superfund

Water Wednesday: Why It’s More Than Lead Exposure

By Chrislyn Johnson

On a cold winter day in early 2008, when I worked for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), it felt as if snow could fall any minute when my team pulled up to a family’s lot in southwestern Missouri. The sight I took in was depressing. Three dilapidated mobile homes stood on mostly hard-packed and bare soil, with very little vegetation. A pen of about 20 chickens, scrambling over one another, rustled from the far end of the property. In a bare wire cage, a lone rabbit tried to shield itself from the wind by huddling against the edge nearest a post. The occupied mobile homes were held together with makeshift repairs. Scrap cars, piles of recyclables, and two abandoned mobile homes sat toward the back of the lot. This is a common sight in rural Missouri and much of America.

Past and Present Lead Mining, EPA Lead Strategy Paper Maps, 2012. Map by Valerie Wilder, MDNR. (Click to access full-size map.)

Past and Present Lead Mining, EPA Lead Strategy Paper Maps, 2012. Map by Valerie Wilder, MDNR. (Click to access full-size map.)

I took in this bleak picture in a short time, as I worked to test the family’s water and soil for lead. This was part of a joint EPA-MDNR Superfund project team that tested for lead contamination in drinking water and soil. The area was chosen based on locations of historic mining areas in southwestern Missouri. Lead mining has a long history in Missouri, but lead exposure often occurs in areas without any mining.

We sampled the property by first screening the soil with a handheld XRF (X-ray fluorescence) meter. If the readings were above a certain threshold, a sample of the soil was bagged and labeled to be further evaluated under controlled laboratory conditions. Water samples were taken from drinking water faucets and placed in Nalgene containers, also labeled, and then placed on ice in coolers. The entire sampling event at the property took approximately one hour.

Lead is a soft, corrosion-resistant metal used for a host of products and applications from manufacturing glass and paint to joining metallic-like electrical components and pipes. People are often exposed to lead at home from deteriorating lead-based paint. Children are at a higher risk of exposure since they may play with or mouth objects such as windowsills, doors, and stair railings and banisters. If exposed, this can lead to lead poisoning.

Lead poisoning in children can cause many issues, including behavioral problems, developmental delays, hyperactivity, hearing loss, and organ damage. Adult symptoms can include persistent fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and loss of appetite to name a few. A simple blood test can determine if you are at risk. Without the right resources, people may suffer from many problems.

Because of privacy protections, I never found out if that Missouri family received aid in the form of soil removal or public drinking water access, but I often think of them when I reflect about why I do the kind of work I do. They were a family with limited resources and information to protect themselves and their children’s health. They were not unlike others in the area, in need of assistance and education about how to protect themselves from lead exposure and the vital difference that uncontaminated water can make in their lives.

On that winter’s day in 2008, our sampling team provided only one piece of the puzzle, but every contribution was important. We helped educate and improve the health of the residents and their environment by performing work with care and respect for those we were assisting.

Local governments and EPA provide many services to help minimize environmental threats and health problems. I’m relatively new at EPA and I look forward to coming to work every day. By working here, I get to help others live healthier and more enjoyable lives.

About the Author: Chrislyn Johnson is a Life Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. She holds degrees in biology and photography from the University of Central Missouri. Chrislyn loves all things nature.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Field Trip to Camden, NJ

By Carsen Mata

Tour visits the Puchack Well Field site.

Tour visits the Puchack Well Field site.

My walk to the office on Monday morning was quite different compared to most days. My stride longer, my pace faster, today I was going on a field trip! This wasn’t just any old field trip by the way, this was a two-hour trek from New York City down to Camden, New Jersey. The field trip crew that I accompanied consisted of a few seasoned EPA Region 2 staff members, our Regional Administrator Judith Enck, and Congressman Norcross of District One. The day’s itinerary had us hopping from one event to the next, guaranteeing an eventful day. First up – the Puchack Well Field site in Pennsauken, NJ. Upon arrival we were greeted by John Gorin, the remedial project manager for the site. John is the go-to guy for all things Puchack, especially when it comes to the ins and outs of the cleanup process.

The coolest part of the morning was seeing the site in full operation mode. This was surely the perfect time for a visit. Cranes and sifters were at work, soil from one area was being transported to another, and misters above the site gates were spraying the perimeter of the work zone. When everyone arrived John ran us through a brief overview of the work being done and the potential action items to come. After a short announcement and photo-op for the press we headed over to the next event at the Ray and Joan Kroc Salvation Army Center in Camden.

