By MICHAEL RUBINKAM
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 Friday 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 Friday 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 Gov. 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.”