ARCHIVED - Northern Contaminated Sites Program - Progress Report 2005-2010

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Author: Published under the authority of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians
Date: Ottawa, 2010 
ISBN: 978-1-100-52637-9

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Table of Contents

Message from the Assistant Deputy Minister

I am pleased to present this summary of progress achieved by the Northern Contaminated Sites Program (NCSP) over the past five years.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is the custodian of most federal lands in the North, and is committed to managing a number of contaminated sites through the NCSP. These contaminated sites are not generally the result of departmental actions. Rather, they are a legacy of past mining and government military activities dating back to the last century, long before the full impacts of these activities were adequately understood.

The scope of the NCSP includes three regions – the Yukon, the Northwest Territories (NWT), and Nunavut – as well as Headquarters (HQ). Implementation of the program is led primarily by the regions, while HQ provides program management, sets policy direction and provides operational support to the regions.

While the NCSP was established prior to the launch of the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan (FCSAP), FCSAP funding has been instrumental in our ability to accelerate progress in the assessment, remediation and management of our priority sites. This report highlights major NCSP accomplishments and relevant trends since FCSAP's inception in 2005, and outlines several key directions as we move towards renewal of the FCSAP program.

Further detail on NCSP performance can be found in our annual reports. I trust this document will provide useful context about the program as a whole, and invite any comments or feedback on the contents of this report.

Patrick Borbey, Assistant Deputy Minister
Northern Affairs Organization, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada

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List of Acronyms

Aboriginal Opportunity Considerations
Colomac Advisory Team
Canada's Economic Action Plan
Canada-Yukon Devolution Transfer Agreement
Detailed Work Plan
Environmental Health and Safety
Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan
NCSP Headquarters
Integrated Environmental Management System
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
Northern Contaminated Sites Program
Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated
Northwest Territories
Program Activity Architecture
Project Management and Technical Advisory Committee
Public Works and Government Services
Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act

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Background - Contaminated Sites in the North

Contaminated sites in the North pose a significant potential risk to human health and the environment and also represent considerable financial liabilities to the Crown. Some of these sites - such as the Faro and Giant mines - are among the largest and most complex sites in the country. At an estimated $1.5 billion, INAC has the largest liability of any federal department.

The scale and complexity of INAC's liabilities grew exponentially in the late 1990s, when falling mineral prices led to a sudden increase in private sector bankruptcies. While INAC has had a contaminated sites program since the early 1990s, assuming responsibility for these abandoned sites created an impetus for both the current NCSP and the creation of the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan (FCSAP).

FCSAP was created in 2005 and is administered jointly by Environment Canada and the Treasury Board Secretariat. With a commitment of $3.5 billion over 15 years, FCSAP's overall goal is to protect the environment and human health from the impacts of federal contaminated sites and to effectively eliminate federal financial liability associated with these sites.

FCSAP provides resources on a cost-shared basis for remediation of most federal sites classified as Class 1 (high priority for action) or Class 2 (medium priority for action) according to the National Classification System established by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. FCSAP covers 100% of the costs associated with the largest and most complex sites in the federal inventory, such as the Faro, Colomac and Giant mines. The NCSP participates actively in all aspects of the FCSAP program, including program oversight and the development of relevant procedures and tools.

Northwest Territories

While the NWT Region is responsible for a large number of contaminated sites, work to date has focused primarily on priority sites such as the Giant and Colomac Mines, given the significant risk they pose to human health and the environment.

With FCSAP support, remediation activities have been completed at several priority sites, including BAR-D Atkinson Point, Axe Point, Discovery and Port Radium Mines. Remediation of a number of additional sites – including the Johnson Point, eight sites on Victoria Island, Hidden Lake and North Inca sites - are all expected to be completed in 2010.

Site assessments were required on over 500 sites in the NWT. The region is accelerating completion of this work, with 217 assessments completed in 2009-10, and 176 planned for 2010-11. None are expected to be Class 1 priorities.

The region works closely with the territorial government and with PWGSC to deliver the program. The region also works with affected First Nations and land claim organizations to ensure that the program meets settlement requirements and provides associated Aboriginal benefits.