EPA’s John Gorin explains the cleanup plans.

EPA’s John Gorin explains the cleanup plans.

It was here that we met the Director of Economic Development for Camden, Jim Harveson, who excitedly joined Judith and Congressman Norcross in announcing that the Camden Brownfields program was receiving nearly $1 million in EPA grants. This package of grants will go towards the cleanup efforts at sites in Camden like the Harrison Avenue landfill and the former warehouse, experimental lab, and toy assembly plant at East State Street.

The press event was held outdoors with the recently constructed ball fields and playground of the Salvation Army Center serving as a beautiful backdrop. All of the event’s speakers were wonderful but Congressman Norcross, a Camden native, stepped up to the podium to address the media with a sentimental message. He reminisced about what this space once looked like and what the development of sites like these meant to the people that live there. It is clear that these grants represent much more than funding for various development projects. They symbolize the perseverance of a community that has been burdened by decades of industrial pollution. After many trying years, this area and its residents are on their way to environmental and economic success, something every community deserves.

Jim Harveson concluded the event by inviting everyone that attended back in two years. By then, he hopes the site will feature a waterfront park as well as a field of solar panels to power the center. For now, they’re taking it one site at a time, making every grant dollar count.

To finish off our day we visited a portion of the Welsbach & General Gas Mantle Superfund site in Gloucester City, just fifteen minutes south of Camden. Although a great deal of the cleanup work has already been completed, this particular area has soil and building surfaces that are still contaminated by radioactive waste. It is also situated on one of the busiest port facilities in the region, making it uniquely complex for all parties involved in the cleanup. We were joined by Rick Robinson, the remedial project manager of the site and Leo Holt – president of Holt Logistics, the owner and operator of the port, for a short bus tour around the property.

Judith Enck addresses the crowd.

Judith Enck addresses the crowd.

As soon as we witnessed cleanup and port activity occurring simultaneously, we understood the complexities of the site on a deeper level. Humongous containers filled with fruits and vegetables from all over the world were being transported by even bigger pieces of construction machinery. On the other side of the property EPA cleanup activities were being completed. I suddenly wondered, “all this activity AND an EPA cleanup? At the same time?” I’ve never felt so small in my life! Seeing the port in action and learning about the cleanup from such experienced staff solidified the fact that the EPA will stop at nothing to protect human health and the environment!

I think it’s safe to say this might be one of the best field trips I’ve ever been on.

About the Author: Carsen Mata is an intern for the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division.  She currently resides in Jersey City, NJ and is a graduate of Fairfield University in Fairfield, CT.  She is entering her last semester of graduate school at Fairfield University and will be receiving her Master of Public Administration in December 2015.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Promise Fulfilled: Environmental Justice at work in Spartanburg, SC

I just got back from visiting Spartanburg, South Carolina, a city of 180,000 and a national leader on environmental justice issues. Back in 1997, the neighborhoods of Forest Park and Arkwright on the south side of the city were surrounded by two Superfund sites, six Brownfields, and an active chemical plant. In Spartanburg, the soil that children played in, and that their homes were built on, were contaminated with toxic chemicals. But local resident Harold Mitchell was determined to improve the quality of life for his family and community and set out to address the root of the problems.

Mitchell went door to door, letting folks know about the health concerns they faced, and founded ReGenesis, a community organization committed to environmental justice in Spartanburg. In 1997, ReGenesis was awarded an Environmental Justice small grant of $20,000 from EPA. Over time, the city, county, state, and federal government agencies got involved—and since then, Spartanburg has turned that grant into more than $270 million in investments in the community.

Today, community health centers, affordable housing and a state-of-the-art recreation center stand because of the collaborative efforts the Superfund and Brownfields programs, the community and a host of local partners. A solar generation facility is being planned where an old chemical plant once stood. New mixed-use housing has replaced old, unsafe stock. Community members have been trained in asbestos abatement—and they’ve found work not just in Spartanburg, but in Virginia, where they helped renovate the Pentagon, and in New Orleans, where they helped rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

I had the chance to meet Harold Mitchell—now a South Carolina state representative—and visited the former Superfund and Brownfield sites with Mayor Junie White, and other county officials.

