EPA Issues Interim Guidance on Site Field Work Decisions Due to Impacts of COVID-19

April 14, 2020Alerts

On April 10, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued interim guidance for decisions regarding whether field activities under EPA-lead cleanup programs such as Superfund and RCRA corrective action should continue or be suspended. The guidance can be found here. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis considering EPA’s focus on protecting the health and safety of the public, EPA staff and the staff of entities performing cleanups while maintaining EPA’s ability to prevent and respond to environmental emergencies and situations posing a risk to public health or the environment. EPA notes that decisions to pause work obligations do not supersede or amend enforcement instruments and encourages regulated entities to invoke force majeure or pursue scheduling flexibility otherwise provided in their enforcement instrument. See our prior post on force majeure.

The guidance notes that in some cases, on-site response actions may start or continue where there are no federal, state, tribal or local health declarations that prohibit or discourage such activities and there is a threat of imminent acute or direct human exposures. These response actions may include those necessary to prevent ongoing exposures such as vapor intrusion or to replace contaminated drinking water. (See our PFAS and Emerging Contaminants blog.) Work that may be more strongly considered for suspension includes periodic monitoring, routine sampling, field sampling for an RI/FS or RFI, or active remediation of stable conditions.

Work that can be performed remotely should continue. Sites where a decision is made to suspend response actions should be closely monitored by the EPA regions and should have a plan for resuming fieldwork when appropriate.