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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Hazardous waste cost hike

Citing “dangerous health risks,” US adds $1 billion to Superfund cleanup efforts


Hazmat sites in Rhode Island. When you click on the
list of Rhode Island NPL sites on DEM's website, you are sent
to an EPA page that is headed "Sorry, but this web
page does not exist." Very helpful
The US is earmarking more than $1 billion to help clean up long-standing hazardous waste sites jeopardizing the health of communities around the country, a move that will impact 110 sites, officials said on Tuesday.

The money for new and continuing projects marks the “final wave” of a total of roughly $3.5 billion allocated in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for work at so-called “Superfund” sites, and addresses an administrative initiative directing funds to projects that benefit disadvantaged communities, Janet McCabe, deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said in a press conference held to announce the funding.

Communities around the country have been “long-overburdened by pollution” that poses “dangerous health risks,” McCabe said. Minority populations have been particularly impacted, with more than one in four Black and Hispanic Americans living within three miles of a Superfund site. 

Of 25 sites set to receive funding for new projects, 75% are in historically underserved communities, according to McCabe.

“This funding will help improve people’s lives, especially those who’ve long been on the front lines of pollution,” she said.

“National priorities”

In addition to the 25 sites receiving new project funding, another 85 sites are receiving money to continue ongoing cleanup projects.

Superfund sites are federally designated through the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERLCA) as abandoned or uncontrolled areas contaminated with hazardous waste. 

The law provides for the government to tax polluters and oversee cleanup and mitigation efforts. There are more than 1,300 such sites around the country listed as “national priorities”- many that have polluted communities with dangerous toxins for decades.

The five states having the highest number of Superfund sites are New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan, in that order.

In New Jersey, half of the residents live within three miles of a Superfund site, according to US Rep. Frank Pallone, who represents New Jersey and is ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

Too many communities have “waited a long time for relief,” he said in the press conference. 

“All of our communities across the country deserve to enjoy their towns and use their space without fear of the health risks that come with living near a Superfund site,” said Pallone.

Decades of contamination

Among the sites that will benefit from the funding, according to the Biden administration, are the following:

  • ·       A site in East Helena Montana where a lead smelter operated from 1888 to 2001, leaving soil and groundwater contaminated with lead and arsenic. Close to 800 homes and 50 businesses in the area have had soil replaced; the government is still working to cap a 14 million-ton waste pile.
  • ·       A 160-acre abandoned open-pit mercury mine in Lake County, California. The site contains approximately 2.5 million cubic yards of mine waste and stretches along 1,300 feet of lake shoreline. Mine waste was dumped into the lake and mercury has built up in the fish in the lake. The EPA is working to combine and cover mine waste piles, remove and cover contaminated residential soils and reduce the mercury levels in lake sediment and fish, among other goals.
  • ·       A 63-acre site in Delaware where chlorinated benzene compounds were manufactured from 1966 to 2002. Chemical spills and other activities at the site years ago left groundwater, soil, creek sediments, surface water and nearby wetlands contaminated with hazardous substances. 

Brenda Mallory, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, said the work was part of a larger effort to ensure “clean and safe environments for every community.” 

Other initiatives include removing lead from drinking water, eliminating harmful per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), cleaning up orphaned oil and gas wells, and other actions, she said.

“No parent should have to worry whether the playground or yard their children are playing in is safe and clean,” she said in the press conference.