May 14, 2020

Environmental Field Work Impacted by COVID-19

As COVID-19 spreads throughout the United States, EPA has released multiple memos on how the agency will operate during the pandemic. In April, we reported on how the agency has relaxed enforcement of certain regulatory obligations, such as routine monitoring, reporting, sampling, training, etc. More recently, the agency has made available information on how site field work decisions should be made based on COVID-19 factors, how public meetings required under the RCRA program should be conducted, how the Office of Land and Emergency Management will continue to carry out its primary mission, and how waste management in general is affected by COVID-19. This article discusses the first of these new memos.

Superfund, RCRA, TSCA, and the UST program all have provisions requiring cleanup and remediation of current and/or historical environmental contamination. EPA is often the lead agency or has direct oversight of the work being performed during these actions. The agency will make decisions about continuing onsite activities during the pandemic on a case-by-case basis consistent with two main priorities: 1) protecting the health and safety of the public, staff, and cleanup personnel; and 2) maintaining the ability to prevent and respond to environmental emergencies.

EPA regions will periodically evaluate the status of ongoing response work based on the possible impacts of COVID-19, particularly where there is a federal, state, tribal, or local restriction due to the pandemic. Factors that will be considered for continuing or suspending field work include:

Not all work performed during a cleanup effort is performed in the field. Report writing, modeling, testing, and maintaining financial assurance can all be performed remotely. However, because of the national scope of COVID-19, even these operations may be interrupted. If COVID-19 restrictions may delay the performance of either field or non-field related work, affected parties should consult the applicable enforcement instruments and EPA project manager for direction.


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This document addresses issues of a general nature related to the federal RCRA regulations. Persons evaluating specific circumstances dealing with the RCRA regulations should review state and local laws and regulations, which may be more stringent than federal requirements. In addition, the assistance of a qualified professional should be enlisted to address any site-specific circumstances.