Contaminated mega-site management: The complex problem challenge

Mario Schirmer, Katharine N. Farrell, Ken Lyon, James Armstrong

Research output: Chapter in Book/ReportConference contribution

1 Scopus citations


In Europe and North America, industrial activity has led to special recognition of sites with mega-contamination (mega-sites), distinguished by the magnitude and chemical complexity of their contamination. They can become nearly intractable problems due to complex and intertwined influences of socio-economic, hydrogeological, biological and political elements. Mega-sites are, and will continue to be, part of the inherited environment in 21st century societies and their long-term management presents new challenges that we specifically address in this paper. We use lessons from the mega-site case study of Leuna, Germany, to develop new long-term strategies for situations where conventional remediation and management approaches may be untenable. These lessons highlight the risks associated with incomplete consideration of complex socio-ecological interactions that cannot easily be analysed or their influences predicted. Accordingly, we propose a broader risk management approach entailing iterative, adaptive assessments of both site based risks and environmental sustainability criteria. We then re-examine project planning approaches for potential mega-sites, proposing that they be expanded to include stakeholder involvement in the design of anticipative post-closure coping strategies. The underlying modelling challenge is to identify sufficient relevant problem factors to cover the broad scope of site characteristics without becoming ensnared in irresolvable detail.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationGQ10
Subtitle of host publicationGroundwater Quality Management in a Rapidly Changing World
Number of pages4
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes
Event7th International Groundwater Quality Conference: Groundwater Quality Management in a Rapidly Changing World, GQ10 - Zurich, Switzerland
Duration: Jun 13 2010Jun 18 2010

Publication series

NameIAHS-AISH Publication
ISSN (Print)0144-7815


Conference7th International Groundwater Quality Conference: Groundwater Quality Management in a Rapidly Changing World, GQ10

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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