NWT represents the most significant portion of NCSP spending due to the number of large, complex sites under its management. The Region spent $67 million in 2009-10 and anticipates spending $70 million in 2010-11.

Unique challenges faced by the NCSP in the North include:


Within the NCSP, the Nunavut Region had the largest number of priority Class 1 sites in 2005-06 when the FCSAP program began. As a result of FCSAP funding, remediation activities have been completed on a number of priority sites in Nunavut, most recently CAM-F (Sarcpa Lake) and FOX-C (Ekalugad Fjord). Remediation is now underway on five sites – Cape Christian, Roberts Bay, CAM-D Simpson Lake, Bear Island and PIN-B Clifton Point.

Site assessment work is continuing in Nunavut with 191 assessments remaining. It is anticipated that the number of Class 1 and 2 sites in the region will increase to a limited degree as this work progresses.

The Nunavut region relies heavily on support from PWGSC to deliver the NCSP. The region also works closely with Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) and Aboriginal communities in the region, and is collaborating with partners to develop Inuit capacity building and training programs.

In 2009-10, the Nunavut Region spent $18 million and in 2010-11 the Region is forecasting expenditures of $22 million.

The context for contaminated sites management in the North also includes the need for close coordination and collaboration with other levels of government as well as First Nations and Inuit affected by individual sites. The program has established a number of mechanisms for working effectively with territorial governments, land claim organizations, affected First Nations and Inuit, and local communities.

The Northern Contaminated Sites Program

The goal of the NCSP is to 'reduce and eliminate, where possible, risk to human and environmental health and liability associated with contaminated sites'. As with FCSAP, the NCSP focuses primarily on sites that are considered highest priority for action (i.e. Class 1 and Class 2 sites).

Implementation of the program is guided by the 2002 INAC Contaminated Sites Management Policy, as well as the requirements of the FCSAP program. The NCSP is consistent with INAC's Program Activity Architecture (PAA), and contributes to other key departmental priorities such as the 2007-2010 Sustainable Development Strategy, the Northern Strategy, ongoing economic development initiatives, and the negotiation and implementation of comprehensive land claim agreements.

Core activities undertaken by the NCSP include:

The NCSP works closely with Public Works and Government Services (PWGSC) to deliver the program. Because of spending authority limitations within INAC for construction projects, all contracts with a value greater than $2 million are tendered and managed through PWGSC, based on terms of reference developed by INAC.

The program has established robust information collection and reporting systems, and requires annual Detailed Work Plans (DWPs) and quarterly reports for each site. The program has also established an Integrated Environmental Management System (IEMS) database and annual performance reporting.

Governance and technical support bodies to the program include:


Contaminated sites management in the Yukon is guided by the 2003 Canada-Yukon Devolution Transfer Agreement (DTA). Under the terms of the DTA, INAC confirmed that it would retain financial responsibility for remediation of seven contaminated mine sites (known as Type II sites) which were created during federal stewardship of lands and resources in the Yukon.

As such, funds to support planning, care and maintenance and remediation activities for these Type II sites are currently transferred from INAC to the Yukon Government, although INAC retains responsibility for funding and project oversight.

The Yukon Government, affected First Nations and INAC work cooperatively to develop and implement closure plans for priority Type II sites, which include Mount Nansen, Clinton Creek, and the Faro Mine. A closure plan for Faro has been confirmed while closure plans for Mount Nansen and Clinton Creek are currently being developed.

In 2009-10, the Yukon Region spent $27 million and is forecast to spend $38M in 2010-11.

NCSP Headquarters

Activities delivered by NCSP HQ include overall program management, and the provision of policy direction and operational support to the regions.

For example, NCSP HQ has developed a comprehensive and innovative approach to integrated risk management (IRM) that supports effective risk-based planning across the program. This includes the development of annual risk registers that identify and prioritize key risks at individual sites, as well as a Corporate Risk Profile that identifies the higher level risks that could affect the program's overall ability to deliver on its objectives. An annual risk assessment process has also been established to help identify and prioritize these risks and associated mitigation strategies.