After seeing these dramatic changes for myself, I heard from the community leaders who made it happen. We met inside the new community center—a major investment in the quality of life of Spartanburg residents. It was incredible to see what they’ve achieved by putting the community in charge of its own destiny.

Spartanburg is a shining beacon of what’s possible when folks impacted by community decisions have a seat at the table. As the Superfund program celebrates 35 years of revitalizing communities, I was thrilled to celebrate such an amazing success story because at the core of EPA’s mission is the belief that no matter who you are or where you come from, you have the right to clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and healthy land to call home.

That said, we’ve still got work to do. Too often, low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are disproportionately burdened by pollution and health risks. Those same communities are vulnerable to the devastating floods, fires, storms and heat waves supercharged by climate change.

To make matters worse, the carbon pollution fueling climate change comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants that cause chronic disease and chase away local businesses and jobs. Power plants, our biggest source of carbon pollution, are often located in these areas, casting their shadow over communities already vulnerable to environmental health hazards.

That’s why EPA is doubling down on efforts to fulfill the promise of environmental justice. Spartanburg’s success helped us develop a collaborative problem-solving program for vulnerable communities, helping communities give a voice to those who’ve too often been left out of important planning decisions.

EPA recently released EJScreen, a tool that lets anyone see the pollution burden in their neighborhoods, and explore how various decisions could improve their quality of life. We’ve also awarded more than 1,400 EJ small grants to date, and we’ll continue to give local communities the training and expertise they need to address pollution challenges.

And this summer, we’re finalizing a Clean Power Plan to cut the carbon pollution fueling climate change from our nation’s power plants. Under our standards, our nation will avoid more than 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks in 2030—and will protect vulnerable communities from climate impacts.

Last week in Charleston, President Obama gave a eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a victim of this month’s tragedy at Emmanuel AME Church and a champion for Spartanburg’s revitalization, as well as renewable energy, in the South Carolina Senate. Speaking to Rev. Pinckney’s legacy, the President called on all Americans to fulfill the promise of a more equal, more just society.

By putting environmental justice at the heart of what we do, EPA is responding to that call.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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What’s a CAG?

By Aria Isberto

Gowanus Canal

Gowanus Canal

As an intern, I had the opportunity to attend a Community Advisory Group (CAG) meeting for the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site. Following Earth Day last month, days after activist Christopher Swain’s famed swim in the heavily polluted waterway, a spotlight was focused on the development of its ongoing cleanup. Members of the CAG and the community met, as they often do, to receive updates and to address vital concerns.

In the broadest sense, what I learned is that a CAG is one of the bridges between the federal agencies working on a Superfund site and its surrounding community. With a regularly held public forum, EPA and the CAG get to work together in the decision-making progress of the cleanup.

A CAG is made up of passionate community members of different backgrounds, representative of the diversity and interests of those affected. I observed that the meeting followed an agenda, led by a facilitator, with minutes taken and posted. The >Gowanus Canal CAG members are also organized into four sections of responsibility: Archaeology, Outreach, Real Estate, and Water Quality & Technical (but each CAG could vary depending on the need of its Superfund site).

I also discovered that there are two CAGs in New York City, 11 in EPA Region 2 and 66 nationwide. It is one of the most effective ways to connect, exchange information and meet face-to-face with the agencies responsible for the Superfund site. At the meeting I attended, EPA was represented by >Christos Tsiamis, Project Manager of the Gowanus Canal cleanup and Natalie Loney, Community Involvement Coordinator at Region 2.

After initial introductions, I knew I was in a room full of people with the same goal in mind: all wanted to make sure the cleanup of the Gowanus Canal happened, that it happened soon, and that there would be as few negative repercussions on the surrounding areas as possible. The room was represented by some staff from elected officials offices, groups such as Friends of St. Thomas Park, Langan Engineering (among many others – too many to list here!), as well as local residents.

People asked questions, voiced concerns, and presented a resolution to EPA, and I listened to the knowledgeable community members talk about the work on the Superfund site. The more technical details were immediately questioned and explained thoroughly. At the end of the meeting, it really struck me how important these CAGs are. Making sure that information about the Superfund site is accessible to all is a responsibility just as vital as the cleanup itself – and so is being aware about the matters that affect our communities!

