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Article | Argonne National Laboratory

Assessing the health risk of solar development on contaminated lands

A recently published report from Argonne’s Environmental Science (EVS) division presents a methodology for assessing potential human health risks of developing utility-scale solar facilities on contaminated, previously developed sites.

Developing on these lands rather than pristine, undeveloped lands can avoid or minimize environmental impacts, reduce development costs by taking advantage of existing infrastructure, and benefit a local community that has lost an economic asset. However, the potential human health risks must be assessed in advance, and appropriate actions (e.g., further site remediation, use of engineering controls or protective equipment to limit exposures) must be identified to mitigate unacceptable potential risks related to facility construction, operation, and decommissioning.

The EVS-developed methodology, presented in the report titled Evaluating Potential Human Health Risks Associated with the Development of Utility-Scale Solar Energy Facilities on Contaminated Sites, follows guidance on human health risk assessment developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The methodology, which evaluates potential exposures to both workers and the general public associated with different phases of solar energy development, is readily applicable for the analysis of 700+ chemicals, including those commonly identified at federal and non-federal Superfund sites, abandoned mine lands, and sites regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. This type of analysis would be conducted by developers and regulators during the initial evaluations of contaminated sites to support site suitability studies and cost analyses.

In developing the methodology, EVS researchers collaborated with staff from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and with EPA staff. Information regarding contaminated sites that might be appropriate for utility-scale solar development was derived from the EPAs’ RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative.

The EVS research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Solar Energy Technologies Office.