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KEYWORDS:community involvement, environment FUTURESITE; pollution; public participation; risk communication; Superfund.
This article reports a game-simulation that was developed to assist a citizens advisory board in making recommendations for the environmental cleanup of a former nuclear weapons production facility that had badly contaminated its surroundings. Involving the general public early in the environmental decision-making process is an important and welcome departure from the traditional "decide-announce-defend" paradigm of governmental action, and it is gaining ground. Even with the best intentions, however, it is difficult to obtain informed, useful public participation when the issues facing decision-makers are highly technical and complex. Recognizing this problem, some observers advocate a circumscribed role for the public in environmental decision-making (e.g., Breyer, 1993), but others recommend taking up the challenge to make the issues more manageable (Morans & Emrich, 1981; Straus, 1981). The game-simulation FUTURESITE addresses the need to communicate complex technical information to the general public and to achieve the cooperative working relationships among members of the public and government officials that form the basis for reaching consensus.
Several pollution control games and simulations have been reported, but they do not focus on the cleanup problems that dominate environmental expenditures. Furthermore, these exercises are oriented to research and educational goals and are not designed to be an integral part of public involvement in actual decisions (e.g., Baba, Uchida, & Sawaragi, 1984; Exline & Larkin, 1979; Kirts, 1991; Maidment & Bronstein, 1973; Sharda, Willett, & Chiang, 1988; Susskind, 1994).(1) FUTURESITE was a practical solution to a practical problem. Although its influence on the decision-making process cannot be clearly disaggregated from other simultaneous public outreach activities, it demonstrates that a game-simulation will help citizens to deal realistically with conflicting goals and limited resources. A game-simulation also can be an effective tool for involving and empowering the public in critical health and safety decisions.
The Site and the SSAB Process
Between 1952 and 1989, the Fernald Environmental Management Project near Cincinnati produced high-purity uranium metal for the U.S. Department of Energy's Nuclear Weapons Complex and discharged an estimated 1,000,000 pounds of uranium into the environment, most of it in the form of airborne dust emissions that settled on the soil around the plant (Centers for Disease Control, 1993; U.S. Department of Energy, 1994). The uranium and other wastes generated by the production process also severely contaminated the large drinking water aquifer that flows under the plant. The contamination at Fernald is being cleaned up under the Superfund statute, which calls for remedies with very low residual (i.e., postcleanup) risk to human health and the environment.(2)
Citizens who live near Fernald have aggressively pressed for cleanup since 1984, and in recent years the site management has actively sought the input of the public in remedial decisions through a variety of outreach programs, including regular public meetings, educational programs, direct contacts with key stakeholders,(3) a liaison program, and an extensive public reading room. In 1993, the Department of Energy established a site-specific advisory board,(4) named the Fernald Citizens Task Force, to make consensus recommendations to it and its regulators--the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency--concerning the future use of the site, a location for waste disposal, residual risk levels, and remediation priorities.
To ensure a diverse task force membership, the Department of Energy hired a distinguished former federal official to act as an independent convener. After several months of research and interviews, she recommended 16 individuals who represented the site's major stakeholders: citizen activists, labor leaders, local government officials, site neighbors, educators, health professionals, business people, and ex officio, senior site officials from the Department of Energy and its regulators. The Department of Energy accepted these recommendations, appointed the task force, and provided funding for an independent technical consultant. The authors of this article are, respectively, the chair and technical consultant of the task force.
The Technical Problem
At Fernald, large volumes of both soil and groundwater are contaminated with chemicals and radionuclides. Uranium makes up the bulk of the contamination, and, with few exceptions, removal of the uranium contamination will include all other contaminants. Unfortunately, existing technology does not provide much relief from uranium contamination because, being elemental, it cannot be broken down into less dangerous components by incineration or chemical reaction. Thus the remediation of uranium is a function of limiting exposure by rearranging it into a safer configuration.
At Fernald, the fundamental cleanup issue can therefore be simplified as the following: How much uranium-contaminated soil must be removed from the site to make it acceptably safe to persons on or near it?(5) The answer, in turn, depends on three variables.
First, the relationship of soil contamination to persons who use the surface of the land is direct: The more contact one has with the soil and the more contaminated the soil is, the greater the health risk. The difficulty lies in deciding on the acceptable risk level. Because naturally occurring uranium is ubiquitous in the environment and other risks of all kinds abound in our lives, the baseline risk to persons on or near the facility begins well above zero. Moreover, the law requires achievement of very low residual risk levels, between 1 x [10.sup.4] and 1 x [10.sup.-6] excess individual risk of cancer …