Consistency and local adaptation in use of ecological and eco-cultural indicators: assessing risk from contamination

Joanna Burger, Michael Gochfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The United States and other countries have radiological and chemical legacy wastes remaining from World War II and the Cold War. Assessing risk to human health and the environment from contaminated sites requires inventorying wastes, and examining risks. We use five large U.S. Department of Energy sites to assess the kinds and temporal patterns of indicators used to evaluate ecological resources. Our objective was to determine if there is consistency in types of indicators monitored, whether there are temporal data sets, and how eco-cultural indicators are used. For our assessment, we examined the sites’ Annual Environmental Reports that are meant to inform regulators, stakeholders, resource trustees and the public of their environmental performance in reducing risk and protecting humans and the environment. We present tables of ecological and eco-cultural indicators (and temporal trends) for each site, including contaminant levels in listed species, contaminant levels in consumed species, population levels of endangered/threatened species, biodiversity in communities, and information on invasive species. There is consistency in types of ecological and eco-cultural indicators selected among sites, but the specific indicators differ and are often site-specific. There are temporal patterns for species that serve an ecological and eco-cultural function, and that provide information on risk to eco-receptors and humans. There are fewer cultural indicators, and no temporal trends data for them. The data can be used to improve indicator use and monitoring across the DOE complex, and provide models for assessment of risk to ecological and eco-cultural resources at other contaminated sites. Being able to assess relative risk among sites provides managers, regulators, and the public with information to aid in prioritization of remediation tasks, as well as assessing whether remediation and restoration have reduced risks to ecological receptors and human consumers, and achieved the continued protection of ecological and eco-cultural resources on these sites. It also provides a model to prioritize funds and projects among preserves, national forests and wildlife refuges, and other protected lands. The first step is determining current indicators and commonalities among sites, which will allow managers, public policymakers, and the public to make science-based, adaptive management decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)911-939
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Engineering(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Strategy and Management


  • Department of Energy
  • environmental metrics
  • indicators
  • risk
  • risk communication


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