To learn more about the Gowanus Canal Superfund site CAG, click here: the next meeting is on May 26th. Visit the EPA website to read about Community Advisory Groups, and find out how to be a part of one.

About the Author: Aria Isberto is an intern at the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she currently resides in Manhattan and is an undergraduate student at Baruch College. Her passions include music, writing and learning about protecting the environment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Making Significant Progress in Land Cleanup, Prevention and Emergency Management

Recently, we’ve had two exciting accomplishments – we’ve released our annual Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response 2014 Accomplishments Report and launched a new Twitter account, @EPAland.

First, the report. With 51 percent of America’s population living within three miles of a Superfund, brownfield, or Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) corrective action site, our cleanup activities are an important part of people’s lives. Our annual interactive accomplishments report helps those affected by our programs understand how we clean up contaminated sites, ensure communities are prepared in the event of an oil spill or chemical accident, and responsibly manage and control hazardous and non-hazardous materials.  In fiscal year 2014, we:

  • Conducted 466 inspections at industrial facilities across the country handling extremely hazardous chemicals.
  • Made 11,161 Superfund, RCRA corrective action, brownfields and leaking underground storage sites ready for anticipated use by communities.
  • Completed or oversaw 304 Superfund removal actions to contain and remove contaminants and eliminate dangers to the public.
  • Increased the number of sites where human exposure to harmful chemicals is under control to 82 percent of Superfund sites and 87 percent of RCRA corrective action sites.
    Leveraged more than $418 million in community investments with brownfields area-wide planning grants.
  • Worked with federal agencies and Navajo Nation to assess 520 miles, 800 homes and 240 drinking water wells potentially contaminated by abandoned uranium mines.
Mathy Stanislaus speaks with a chemical facility representative.

Mathy Stanislaus speaks with a chemical facility representative.

The report also provides an update on the sustainable materials management (SMM) program’s efforts to reduce the amount of materials people and businesses consume and integrate SMM into business practices to conserve natural resources and stay competitive globally. In fiscal year 2014, we worked with our partners to:

  • Divert 375,000 tons of food from landfills.
  • Collect more than 220,000 tons of used electronics.
  • Save $42 million for U.S. taxpayers by reducing the federal government’s waste, water, and electricity usage.

Addressing the complex environmental challenges facing us today is a shared responsibility.  The activities highlighted in the report would not be possible without partnerships with state and tribal co-regulators, local governments, and the regulated community. I want to thank all of our stakeholders and partners for their commitment to our mission.

Finally, we’ve launched the @EPAland Twitter account to help you stay up to date on local site cleanups, learn about renewable energy technologies on contaminated sites, understand how we respond to hazardous material emergencies and more. We encourage you to stay engaged in our programs and your feedback is important to us. Join the conversation today, I’ll see you there.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Radium Girls: Unlikely Industrial Pioneers

By Trish Taylor

I grew up in a small town and the thought of someday working for the federal government never crossed my mind as a kid. And Superfund? What’s that? Superfund cleanups were something that happened other places. Not Bloomsburg, Pa. Not my hometown. But, I’ve now been with EPA’s Philadelphia office for over 10 years and I’ve learned that that’s exactly where Superfund cleanups happen. There’s even one in my hometown, about 1 ½ miles from my mother’s house, called the Safety Light Corp. Superfund Site.

It turns out, an innocent looking brick building that seems to have been part of the landscape for as long as I can remember, has quite an interesting history linked to it. Ask any nearby neighbor and they’ll tell you that the old U.S. Radium plant has been around for decades. Some of the older neighbors may have even worked there, or have relatives who worked there. It was one of many facilities owned by U.S. Radium Corporation. In Bloomsburg, U.S. Radium turned into Metreal, Inc., which eventually turned into the Safety Light Corporation. But, long-timer locals still just call it the radium plant.

Some of that interesting history was discovered during the Superfund process. Boxes and boxes of old files have been removed from the building as part of the cleanup. Files are dated from the 1940’s, with black and white photos, work products like deck markers, and other gadgets.

It turns out that U.S. Radium workers are famous, or should I say infamous. In the 1920’s, workers who painted the dials were mostly women between the ages of 18 – 30. A handful of these women from the Orange, New Jersey plant became known as the Radium Girls. These five young women changed working safety standards in America for the better. Unfortunately, the change came as a result of their ill health.

