National Hazardous Waste Site Cleanups Ignored

Posted on November 15, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Lagging pace of cleanups blamed on technical challenges and lack of money
SUPERFUND IS LOSING steam. Recently, Congress began probing why and searching for ways to rev up the federal program for cleaning the nation’s worst contaminated sites.

Superfund activities operate at a slower pace than they did in the 1980s and 1990s. The Bush Administration and some in industry say this slowdown is because those Superfund sites that remain tainted and dangerous are larger and more complex than those addressed years ago. Other observers, including some Democrats and environmental activists, dismiss this argument and say the program is increasingly impeded by lack of funds.”Superfund—once a topic of intense public concern, dominated by controversy and emotion—has fundamentally achieved its objectives and accordingly has receded in the public focus,” Steinberg said. “Most NPL sites no longer pose health risks.”

According to EPA, human exposure to toxic pollutants remains uncontrolled at 110 sites on NPL. And the agency says it does not have enough information to determine whether human exposure is controlled at another 159 NPL sites. This is because the agency is in the process of revisiting NPL sites to check for potential vapor intrusion: the migration of contaminants, such as volatile organic compounds, through soils and into buildings.

EPA acknowledges that some Superfund sites are taking decades to clean up. Susan P. Bodine, the agency’s assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response, said that of the more than 530 sites on NPL that aren’t construction complete, 284 have been on the list since before 1991.

“This does not mean that EPA had been neglecting these sites,” she told the Senate subcommittee. “It simply means that some sites present a greater cleanup challenge than others, often due to the size or complexity of sites.”

WHEN THE SUPERFUND program began, it generally was the only program for cleaning up a toxic waste site, Bodine noted. Now, in addition to the federal Superfund, states and Native American tribes run their own cleanup efforts, which often involve sites where polluting companies agree to carry out or underwrite remediation activities. EPA also takes action to address some polluted sites under the U.S. law that governs hazardous waste, the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act, added Bodine, EPA’s top Superfund official.

Sites that are added to NPL these days tend to involve complex cleanups, often with companies that resist cleaning up the contamination they caused, or they are so-called orphan sites where the corporate polluter is either out of business or insolvent, Bodine said.

A witness who served during the Clinton Administration took issue with Bodine’s complexity argument for explaining the slower pace of Superfund cleanup projects.

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