Environmental Concerns Create More Attention for Superfund Sites

Photo of author

(Newswire.net — February 10, 2016) — The United States government has been working on cleaning up areas known as Superfund sites since the 1980s when President Jimmy Carter signed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) into law. Since then, government agencies, primarily the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have had the power to designate heavily polluted areas as Superfund sites and create plans to clean up these areas based on their hazardous material designations.

Progress on Superfund sites has been slow and new sites are frequently added to the list. However, as the general population becomes more concerned with environmental degradation and harm, it may be time to raise the question: will the increase in environmentalist activity result in greater efforts to clean up Superfund sites? The issue is currently unresolved, but progress on some major Superfund sites does point in the right direction.

Success At Hazel Dell

It’s been thirty years since cleanup began at Hazel Dell in Washington as a response to polluted groundwater containing toxic levels of hexavalent chromium, a substance that can cause lung cancer after extended exposure. However, due to limited waste removal and treatment technologies, it’s been a long journey towards a cleaner environment.

Left alone, the chromium at the Hazel Dell site could cause cancer, but the company that now owns the property – purchased by Linde from Boomsnub Chrome & Grind in 2006 – still uses it as a manufacturing location for liquefied and compressed gases. Although cleanup began on the property in 1986, it wasn’t named a Superfund site until 1995.

The surrounding Clark County community hopes to see cleanup at the Hazel Dell site wrap up in 2016, after fourteen years of treatment using an advanced water treatment system. In all, more than 20,000 pounds of chromium have been removed from the area groundwater, along with other dangerous organic compounds.

A Fresh Start At Cooper Drum

Just as news came out of Hazel Dell about the near completion of cleanup, the EPA reached a settlement involving 40 parties who will begin cleaning the Cooper Drum Superfund site in Los Angeles, California. The process is expected to cost about $22 million, as well as retroactive reimbursements to the EPA for prior cleanup activities.

The main goal at Cooper Drum is to remove spilled volatile organic compounds, toxins that have been putting the surrounding community at risk for many years. These toxins can get into the drinking water, causing numerous health problems for those who drink it.

Delays Abound Alongside Technology Improvements

Though improved technology should result in quicker Superfund site cleanups, many areas suffer such extensive damage that the true timeline can’t be determined until the process begins. Furthermore, improved testing can reveal problems that may not have been evident years or even decades before cleanup began. All of this suggests that Superfund cleanup timelines may remain unpredictable.

As of January 2016, it’s clear that the EPA is still struggling with communities over Superfund site priorities. Nevada’s Anaconda Copper Mine, which the EPA had hoped to place on the Superfund site list this year, has been the subject of local opposition for years. The surrounding community continues to resist federal intervention in efforts to clean up the mine, which was last abandoned in 2000. The community is not ready to engage the government in this process.

On the other side, the EPA had suggested that Montana’s Columbia Falls Aluminum Company site might receive a Superfund placement ruling within the first few weeks of the year. However, as of late January, the EPA has announced that rather than a spring ruling, the site would not receive a decision until the fall. The EPA only issues Superfund site designations in spring and fall cycles.

As with any process requiring cooperation between a federal agency, local communities, and private industry, Superfund site cleanups are a slow and arduous process. Until all of these groups arrive on the same page regarding the importance of environmental care, the process will continue to inch along leaving further damage in its wake.