In addition, HQ led the development of a Procurement Strategy that seeks to balance cost, technical merit and Aboriginal and northern participation in its procurement process. This Strategy has been instrumental in enhancing transparency, accountability, consistency and competitiveness in contracting across the program, which is essential given the program's heavy reliance on contractors to complete assessment and remediation activities.

In recognition of its leadership efforts, the NCSP and its staff have received a number of awards, including:

  • The Real Property Institute of Canada Award of Excellence in the Field of Contaminated Sites – 2010;
  • Regional Director General's Circle of Excellence Awards for the FOX-C Dew Line site (2009) and program delivery (2010);
  • Deputy Minister's Pride and Recognition Award for development of Employee Orientation Program (2010);
  • Deputy Minister's Pride and Recognition Award for service excellence in Management and Governance of HQ's Contaminated Sites Program (2007-08);
  • Leadership in Implementation of the NWT Land Claims Agreement Obligations and Objectives (2007); and
  • Deputy Minister's Pride and Recognition Award for the Resolution Island remediation team (2005-06).

Progress to Date

Support from the FCSAP program has been instrumental in helping the NCSP shift from its initial focus on care and maintenance (i.e. stabilizing or containing contaminants on its most severely contaminated sites) towards a more proactive focus on actively planning and implementing site remediation and risk management plans that can reduce program liabilities over time. The NCSP's overall policy framework for contaminated sites management has also evolved considerably, with many of its core tools recognized as best practice by other departments.

The program has also made tangible progress in a number of specific areas as a result of FCSAP support. Despite the complexity of many of its sites, as well as the challenges specific to working in the North, the program has made significant strides with respect to site assessment and remediation of priority sites while simultaneously ensuring the provision of socioeconomic benefits to Northerners and Aboriginals.

This section highlights progress in these areas, as well as program expenditures and liability trends.

Site Assessment

Site identification and assessment are critical first steps in contaminated sites management. Establishment of the FCSAP program provided departments with much-needed support to review their contaminated sites inventories, and confirm the nature and extent of contamination on both suspected and confirmed contaminated sites.

When the FCSAP program was established in 2005, INAC had identified 44 Class 1 sites and 19 Class 2 sites. However, as a result of further assessment and testing activities the number of priority sites now stands at 47 Class 1 and 32 Class 2 sites.

Figure 1: NCSP Sites by Classification 2005-2010 
CLASS 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10
1 (high priority) 44 49 50 45 47
2 (medium priority) 19 22 26 33 32
TOTAL 63 71 76 85 79

The program has conducted numerous site assessments since 2005, and is pleased to report that, as a result, only small additional liabilities have been booked into the Public Accounts. It is unlikely that priority action will be required on the vast majority of sites still requiring assessment; recent analysis by the program suggests that only 16% of all sites typically assessed become a new liability and those that do emerge tend to be small projects that can be completed within a single season.

The program continues to actively assess sites in its inventory to ensure that it has a complete picture of its contaminated sites liabilities in the North and in order to confirm whether any additional Class 1 or 2 sites exist. Assessment work has been accelerated as a result of additional funding provided to FCSAP in 2009 and 2010 as part of Canada's Economic Action Plan (CEAP). The program anticipates completing all initial assessments by the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Remediation of Priority Sites

As sites are fully assessed and classified, they move towards the remediation planning stage. This typically involves the development of potential remediation and/or risk management options, consultations with local communities and affected First Nations and regulatory approvals under applicable federal and territorial statutes (as appropriate).

A growing number of sites under NCSP management have moved from site assessment into remediation planning and associated regulatory approvals over the past five years. Remediation planning can often take a number of years to complete, particularly for some of the larger sites. The program has little or no control over some parts of this process, such as the timing of regulatory approvals, which can lead to significant delays in the initiation of remediation efforts.

Nevertheless, the NCSP has made steady progress over the past five years towards the development and implementation of remediation plans for priority sites. There are now twenty-seven sites in active remediation (i.e. planning or implementation of remediation or risk management activities), up from seven in 2005-06.

