If you follow the announcements by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), you have likely noted a lot of activity at Superfund sites, including two in the past few weeks.

According to the EPA, “On Monday, October 5, EPA announced that in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 the agency deleted all or part of 27 sites from the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL).  This marks the third year in a row that EPA has deleted a historically high number of Superfund sites, sending a clear message that human health and the environment are protected and paving the way for redeveloping these properties into community assets.”

The two recent announcements were about Superfund sites in Florida and Indiana (also see Canadian Companies Face Environmental Enforcement in Canada and the US).

Fairfax Street Wood Treatment Superfund Site

The former Fairfax Street Wood Treatment site is being removed from EPA’s NPL.

The former wood-treating facility operated at the Jacksonville, Forida, site from 1980 to 2010 when they filed for bankruptcy.  In 2012, the site was added to the NPL. The site was impacted with chromated copper arsenate (used in pressure treating wood).  The EPA removed 60,000 tons of contaminated soil and sediment as they remediated the 12.5-acre site and 51 residential homes.

In a ceremony that announced the closure of the site, EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, said, “…Children were playing in these yards and we needed to get this cleaned up as quick as possible.”

The site now belongs to the city, and according to Mr. Wheeler, can be used for any type of development.

Midco II Superfund Site

The other recently-announced Superfund Site activity was in Gary, Indiana.  The Midco II Superfund Site was listed on the NPL in 1986 as a result of contamination from a 1977 fire at the former hazardous waste recycling operation.

According to NWI.com, “The Midco II site included a 7-acre disposal area with contaminated groundwater, plus about four acres of contaminated sediment and groundwater contamination.”

Unlike the unrestricted development of the site in Florida, this site will have restrictions for future developments, as part of the site was capped, and there is ongoing groundwater remediation.

This site will not be fully closed until the groundwater remediation is complete.

Accolades for Superfund Progress under Trump?

The publication, Politico, which has been said to be both left and right leaning in their views, wrote a rather-lengthy article, “The One Incredibly Green Thing Donald Trump Has Done.”  While, by nature, their writings are political, the article presents some interesting facts and opinions.

For perspective, the Politico article looks at Superfund cleanups during previous administrations.  “In the late 90s, during President Bill Clinton’s second term, the EPA averaged 87 completed cleanups per year; over the first six years of the George W. Bush administration, the number dipped to 40; Obama’s first year in office saw 20 completed clean ups and in 2014 the number dived to a piddly eight…The program ‘was neglected in the Obama administration,’ Brett Hartl, the Center for Biological Diversity’s government affairs director, told me. ‘Not maliciously, but neglected.’ ”

In contrast, they point out that under Trump, officials deleted 7 sites from the Superfund list in 2017, 22 in 2018, and 27 in 2019.  This is the highest single-year total since 2001.

They also point out that while there has been progress, some of the work was done under the Obama Administration and Trump “was just taking credit by finishing up the final stages of years of hard work…”

Countering this, some activists pointed out, if it was true that the EPA was only wrapping up sites that had been mostly cleaned up in earlier years, what had kept the Obama administration from expediting the process and finishing the job?

Aggressively Pursuing Polluters

Another interesting aspect of the progress under Trump is the aggressive nature of legal action at the Superfund Sites.  Again from Politico, “And more importantly, the polluters—which are required to pick up the tab for remediation but often employ teams of lawyers to contest the fees—weren’t let off the hook, either: Pruitt’s EPA went after polluters quickly and with an aggression that hadn’t been seen in years.”

Lady Justice

“Pruitt’s EPA went after polluters quickly and with an aggression that hadn’t been seen in years” (Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash).

Settlements

They also write that they are “…inking aggressive settlements with corporations on the hook for cleanups.  All told, polluters are ponying up at 80 percent of the sites prioritized under Trump—a 10 percent increase over the agency’s historical average.  With tens of millions of dollars at stake, these settlements are heated, and negotiations can drag on for years.  Under the Trump administration, the EPA—an agency run by veterans of the coal, chemical and petroleum industries—has pushed for forceful deals with corporate behemoths like Dow, International Paper, Honeywell and Atlantic Richfield.”

“Doing Good Things”

Finally, the article goes on to quote several environmental activists who have been pleasantly surprised at the progress under Trump.  Linda Robles, who lives near the polluted Tucson Airport site, said, “They are doing good things.  I have no complaints.”

For anyone following Superfund, the Politico article is an interesting read.

Progress Going Forward

By the time you are reading this blog, we will likely know who will occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the next four years.  Let’s hope that whoever is in charge will continue to close the lingering Superfund sites.

If you would like to learn more about Superfund, the EPA has a nice history of the Superfund program from 1976 to 2017.

If you need assistance in assessment or remediation of a site, contact Jeffrey Bolin (248-932-0228, Ext. 125), and he can tell you about our approach to successful remediation over the past 30 years.

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