RadiumGirls1

It was customary for workers who applied the glow-in-the-dark paint (paint that glowed because it was in fact radioactive!) to use their lips to sharpen the tips of the paintbrushes to get a finer point for more precise application. The radium-activated paint was used on marine deck markers and other dials and gadgets that needed to be read in dark, unlit conditions. That’s where the radioactive component comes in. Exposure to (and in some cases, consumption of) the radium-activated paint resulted in radiation poisoning in many of the workers. Five of the women challenged their employer and filed a lawsuit. Four of the five Radium Girls died of radioactive-related illnesses before their 40th birthdays. The fifth passed away at the age of 51. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court, but the industry was changed forever. It set precedent for workers to sue for damages caused by labor abuse and industrial safety standards were improved through federal law.

The Radium Girls have a tragic but significant legacy. Their story isn’t just a cautionary tale. It a nationwide-change-to-industry-as-we-knew-it tale. Big time. Not to mention the increased level of public awareness of the dangers associated with radium.

It’s interesting to see that big things can come from seemingly small places. That local plant is a piece of a much bigger story, and every day we’re working at the EPA to ensure that communities like Bloomsburg are protected and stay healthy.

About the author: Trish Taylor is a Community Involvement Coordinator, Hazardous Site Cleanup Division, in EPA’s Philadelphia office.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Premature Plunge into the Gowanus Canal

By Elias Rodriguez

The Gowanus Canal harbors a legacy of industrial waste.

The Gowanus Canal harbors a legacy of industrial waste.

Last week, a gentleman garnered widespread media attention in New York by deliberately swimming in Brooklyn’s highly contaminated Gowanus Canal. This urban water body is on EPA’s National Priorities List of the country’s most hazardous waste sites. The Gowanus is scheduled for a cleanup under our Superfund program.

It seemed like every tabloid and television station in the Big Apple contacted us to ask if it was safe to swim in the Gowanus Canal. In a word: NO! As you can see from our color-coded hazard guide, direct contact with the water of the Gowanus should be avoided to reduce exposure risks.

Color Coded ChartWhat’s in the Gowanus? Data shows the widespread presence of more than a dozen contaminants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and various metals, including mercury, lead and copper, at high levels in its sediment. PAHs and metals were also found in the canal water. PAHs in the canal come mostly from former manufactured gas plants which used coal to make gas. PCBs were used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment. PCBs are suspected carcinogens and can have neurological effects. PAHs are also suspected carcinogens.

The origin of the Gowanus Canal goes back to the 19th century. It was envisioned as a transportation route for goods and services and, after its completion in the 1860s, the canal became an important link for commerce in the city. Manufactured gas plants, coal yards, concrete-mixing facilities, chemical plants and oil refineries were established along its banks. The canal was additionally an outlet for untreated industrial waste, raw sewage and runoff. Fast-forward to 2015 and you’ll see in the Gowanus’ murky water a legacy of urban and industrial pollution in the midst of thriving Brooklyn neighborhoods.

EPA’s $506 million cleanup calls for the removal of contaminated sediment and the capping of dredged areas. The comprehensive plan also includes controls to reduce sewage overflows and other land-based sources of pollution from re-contaminating the waters and ruining the cleanup.

EPA’s progress to date at the Gowanus Canal has been faster than at any other site of comparable complexity anywhere in the nation. We are currently working on the remedial design for the cleanup project to be followed by the start of actual dredging in 2016. When all the work is done, circa 2022, the Gowanus will be in much better shape. In the meantime, the EPA’s No Swimming warning is serious and remains in effect.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Community-driven Revitalization: Tying it Together in Freeport, Illinois

by Melissa Friedland

The East Side of Freeport, Illinois, is a remarkable place. This African-American neighborhood has been home to families for generations. Residents have a strong sense of community and deep affection for the area. However, frequent flooding from the Pecatonica River has not just damaged homes but impacted the community’s economic vitality. The community also has vacant former industrial areas, petroleum contamination, and has been subject to illegal dumping at the CMC Heartland Superfund site. These have exacerbated the legacy of racial segregation, strained relationships with civic leadership, and diminished access to community amenities.