INAC has pioneered the use of expert peer review panels in the remediation planning phase, particularly for large sites such as Faro and Giant. The program has also demonstrated a strong commitment to community consultations which has helped build community consensus around remediation plans for a number of sites being managed by the program.

As a result of FCSAP support, remediation has now been completed on fourteen Class 1 sites, with an additional eight sites targeting completion by the end of the 2010-11 fiscal year.

Environment, Health and Safety (EH&S)
The NCSP has taken a proactive role in addressing environment, health and safety issues related to sites under its management. For example, it has developed an Environment, Health and Safety policy as well as a standard operating procedures manual. An EHS Officer is now in place to support implementation of the EH&S system, and an EH&S Committee has been established to help ensure that program activities consistently meet all relevant requirements. EH&S performance has improved across the program as a result of these steps; further work is also planned to build on these accomplishments. For example, training is now being offered to staff in all regions, and a series of audits are planned this year to help assess the effectiveness of actions to date.


Expenditure forecasts have risen consistently over the past five years especially as site assessments have been completed and sites have moved towards active remediation. However, actual expenditures have often been below these forecasts as a result of both weather-related delays and slower-thananticipated regulatory approvals for several key sites.

Since 2005, the program has spent a total of $474 million with $425 million of this amount provided through the FCSAP program. These amounts, which represent almost 30% of FCSAP's total expenditures during this period, have been instrumental in completing the assessment and remediation of 15 priority sites to date. Almost $270 million of FCSAP's contribution has gone to the Giant and Faro sites, which represents almost 20% of FCSAP's funding to date.

Figure 2: Expenditures by Funding Source – 2005-06 to 2009-10

Text description of this bar graph is available on a separate page.

Trends in Liability

One of the central goals of both the FCSAP program and the NCSP is the reduction of federal liabilities associated with priority contaminated sites.

The first step in reducing liability is ensuring that each site is fully assessed and its associated risks fully characterized; this becomes the basis for estimating liability (i.e. all known and potential costs related to its management and remediation). While liability numbers for the NCSP continue to vary yearover- year they should largely cease to increase once all initial site assessments are completed in 2012-13.

Since 2005, the NCSP has eliminated almost $67 million in federal liability, with the remediation of nine sites, while an additional $40 million in liabilities has been reduced at five additional sites under active management. New liabilities of $41 million have been added at thirty-one sites in the NWT and Nunavut.

In 2005-06, total liability for the program was estimated at $997 million. By March 2010, NCSP liabilities were estimated at $1.5 billion. Approximately 85% of the program's total liability is attributable to 10 large sites.

At the same time, contingent liability has decreased dramatically in recent years - over 50% between 2007-08 and 2008-09 alone. This is a direct result of the NCSP's continued efforts to better define the scope and preferred options for remediating its largest sites. As such, despite the overall increases in liabilities, the program has succeeded in creating more certainty regarding its liability estimates which is critical to properly inform both ongoing program management and the FCSAP renewal process.

Socio-economic benefits

Another core goal of the NCSP since its inception has been to create positive socio-economic impacts for northern Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities through training, direct and indirect employment and procurement. The program has made significant progress in this area over the past five years.

The program currently aims to ensure that 60% of employees hired and trained at its sites are Northerners and northern Aboriginals, and has also adopted a target of allocating 60% of regional business contracts to northern and Aboriginal suppliers.

By March 2009, the program had been successful in achieving 73% northern employment although it has not yet successfully achieved the 60% employment target for northern Aboriginals. Aboriginal employment does continue to grow across the program with over 85,000 person-hours of employment recorded in 2009-10 compared to 46,000 person-hours in 2005-06.

The program also continues to make strides with respect to northern and Aboriginal procurement. The program now has a comprehensive procurement strategy in place and includes an Aboriginal Opportunity Considerations (AOC) in its Requests for Proposal.

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Case Studies

Remediation Complete: FOX-C Ekalugad Fjord

FOX-C, Ekalugad Fjord, is located on the east coast of Baffin Island in Nunavut. The site was constructed as an intermediate Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line site in 1957 but abandoned in 1963. Environmental and human health risks on the site included batteries, asbestos and liquid hydrocarbons, as well as unexploded ordnances such as blasting caps and dynamite. The site was also littered with non-hazardous debris such as empty barrels, wood, scrap metal and domestic waste.

