction runs with the land in favor of the State and contains the use restriction(s) and/or prohibition(s) on the use of land in a manner inconsistent with engineering controls.
Degradation products
(Daughter products)
Chlorinated solvents, when released in the environment, will naturally degrade by microbial and physical processes in soil and/or groundwater into similar compounds that have fewer chlorine atoms. These new compounds are known as degradation products. For instance, tetrachloroethylene, which has 4 chlorine atoms, degrades to trichloroethylene, which has only 3 chloride atoms.
Degreaser Chemical used to remove grease, usually from metal or plastic.
Dense Non-Aqueous
Phase Liquid(DNAPL)
Liquids denser than water that represent a special class of soil and groundwater contaminants with unique behavior and problems. Since they are denser than water, DNAPLs can sink deeper into the ground and can act as a continuing source of groundwater contamination, as small amounts of the material can dissolve in groundwater.
Density The mass of a substance per unit of volume. Substances with a density greater than 1.0 are denser than water; substances with a density less than 1.0 are lighter than water.
Dermal By or through the skin. "Dermal contact" refers to a substance coming in contact with skin.
Desorption The opposite of adsorption or absorption; molecules detach from a surface (such as soil particles).
Detection limit The lowest concentration of a chemical that can be reliably measured by a testing method.
Dewater (1) Remove a portion of the water in soil or sludge to dry the soil/ sludge so it can be treated or disposed of. (2) Remove or drain the water from a tank or trench.
1,1-Dichloroethane (1,1-DCA)
1,2-Dichloroethane (1,2-DCA)
Chemicals with similar molecular structures used to produce a variety of consumer and industrial products, such as specialty chemicals and cleaning products. These chemicals are sometime found at hazardous waste sites as the degradation products of other chemicals, such as trichloroethane.
Dichloroethene (DCE) or
and 1,2-Dichloroethene
Chemicals with similar molecular structures used to make specialty chemicals and pharmaceuticals. These chemicals are sometimes found at hazardous waste sites as the degradation products of trichloroethene.
Diffusion Movement of a substance from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration. Diffusion can also refer molecules of gas or vapor moving from a source, such as a bottle, to a receptor, such as a human nose.
Division of
Environmental Remediation
A major unit within the DEC created to manage the hazardous waste site remedial program from site discovery through Operation and Maintenance activities. Staff include: engineers, geologists, chemists, attorneys, citizen participation specialists, environmental program specialists and support staff.
Document Repository Typically, a DEC regional office and/or a public building, such as a library, near a particular site, at which documents related to remedial and citizen participation activities at the site are available for public review. The public can also receive site information via email by signing up through the GovDelivery service.
Downgradient The direction that groundwater flows; similar to "downstream" for surface water.
Drainage Swale See Swale
Drawdown The vertical drop in the height between the water level in a well prior to pumping, and the water level in the well during pumping.
Drum A metal or plastic container, usually with a 55 gallon capacity.
Drywell A hole dug to a depth above the water table so that its bottom and sides are typically dry except when receiving fluid discharged from an industrial process. Is often filled with gravel or is reinforced with concrete blocks to form a chamber.
Dual-Phase Vacuum
Extraction System
A treatment system designed to remove both contaminated groundwater and soil gas from a common groundwater well or wells. By removing ground-water, the system lowers the groundwater level around the well, allowing a strong vacuum to be applied to remove contaminated soil gas. The contaminated water and air can then be removed or treated and released.
Duplicate Sample A sample taken at the same location as another sample. Both samples are tested for chemicals. Taking a duplicate sample helps to ensure that testing procedures are precise: because the samples were taken in the same location, the samples should contain similar levels of chemicals.
Effluent Treated or untreated wastewater that flows out of a treatment plant, sewer, or industrial outfall. Generally refers to wastes discharged to surface waters.
Enforcement DEC's efforts, through legal action if necessary, to compel a responsible party to perform or pay for site remedial activities.
engineering controls
Any physical barrier or method employed to actively or passively contain, stabilize, or monitor contamination, restrict the movement of contamination to ensure the long-term effectiveness of a remedial program, or eliminate potential exposure pathways to contamination. Engineering controls include, but are not limited to, pavement, caps, covers, subsurface barriers, vapor barriers, slurry walls, building ventilation systems, fences, access controls, provision of alternative water supplies via connection to an existing public water supply, adding treatment technologies to such water supplies, and installing filtration devices on private water supplies.
Environmental Easement An interest in real property, created under and subject to the provisions of ECL Article 71, Title 36 which contains a use restriction and/or a prohibition on the use of land in a manner inconsistent with engineering controls, provided that no such easement shall be acquired or held by the state which is subject to the provisions of article 14 of the constitution of the State of New York.
Environmental Notice Bulletin A weekly DEC publication used to announce a variety of DEC activities. The ENB announces proposals to delist or change the site classification of hazardous waste sites, as well as voluntary cleanup agreements.
Epidemiology The study of diseases as they affect population, including the distribution of disease, the factors (e.g., age, sex, occupation) that influences this distribution; and the application of this study to control health problems.
EP Tox Test See Extraction Procedure
Explanation of Significant
A document prepared by the Division of Environmental Remediation explaining changes to a cleanup plan called for in a Record of Decision and the reason for those changes.
Explosive limits The amounts of vapor in air which form explosive mixtures. Explosive limits are expressed as "lower explosive limits" and "upper explosive limits;" these give the range of vapor concentrations in air that will explode if heat is added. Explosive limits are expressed as percent of vapor in air.
Exposure Contact. No matter how dangerous a substance or activity, without exposure, it cannot harm you.
Exposure routes A means by which a toxic substance can come into contact with or enter the body. The three major exposure routes are: inhalation (breathing), direct contact (touching), and ingestion (swallowing).
Ex-situ Outside the original location. For example, contaminated that soil is dug up and removed before it is treated is being treated ex-situ. This is the opposite of in-situ.
Exceedance Violation of the pollutant levels permitted by environmental protection standards.
Extraction procedure
(EP Tox Test)
Determining toxicity by a procedure which simulates leaching; if a certain concentration of a toxic substance can be leached from a waste, that waste is considered hazardous, i.e., "EP Toxic."
Extraction well A discharge well used to remove contaminated groundwater or air.
Feasibility Study (FS) A report examining the pros and cons of alternative methods to address contamination at a hazardous waste site. The feasibility study usually recommends a certain alternative. The FS is usually based on the results of a remedial investigation; together, they are commonly referred to as the RI/FS.
Federal Register A weekly publication covering federal government activity including rule making, proposed plans, response to public comments, etc..
Fill Man-made deposits of natural soils or rock products and waste materials.
Final Engineering Report (FER) A report prepared to document implementation of the complete remedial program, including the necessary certifications for it. The scope of the FER will vary to reflect the manner in which the remedial program was implemented for the entire site.
Fish and wildlife
impact analysis
Part of a remedial investigation that looks at the effects or potential effects of contamination on fish and wildlife.
Flammable Catches on fire easily and burns rapidly.
Flash point The lowest temperature at which the vapor of a substance will catch on fire, even momentarily, if heat is applied. Provides an indication of how flammable a substance is.

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