Creation of a System for Assessing and Communicating the Risks Associated with Terrestrial Chemical Spills
Bryant, Derek Lloyd
Adequately preparing for and responding to potential terrestrial (land-based) chemical spills are critical to the protection of human health and ecology. In this research, an environmental risk management system is developed to support analysis and facilitate decision-making for terrestrial chemical spill planning and response. This system is designed to serve a variety of stakeholders, including managers and policy-makers, who would benefit from generating screening level environmental risk assessments without requiring a technical background or collection of detailed environmental and chemical data. Areas of potential application include transportation routing, industrial zoning, environmental regulatory compliance and enforcement, spill response, and security planning. The system leverages geographic information systems (GIS) technology to assess and delineate the immediate threat to human and environmental receptors from terrestrial chemical spills. It characterizes a spilled chemical’s ability to immediately impact human health, groundwater, surface water, and soil resources, and incorporates these four receptors into an overall measure of terrestrial chemical risk. The methodology driving this characterization is a risk index model, which is supported by a comprehensive database containing information on chemical properties and environmental resources. This model differs from previous environmental risk indices in that it: 1) accounts for attributes of the local environment and contaminant in question, 2) requires almost no data input or scientific knowledge from the user, 3) creates an easy-to-understand visual output that supports the decision process, and 4) has the potential for transferability to sites throughout the United States. In establishing “proof of concept”, the system is applied to a case study of a representative area in the United States. The potential terrestrial spill of several different chemicals is considered across all areas of Geauga County in the State of Ohio. Utilizing the system, risk assessment results are generated and visually displayed. The implications of these results are discussed in terms of how they impact decisions involving transportation routing, industrial zoning, environmental regulatory compliance and enforcement, spill response, and security planning.