superfund

Switch Flipped On at Largest Solar Farm on a Superfund Site

The DuPont Newport Solar Project was recently completed in December 2013 and has an installed capacity of 548 kW (Photo courtesy of DuPont USA)

The DuPont Newport Solar Project was recently completed in December 2013 and has an installed capacity of 548 kW (Photo courtesy of DuPont USA)

By Charlie Howland

I work on an EPA initiative called RE-Powering America’s Land, which encourages renewable energy development on contaminated lands, landfills, and mine sites.  I was excited to learn that the switch was recently flipped at the 10 megawatt Maywood Solar Farm on 45 acres in Indianapolis and it began pumping electricity into the grid, becoming the nation’s largest solar farm on a Superfund site.  The developer estimates that the project will reduce CO2e emissions by 13,235 metric tons per year, which is equal to the amount of carbon produced for energy use in more than 1,800 residential homes or the carbon output of 2,757 passenger vehicles. But to some folks, especially long-time EPA attorneys like me, it’s the site’s original name – Reilly Tar and Chemical – that might ring a bell. A 1982 court decision about another Reilly Tar site was one of the first to interpret Superfund’s liability provisions. The court helped determine the party responsible for paying to cleanup contamination.

The Maywood solar farm and others, such as the DuPont Newport solar farm project in Delaware, on which I recently worked, stand as examples of our efforts to help renewable energy developers. At the Newport site, a 548 kilowatt, five-acre solar installation now generates approximately 729,000 kilowatt hours of power per year — enough electricity to power about 60 homes.

There is an increasing buzz about the environmental, civic, financial and grid benefits of siting renewable energy projects on environmentally impaired lands, be they Superfund, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) or Brownfield sites. We recognize that such projects are often the best use for contaminated lands, while helping to preserve existing green open spaces. Today, we’re aware of over 100 renewable energy projects that have been developed on such sites, with over 700 MW of installed capacity. Thus far, the majority of these projects sell power back to the grid in wholesale electricity markets, and sell the accompanying Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to utilities and interested institutions and other consumers. The remaining projects generally provide energy for onsite use. Systems range from utility-scale systems, like the 35 MW wind farm at the former Bethlehem steel mill on the shore of Lake Erie in Lackawanna, New York, to smaller scale projects that serve green remediation systems, like the 280-kilowatt Paulsboro Terminal Landfill in New Jersey.

The Reilly Tar & Chemical site in Indianapolis—now home to the Maywood Solar Farm—produced refined chemicals and treated wood products from the 1950s to 1972 (Photo courtesy of Hanwha Q CELLS and Vertellus Specialties, Inc.)

The Reilly Tar & Chemical site in Indianapolis—now home to the Maywood Solar Farm—produced refined chemicals and treated wood products from the 1950s to 1972 (Photo courtesy of Hanwha Q CELLS and Vertellus Specialties, Inc.)

In my RE-Powering work, I am often reminded of an experience I had while serving as general counsel for a renewable energy developer. The firm had learned that the township in which it had optioned a parcel of farmland for a solar project had amended its zoning ordinance, restricting solar projects such as ours to areas zoned industrial. My arguments to convince the town council to change their zoning back were unsuccessful. At the end of the evening, the mayor came to me and said, “You know, we really do like your project. But we’d rather see it on the old landfill we own, instead of on farmland. What do you think?”

This is the question that the Maywood Solar Farm helps answer for the Reilly Tar site; and it’s the same one we’re asking at other contaminated properties across the country.

About the Author: Since 1990, Charlie Howland has been a Senior Assistant Regional Counsel in Region III, specializing in cleanups under CERCLA and RCRA at private sites and federal facilities.  He serves on EPA’s RE-Powering America Rapid Response Team.  Outside of EPA he took a leave of absence in 2008 and 2009 to work for a renewable energy development firm, and he currently teaches energy law and policy at Villanova Law School.

 

 

 

 

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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EPA: Making a Visible Difference in Communities Across the Country

Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, once said “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”

Making a visible difference in communities is at the heart of EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment. It is what drives our workforce to go above and beyond to find that “difference” that improves the lives of individuals, families, and communities across the country. Last month, I invited EPA employees to share stories of the creative and innovative approaches that they have used to educate, engage and empower American families and communities in environmental protection. I’d like to share some of their stories with you with the hope that you too will be inspired to make a difference in your community. More

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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Insects as Indicators

By Marguerite Huber

Twelve spotted skimmer dragonfly perched on a reed.