In 2013, community members began to tackle these challenges. Their goal: to make it possible for Freeport’s East Side to again support quality housing, thriving businesses, and public amenities. At the outset, stakeholders identified two key outcomes for the project – reducing flooding impacts and addressing floodway regulations. Properties in the neighborhood’s floodplain are subject to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state floodway regulations as activities such as rebuilding and improving housing and commercial space after flood events are considered. Residents have indicated that addressing these challenges could lay the foundation for pursuing additional neighborhood revitalization goals.

To help make this happen, EPA’s Superfund Redevelopment Initiative (SRI) and Region 5 office sponsored a reuse planning process for the CMC Heartland site and other contaminated properties in the neighborhood. The year-long effort brought local residents and business owners together with city officials and federal agency staff.

Building trust and relationships was the first priority, as a legacy of poor communication and strained relations between the community and the local government threatened to derail progress. A pro-bono Cultural Competence training brought city staff and neighborhood residents together. Breakthroughs followed, as participants shared their experiences and people realized that everyone at the table was interested in addressing past challenges and ensuring a brighter, more sustainable future for the East Side. The training was an early turning point that enabled participants to understand each other’s perspectives and plan for the future.

Reducing Flood Impacts

011080410 FEMA assists IEMA with flood assessments

With good working relationships in place, the work shifted to understanding where and how flooding was affecting the neighborhood. During several working sessions, residents and city staff developed a detailed map that incorporated community feedback about areas of concern as well as technical floodplain information. In a follow-up session, participants explored ways to manage stormwater differently. Where traditional gray infrastructure approaches rely on pipes, sewers, and other physical structures, green infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage stormwater runoff at its source, protecting water quality, and benefiting communities through improved air quality, enhanced recreational opportunities, revitalized neighborhoods, and even enhanced climate resiliency.

Participants then prioritized a set of goals for reducing flood impacts, including addressing areas where floodwaters enter homes and block street access, ensuring safe access to a neighborhood school, tackling areas of standing water, and designing green infrastructure features to beautify the East Side neighborhood and the Stephenson Street entrance corridor.

Addressing Floodway Regulations

East Side residents, city staff, and elected officials knew that engaging with FEMA was essential to reducing flooding impacts and supporting community revitalization. Parties developed a joint statement describing how the neighborhood’s economic vitality and housing quality have been impacted over time by its location in the floodway where residents contend with recurring major and minor flood events. East Side residents would like to work with FEMA on the best possible ways to maintain and improve their homes.

In a presentation to FEMA in 2014, the group invited agency staff to join a dialogue to focus on finding solutions. In addition, a plan that focused on flood impact reduction and neighborhood revitalization was developed with the support of the EPA Superfund Redevelopment Initiative and Region 5. More information can be found in the final report.

Through its work with communities, EPA’s goal is make a visible and lasting difference. The East Side project shows how these efforts can lead to new partnerships, vital innovations, and long-term revitalization.

About the author: Melissa Friedland manages EPA’s Superfund Redevelopment Initiative, an EPA initiative that helps communities reclaim cleaned-up Superfund program sites.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Largest Superfund Settlement in History Means Cleanups from New Jersey to California

If you pollute the environment, you should be responsible for cleaning it up. This basic principle guides EPA’s Superfund cleanup enforcement program.

We just settled our largest environmental contamination case ever, for nearly $4.4 billion that will help to clean up the communities that were affected.

Here’s some background: Last April, along with the Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, EPA announced a historic cleanup settlement with Anadarko Petroleum Corporation. Many years ago, one of Anadarko’s subsidiaries, Kerr-McGee, conducted uranium mining and other activities that involved highly toxic chemicals at sites across the nation. These operations left contamination behind, including radioactive uranium waste across the Navajo Nation; radioactive thorium in Chicago and West Chicago, Illinois; creosote (or tar) waste in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the South; and perchlorate contamination in Nevada. All of these substances can be dangerous to people’s health.

Anadarko tried to skirt its responsibility by transferring the business assets responsible for this contamination into a now-defunct and bankrupt company called Tronox. EPA and DOJ vigorously pursued them – and the result was this new settlement. The nearly $4.4 billion that the company will pay will help to clean up toxic pollution and to turn the contaminated areas back into usable land.

