By Jim Woolford
In 1996, Jonathon Harr wrote A Civil Action, a book highlighting two hundred years of poor industrial practices that led to contamination at the Wells G & H Superfund site in Woburn, MA. Three years after Harr’s publication, our Superfund program – the federal program established to address uncontrolled hazardous waste sites – embarked on a new initiative, the Superfund Redevelopment Initiative (SRI). This program takes formerly contaminated land and puts it back into productive use. The Wells G&H site, along with the nearby Industri-Plex site, are both being addressed through Superfund cleanup and SRI actions.
Last summer I visited these two sites to see firsthand the positive outcome Superfund is bringing to the area. Through ongoing Superfund cleanup and site redevelopment activities, the Wells G&H and Industri-Plex sites are undergoing a renewal, bringing back land once seemingly lost forever to the poor industrial practices of past generations.
Since its inception 15 years ago, SRI has helped more than 700 communities reclaim and reuse thousands of acres of formerly contaminated land. In the case of the Wells G&H and Industri-Plex sites, they went from community eyesores to a regional transportation center, a designated green space and wetlands area, and an ice rink and retail sector, among other uses.
During my visit, I met Woburn’s Mayor, Scott Galvin, who praised the role SRI played in revitalizing the area. Local governments have been critical to SRI’s success at creating jobs, enhancing local property tax bases, and improving communities’ overall well-being. We estimate, based on 2013 data at more than 370 sites with some kind of reuse occurring, approximately 2,240 businesses were operating and generating annual sales of $32.6 billion and employing more than 70,000 people earning a combined income of $4.9 billion.
My trip to Woburn allowed me to reflect on SRI’s work to support Superfund communities’ transformative journeys. There are hundreds of Superfund sites with significant redevelopment potential. It’s exciting that two of the earliest designated Superfund sites, Industri-Plex and Wells G&H, are coming full circle from idle, blighted land to critical community assets.
About the author: Jim Woolford is the director of the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation. The Superfund program is marking the 15th anniversary of its redevelopment initiative in 2014.