ERDC researcher impacts international contaminated sediment standards

Dr. Burton Suedel, a research biologist with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Environmental Laboratory, is recognized by ASTM International for leading a diverse group of individuals from public companies, trade groups, government agencies and environmental consultancies to develop a guide for risk-based corrective action for contaminated sediment sites. The ASTM International’s Distinguished Service Award was bestowed upon Suedel Oct. 28, 2020.

Dr. Burton Suedel, a research biologist with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Environmental Laboratory, is recognized by ASTM International for leading a diverse group of individuals from public companies, trade groups, government agencies and environmental consultancies to develop a guide for risk-based corrective action for contaminated sediment sites. The ASTM International’s Distinguished Service Award was bestowed upon Suedel Oct. 28, 2020.

VICKSBURG, Miss. ― When Dr. Burton Suedel, a research biologist with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Environmental Laboratory (ERDC-EL), heard about the ASTM International project to develop a guide for risk-based corrective action for contaminated sediment sites, he saw it as an opportunity for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to inform international contaminated sediment standards and policy.

Suedel was recognized with ASTM’s Distinguished Service Award Oct. 28, 2020, for leading this diverse group of individuals from public companies, trade groups, government agencies and environmental consultancies and bringing the four-year project to completion.

“I was completely caught off guard and humbled by being recognized by ASTM,” Suedel said. “The work itself is its own reward, and if someone recognizes your effort, that’s the icing on the cake. We started with over a hundred people four years ago and ended up with a smaller group. I was one of two people who took a leadership role in bringing the guide to publication.”

The management of contaminated sediments is a national and an international issue in both urban and rural water bodies. Until now, there was no clear and comprehensive standard guide that was easily referenced and universally accepted for sediment corrective action in both small and mega sediment sites.

“Contaminated dredged material management costs USACE hundreds of millions of dollars every year; consequently, the development of this standard guide has significant implications for how these sediments are managed,” Suedel said. “The improved management of contaminated dredged sediment will save the USACE millions of dollars in dredging management costs in the future.”

“It takes a leader to bring a diverse group like this to a consensus on international standards,” said Dr. Beth Fleming, deputy director of ERDC. “Burton demonstrated how effective he is in this and other roles on behalf of ERDC and USACE.”

The funding for Suedel’s effort came from the Dredging Operations Technical Support (DOTS) program. “This is well within the DOTS wheelhouse,” he said. “The guide was about developing an applicable and consistent standard of practice for managing contaminated sediment in a manner that is broadly protective of the environment. DOTS supports subject matter experts and provides technical expertise on dredging and navigation to help inform policy.”

Suedel has represented USACE in the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure (PIANC) as well; he is the principle U.S. representative to PIANC’s Environmental Commission.

Suedel’s history and experience with corrective action standards made him a likely candidate for a leadership role in the ASTM effort; he worked on another ASTM project while employed in an environmental consulting capacity throughout the mid-to-late 1990s. The current guide built on those previous standards.

“The starting point for the current guide is risk-based corrective action, or RBCA,” he said, pronouncing the acronym as “Rebecca.” “Risk assessment, which is its own discipline, risk management and corrective action are the underlying framework of RBCA. All RBCA standards have to have those three attributes.”

He described how ERDC-EL’s Dr. Paul Schroeder played a significant role in the ASTM project as well, as Schroeder had a lot of contaminated sediment management experience from an engineering perspective. “Paul has 30 plus years of experience there, and that expertise came in handy,” Suedel said. “Paul played a meaningful role throughout the four years, which says a lot about his commitment to the cause.”

Thinking about the project within the context of ERDC’s relationships with other organizations, Suedel said, “Our expertise in the area of assessing and managing contaminated sediment risks enhances our capabilities to support USACE field operations and expands collaboration opportunities with our cooperative research and development agreement partners.”


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