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EPA Releases $1B to Clean Up Toxic Waste Sites in 24 States | January 2022

January 2022 | Volume 13, Issue 6

Read the full article from ABC News.

According to the article, nearly 50 toxic waste sites around the U.S. will be cleaned up, and ongoing work at dozens of others will get a funding boost, as federal environmental officials announced recently a $1 billion infusion to the Superfund program.

The money comes from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law last month and will help officials tackle a backlog of highly polluted Superfund sites in 24 states that have languished for years because of a lack of funding, the Environmental Protection Agency said.

About 60% of the sites to be cleaned up are in low-income and minority communities that have suffered disproportionately from contamination left by shuttered manufacturing plants, landfills, and other abandoned industrial operations.

“No community should have to live in the shadows of contaminated waste sites,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said recently at a news conference at the Lower Darby Creek Superfund site in Philadelphia, where a former landfill leached chemicals into soil and groundwater in the largely minority Eastwick neighborhood.

“With this funding, communities living near many of these most serious uncontrolled or abandoned releases of contamination will finally get the protection they deserve," said Regan, who has made environmental justice a top priority.

The funding is the first installment of a $3.5 billion appropriation to the Superfund program from the bipartisan infrastructure law. The announcement comes a day after Regan disclosed plans to release $2.9 billion in infrastructure law funds for lead pipe removal nationwide and to impose stricter rules to limit exposure to lead, a significant health hazard.

Sites to be cleaned up under the Superfund program include one in Roswell, New Mexico, where dry cleaners that went out of business almost 60 years ago laced the aquifer with toxic solvents; dozens of residential backyards in Lockport, New York, where a former felt manufacturer contaminated the soil with lead; and a residential and commercial district in Pensacola, Florida, where the defunct American Creosote Works once used toxic preservatives to treat wood poles and fouled the neighborhood's soil and groundwater.

In Philadelphia, fed-up residents approached the EPA in 2015 to push for cleanup of the contaminated Clearview Landfill. Work began two years later. More than 25,000 tons of contaminated soil has already been removed from nearly 200 residential properties, parks have been cleaned up and stream banks have been stabilized.

The $30 million cash infusion from the infrastructure law will accelerate those efforts, with work to be completed in 2023 — a year ahead of schedule.

“Our property values have never been higher,” said Eastwick resident Ted Pickett, who serves on a community group that has been advising the EPA. “We no longer fear that our health is negatively impacted by concerns about contamination from the landfill. Our social fabric is stronger."

New Jersey accounts for seven sites on the Superfund backlog list, while Florida has five and Michigan and North Carolina have four each. Pennsylvania has two — and 90 on the Superfund list as a whole.

Democratic Governor Tom Wolf said many of these toxic sites are in low-income and minority neighborhoods like Eastwick that have “borne a disproportionate share of the harmful effects of environmental damage." He said the harms have been compounded by a historical lack of funding for cleanup.

“We have to work tirelessly to clean up polluted places that are harming and holding back communities in which they are located," said Wolf, adding the new Superfund money “is going to help make the promise real for communities all across Pennsylvania.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Describe the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

    The mission of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment.
    The EPA works to ensure that:
    a)    Americans have clean air, land and water;
    b)    National efforts to reduce environmental risks are based on the best available scientific information;
    c)    Federal laws protecting human health and the environment are administered and enforced fairly, effectively, and as Congress intended;
    d)    Environmental stewardship is integral to U.S. policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy;
    e)    All parts of society--communities, individuals, businesses, and state, local and tribal governments--have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks;
    f)    Contaminated lands and toxic sites are cleaned up by potentially responsible parties and revitalized; and
    g)    Chemicals in the marketplace are reviewed for safety.

    To accomplish this mission, we:
    a)    Develop and enforce regulations.

    When Congress writes an environmental law, we implement it by writing regulations. Often, we set national standards that states and tribes enforce through their own regulations. If they fail to meet the national standards, we can help them. We also enforce our regulations, and help companies understand the requirements.
    b)    Give grants.

    Nearly half of our budget goes into grants to state environmental programs, non-profits, educational institutions, and others. They use the money for a wide variety of projects, from scientific studies that help us make decisions to community cleanups. Overall, grants help us achieve our overall mission: to protect human health and the environment.
    c)    Study environmental issues.

    At laboratories located throughout the nation, we identify and try to solve environmental problems. To learn even more, we share information with other countries, private sector organizations, academic institutions, and other agencies.
    d)    Sponsor partnerships.

    We do not protect the environment on our own.  We work with businesses, non-profit organizations, and state and local governments through dozens of partnerships. A few examples include conserving water and energy, minimizing greenhouse gases, re-using solid waste, and getting a handle on pesticide risks. In return, we share information and publicly recognize our partners.
    e)    Teach people about the environment.

    Protecting the environment is everyone's responsibility and starts with understanding the issues. The basics include reducing how much energy and materials you use, reusing what you can and recycling the rest. There's a lot more about that to learn!
    f)    Publish information.

    Through written materials and this website, the EPA informs the public about our activities.

    What We Do Not Do:
    Some problems that seem like something we would handle are actually the responsibility of other federal, tribal, state, or local agencies. It may be most appropriate for you to contact your city, county, or state environmental or health agency, or another federal agency, rather than the EPA.  For example:

    a)    The Endangered Species Act is primarily managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
    b)    The Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management addresses the problem of nuclear waste.
  2. What is “Superfund?”

    According to the EPA thousands of contaminated sites exist nationally due to hazardous waste being dumped, left out in the open, or otherwise improperly managed. These sites include manufacturing facilities, processing plants, landfills, and mining sites.

    In the late 1970s, toxic waste dumps such as Love Canal and Valley of the Drums received national attention when the public learned about the risks to human health and the environment posed by contaminated sites.

    In response, Congress established the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) in 1980.

    CERCLA is informally called Superfund. It allows the EPA to clean up contaminated sites. It also forces the parties responsible for the contamination to either perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup work.

    When there is no viable responsible party, Superfund gives the EPA the funds and authority to clean up contaminated sites.

    Superfund’s goals are to:
    a) Protect human health and the environment by cleaning up contaminated sites;
    b) Make responsible parties pay for cleanup work;
    c) Involve communities in the Superfund process; and
    d) Return Superfund sites to productive use.
  3. As the article indicates, money for the cleanup of the 50 toxic waste sites around the United States comes from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law last month. Should not the actual polluters be required to pay for the costs of cleanup? Explain your response.

    As mentioned in response to Article 1, Discussion Question 1 above, “(Superfund) allows the EPA to clean up contaminated sites. It also forces the parties responsible for the contamination to either perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup work. When there is no viable responsible party, Superfund gives the EPA the funds and authority to clean up contaminated sites.” Regarding the 50 toxic waste sites referenced in the article, the actual pollution on those sites dates back decades, and the responsible parties may no longer be alive or in existence. In such a case, Superfund assumes responsibility for the costs and efforts associated with cleanup.