The remediation plan developed for the site aimed to mitigate and/or control the migration of contamination to the surrounding environment. Therefore, soils with significant contamination or in locations of higher environmental risk were excavated and treated in a landfarm, and soils with lower levels of contamination were remediated in place. Non-hazardous debris was placed in a newly constructed landfill while all hazardous debris was shipped south for disposal.

A detailed health and safety plan was developed prior to the initiation of remediation activities. Safe work practices instituted on the site included having a medic and health and safety officer on-site for the duration of the field season, site orientations for all personnel, and requirements for personal protective equipment to be worn on-site. The contractor also established a health and safety committee and held meetings twice during the season.

Demonstrated socio-economic benefits stemming from the remediation project were achieved for Northerners and Aboriginals. The project was able to achieve Inuit employment levels of over 65% and Inuit sub-contracting levels of over 70%. FOX-C Ekalugad Fiord has been completely remediated and is now undergoing long-term monitoring.

Remediation Planning Complete: Faro Mine

The Faro Mine is one of the largest and most complex contaminated sites in the country. Located in the southcentral Yukon close to the Town of Faro, it was an open-pit lead-zinc mine from 1969 until it went into interim receivership in 1998. The site covers approximately 2500 hectares and includes 70 million tonnes of tailings and 320 million tonnes of waste rock. Both the tailings and waste rock contain high levels of heavy metals that could leach into the environment in the absence of remediation. As such, there are significant long-term environmental risks associated with the site. A care and maintenance regime, including collection and treatment of contaminated water as well as general maintenance and site security, is currently in place on the site.

The Faro Mine is one of seven Type II sites identified under the 2003 Canada Yukon Devolution Transfer Agreement. As such, the Governments of Canada and the Yukon, along with affected First Nations have worked cooperatively through a joint Oversight Committee to develop a site closure and remediation plan. Development of this plan was led by a multi-disciplinary team of engineers, scientists and First Nations, and informed by hundreds of technical studies, as well as consultations with community members of affected First Nations and the Town of Faro. An Independent Peer Review Panel also performed a comprehensive review of remediation options identified. The project reached a major milestone in early 2009 when the closure plan was confirmed by the Oversight Committee.

The plan emphasizes stabilizing contaminants, rather than removing them from the site. Key features include upgrading dams to ensure tailings stay in place, re-sloping waste rock, installing engineered soil covers over approximately 320 million tonnes of tailings and waste rock, upgrading stream diversions, and installing state-of-the-art water collection and treatment systems.

The plan is now moving towards its regulatory phase under the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act (YESAA). Once all regulatory approvals have been received implementation of the plan will begin. It is anticipated that the construction phase will take up to 15 years followed by a 20-25 year adaptation phase involving testing, monitoring and any needed improvements to site covers, structures, collection and treatment systems.

Implementation of the plan will reduce the total liability associated with the site. However, the site will require ongoing monitoring, and as such, the federal government will retain some residual financial responsibility for the site in perpetuity.

Remediation Complete: Port Radium Mine

Port Radium Mine is located on the eastern shore of Great Bear Lake, 440 km north of Yellowknife and east of the Dene community of Déline. The site was first mined in the 1930s for radium used in medical research, then for uranium in the 1940s and 1950s to make nuclear weapons and for nuclear power. The site was then mined for silver until 1982 when it was decommissioned. The site was reassessed in 2000 due to community concerns regarding silver, copper and uranium in soils and surface water on the site, as well as elevated gamma radiation associated with the waste rock.

Joint work conducted by INAC and Déline resulted in a Final Report on Action Plan Activities released in 2005. A Port Radium Remediation Plan was then compiled by a joint process under the Canada-Déline Uranium Table leading to a decision to complete remediation work during the 2007 summer season.

During 2006-2007 water quality and state of the environment monitoring continued, a land use permit and Waste Nuclear Substance Licence were obtained, a capacity-building plan was developed, basic training took place with Déline community members and a contract was awarded for the remediation work.

