For more than two decades, Shelly Wilson has been working with the Savannah River Site as part of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. For the past seven years, she has worked as DHEC Federal Facilities Liaison. She is the go-between who works to ensure that her agency and the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management office are cooperating. In her role, Wilson ensures that South Carolina’s environmental standards and project deadlines are met. She is the one to “apply pressure” to get things done.
Q: What is DHEC’s role at SRS?
A: DHEC regulates the Savannah River Site in a wide variety of ways. We oversee permits that govern air, water, waste water and hazardous waste. We oversee the site to make sure they are complying with today’s environmental standards.
The other main thing we do is focus on cleanup from the past. Years ago, when we didn’t have today’s environmental standards, for example, it was very typical to dispose of waste in a pond. For many years, SRS involved in Cold War ... there was a buildup of legacy waste. A lot of what we do is address legacy environment liabilities.
Also, we provide independent oversight. We take our own separate samples of environmental media. Air, water sediment and milk around the site.
Q: What impact did American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds have at SRS?
A: We were fortunate in that we had in place an excellent cleanup team. We had invested a lot in having a team in place since 1993. We were making a pretty impressive rate of progress. ARRA funds just added fuel to that car.
(In 1993, DHEC, DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency signed a Federal Facilities Agreement to address cleanup decisions for soil and groundwater. Wilson credits this agreement as a turning point in SRS’ history.)
Q: How important to DHEC were the high-level liquid waste tank closures last year?
A: The closure of Tanks 18 and 19 last year, that was huge. That was monumental for DHEC. When you look at the entire site, we have made significant progress on the soil and the groundwater. The low-level waste ... that has been addressed. Another legacy stockpile was the TRU (Transuranic waste) – about 86 percent of that has gone to WIPP (the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico).
What’s left, well the main piece is that high-level waste. We’ve been thrilled to celebrate recent victories with Tanks 18 and 19 but we know we have to stay focused. We have a regulatory and technical road map all set up and we need to press forward. This year, we should have two more closing.
The Salt Waste Processing Facility ... getting that facility up and running is critical. The majority of the waste is salt, the interim solutions have been necessary and done fine work. But (the Salt Waste Processing Facility) is absolutely essential to getting the risk addressed.
(The SWPF remediates the salt waste from the underground tanks – salt makes up the majority of legacy waste. It is scheduled to be in operation by 2015, according to agreement with DHEC. DOE recently extended the date for it to be operational to at least 2018.)
Q: How has the relationship between SCDHEC and SRS evolved over the years?
A: Although we have had our combative moments, our overall relationship is very good, and characterized by frequent communications. We have invested heavily in a partnership-based team approach to cleanup and that carries over to many other areas.
In the 1990s, DOE convinced us to try a partnering mode. That’s been very successful; 3,229 cleanup milestones have been met continuously since 1993 without missing one. We have cleanup decisions at 77 percent of contaminated areas at SRS. I give you those numbers to show that we work very well together and produce results.
Our relationship is characterized by communications. And at this stage in our relationship, I can usually expect that before SRS goes down any path affecting the environment, that they usually talk it over with us first to get our perspective. And what they can expect in return from us is a willingness to discuss and consider all the options. In other words, they can expect to hear from us. That open communication is key to our relationship.