This settlement took effect last week. Here are some ways that its impact will be felt:

  • In Manville, N.J., a coal tar wood treatment facility buried creosote in recreational areas. Funds will be used EPA and the state will get funds to clean up the waste left behind.
  • Not far away in Camden and Gloucester City, N.J., there’s a residential area where two former gas mantle manufacturing sites used to be. They’ve received cleanup assistance already, and this settlement means that more is on the way.
  • Funds are starting to flow to Navajo Nation territory to help clean up drinking water contaminated by radioactive waste from abandoned uranium mines.
  • Low income, minority communities in Jacksonville, Florida; West Chicago, Illinois; Columbus, Mississippi; and Navassa, North Carolina are benefiting from the settlement funds to clean up contamination from uranium and thorium, volatile organic compounds, pesticides and PCBs.

Companies that operate in American communities have an obligation to protect nearby residents from harm. That’s why we do enforcement — to protect communities and their health. We make sure that responsible parties are held accountable and pay to clean up the pollution they caused.

Learn more about our enforcement cleanup efforts at Superfund sites across the country, some of which include an enforcement component, in the December 2014 National Geographic Magazine.

Picture resources:
Federal Creosote site pictures: http://epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/federalcreosote/images.html
Welsbach & Gas Mantle site pictures: http://www.epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/welsbach/images.html
Map of Navajo Nation Abandoned Uranium Mines Superfund Cleanup Sites (larger poster PDF): http://www.epa.gov/region9/superfund/navajo-nation/pdf/CleanupSitesPoster.pdf
smaller image found at http://www.epa.gov/region9/superfund/navajo-nation/abandoned-uranium.html

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Bagasse to the Rescue!

By Kristine Edwards

When I first visited the Crystal Mine site (part of the Basin Mining Area Superfund Site in Jefferson County, Montana) back in 2006, I was so shocked by how bad it looked that I vowed to myself to get it cleaned up before I retired.

Acid mine drainage from old mines is a big problem in historic mining districts across the U.S. The pH of mine water at the Crystal Mine is around 2.7, which is pretty acidic (on a scale of 1-14, with 7 being neutral pH and what we like to see in uncontaminated water), and carries significant concentrations of heavy metals. In order to treat the drainage, we’re working with our contractor on a treatment system.

An environmental contractor was working on mine sites in Peru when they came across a locally grown material that showed a lot of promise for treating acid mine drainage. It’s called sugar cane bagasse, a byproduct of sugar cane. The bagasse is a light weight fibrous material. Additional research at the University of Colorado (Boulder) using sugar cane bagasse showed promise even at low pH levels and low temperatures. Since the Crystal Mine site is at 8,000 ft elevation, it can get very cold there in the winter.

 

Sugar cane bagasse sample

Sugar cane bagasse sample

 

The bagasse is permeable and promotes biological activity by sulfate-reducing bacteria. This converts sulfate in the drainage to sulfide. Dissolved heavy metals like cadmium, copper, iron, lead, nickel, zinc combine with these sulfides to adhere to the fibers, leaving the water much cleaner.

We’re running a treatability study at the Crystal Mine to see if the sugar cane bagasse works better at treating the drainage from this site than the typical methods. The manure and hay, a step in the process, are coming from a nearby barn and the aged wood chips and saw dust are from a local post and pole operation. So, even though the sugar cane bagasse is coming from Louisiana, we’ll be using some local materials as well.

This will be a test that, if successful, could simplify treatment of acid mine drainage at other remote mine sites in this region. It would also lower maintenance costs, if it works the way we hope it will. The study will run from mid-June to October, and then it will take us about a month to interpret the results.

I hope to have a make a decision on how to clean up the site and the design plan in place by June 2015. The Superfund cleanup process can be long and it’s taken several years to complete the investigation of the site. This treatability study with the sugar cane bagasse will help us design the final treatment system and could be something EPA or the state could use at other mine sites with acid mine drainage. I could then retire with a feeling of having accomplished my goal of cleaning up this site, and perhaps help clean up other sites as well!

 

Kristine Edwards at the Crystal Mine Adit Portal

Kristine Edwards at the Crystal Mine Adit Portal

About the author: Kristine Edwards, a “native” Montanan, has always loved hiking, fishing, horseback riding and backpacking in the mountains of Montana. She was hired by EPA out in Seattle (EPA Region 10), and was fortunate to eventually make it back to Montana after 4 years in Seattle and 3 years in Denver.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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