Site remediation started in the winter of 2007 and was finalized in the spring of 2009.

Remediation Nearing Completion: Colomac Mine

Colomac is a former gold mine located 220 km north of Yellowknife. INAC assumed responsibility for this site in 1999.

Numerous human health and safety, and environmental risks exist at this site due to the presence of both chemical and physical hazards. Chemical hazards include contaminated tailings, hydrocarbon spills, and hazardous materials within the mill complex itself. Physical hazards are associated with open pits, quarries, waste rock piles, buildings, and other infrastructure.

Remediation activities have been underway since 2005. These include remediation of hydrocarbon-impacted soil, treatment of hydrocarbon-impacted water, waste consolidation, non-hazardous landfill capping, quarry remediation, waste rock berm and caribou ramp construction. Project oversight and support for these activities is provided by the Colomac Advisory Team (CAT) which includes INAC and PWGSC staff as well as a representative of the prime consultant for the site.

The Tlicho have been longstanding partners with the NCSP on this site, including development of the remediation plan to ensuring that approved activities are carried out effectively. Their strong involvement will continue as planned remediation activities are completed, a close-out plan is developed and the project moves into extended monitoring.

Regulatory Review Underway: Giant Mine

Giant Mine covers 949 hectares and is situated within the city limits of Yellowknife, NWT. The site lies along the western shore of Yellowknife Bay, an arm of Great Slave Lake. This gold mine operated nearly continuously from 1948 until its closure in July 1999.

The site includes 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide stored underground, as well as various buildings and surface areas contaminated with arsenic. If not managed properly, these site risks represent significant hazards to human health and the environment.

A remediation plan was completed by the site following extensive site characterization and community consultations. The plan has now entered the environmental assessment process, pursuant to terms of reference issued by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board in March 2009.

Care and maintenance of the site is ongoing in order to ensure compliance with the environmental provisions of the federal Fisheries Act. It is anticipated that the environmental assessment process could take up to three years to complete. The current cost of care and maintenance and project management (including the Environmental Assessment process) is estimated at $30,000/ day.

In the interim, a Freeze Optimization Study has been initiated and funded by Canada's Economic Action Plan (CEAP) to inform the EA and assist in the final design of the remediation project. Once the Environmental Assessment process has been completed, remediation activities are expected to take approximately eight years.

Under the terms of a 2005 Cooperation Agreement, INAC and the Government of the NWT agreed to maximize northern economic development opportunities in carrying out the Giant Mine Remediation Project (subject to the policies and legislation of each government). These benefits are already being realized as a result of a decision to contract care and maintenance activities to Deton'Cho/Nuna, a Yellowknives Dene and northern company joint venture.

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Moving Forward

With the support of the FCSAP program, the NCSP has succeeded in making significant progress over the past five years. For instance, the program has advanced its site assessment and characterization work considerably, and as a result, has a much more accurate and reliable picture of work required to manage the risks and liabilities associated with priority sites under its care.

In addition, the program has made major strides in moving sites into active remediation. Remediation has now been completed on roughly a third of Class 1 sites, and this rate of progress is expected to accelerate over the coming five years. Remediation plans were also completed for both the Faro and Giant sites during this period; a significant accomplishment given the technical complexity and community interests associated with both sites.

Moving forward, the program expects to complete all site-assessment work within the next two years and expects to complete remediation activities on a number of priority sites over the next five years. In addition, the program anticipates moving both the Giant and Faro sites through the regulatory phase and into implementation of remediation activities during this time. This in turn will set the stage for major reductions in program liabilities over the next five to ten years.

Long-term monitoring of remediated sites will be an increasingly important aspect of the program's work over the next five years and will represent a growing proportion of program expenditures moving forward.

At the same time challenges will remain despite the renewal of FCSAP funds. As noted above, there is no 'walk away' solution for either the Giant or Faro sites – both will require long-term monitoring even after full implementation of remediation plans and ongoing capacity will be required to ensure that any environmental and human health risks that may arise over time can be managed effectively and expeditiously.

The NCSP will continue its commitment to reporting on progress both within the federal family and to the general public.

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