Twelve-spotted skimmer. Image courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Scientists have developed ways to use certain species as kinds of “living barometers” for monitoring the quality of the environment. By studying the abundance, presence, and overall health of such indicator species, they gain insight into the general condition of the environment. Now, EPA researchers are developing ways to use insects in this way to explore the effects of environmental contamination and how it might spread across a watershed.

The Superfund program, established by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, identifies sites that contain hazardous substances, such as pollutants and contaminants, that may pose a threat to human health or the environment.

Superfund sites include former landfills, industrial and military complexes, and abandoned mines.

In their study, EPA researchers sought to determine if insect communities could be used to measure the benefits of Superfund site clean-up and to monitor the effectiveness of site remediation and restoration. To be accurate, they also had to account for the differences between impacts from Superfund contaminants, and those related to urbanization.

The researchers compared a number of indicators related to urbanization, such as land development, housing unit density, and road density.

In the end, the researchers found that once they had accounted for the effects of urban development, they were able to use insects as indicators for detecting the effects of Superfund sites in the watershed. Using what they learned from that work, they also developed models that can discriminate the effects of Superfund activities from those of development upstream, and help identify those streams where impacts exceed what would be expected based solely on the amount of development across a watershed. Researchers and others can also use the models to assess the effectiveness of remediation efforts at contaminated sites.

Overall, developing methods to tap insects as indicators is helping EPA researchers understand how Superfund sites affect entire watersheds. It’s a big step toward cleaning them up and helping EPA fulfill its mission of protecting human health and the environment.

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Compelling Journeys, New Opportunities: 15 Years of Superfund Redevelopment

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.

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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Memories Stirred Along the Passaic River

By David Kluesner

The team of EPA employees who have been working behind the scenes on the proposal to clean up the Passaic River.

The team of EPA employees who have been working behind the scenes on the proposal to clean up the Passaic River.

Carol Johnston

Carol Johnston

As we gathered along the banks of the Passaic River last Friday to announce the EPA’s ambitious proposal to clean up the most contaminated stretch of the river, I was reminded of two tireless environmental leaders who weren’t present, but joined us in spirit.

Ella Filippone

Ella Filippone

Sister Carol Johnston championed environmental justice for the Ironbound community long before that term was ever coined. Ella Filippone forced us to face the Passaic River decades before anyone wanted to. I felt them both smiling above us on April 11 as we recognized the largest cleanup proposal in EPA history. In my coat pocket I carried my favorite photos of them. They passed in 2013 but they spoke loudly that day. “So many delays but today this is government at its BEST”, I could hear Ella say. “Justice paid this community a visit today. Let’s get going, we have a lot of work to do”, I could hear Carol say. Their lives and lifelong pursuits live on.

 

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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The Phoenix Rises: From Contaminated Land to Clean Energy

 By Tim Rehder

I’m always hoping to see an F-16 fly over when I drive by Buckley Air Force Base. No such luck today, but as we reach the top of the rise, we’re met by an even better sight: the brand-new 500 kilowatt Aurora/Arapahoe Community Solar Array. I’m here for the ribbon cutting.

Most people know that a big part of EPA’s mission is to clean up contaminated lands. What’s less well known is that EPA also works hard to get contaminated sites back into productive use. An innovative approach to this in Colorado has been the development of community solar gardens on compromised lands. 

Aurora/Arapahoe Community Solar Array, Aurora, CO

Aurora/Arapahoe Community Solar Array, Aurora, CO

 I’ve been pitching this idea for some time. The rationale is pretty simple: installing solar cells in developed areas lessens the need to construct projects on pristine lands. These projects typically generate energy close to where it will be used, reducing the need for new transmission lines. And, of course, solar energy generates electricity without the harmful air emissions associated with traditional power generation.

Community-owned solar energy is a big idea whose time has come. Colorado passed legislation in 2010 requiring that utilities establish community-owned solar projects by offering incentives. Customers purchase or lease panels and the electricity produced is credited to the customer as if the panels were on their roof. 

 Cowdery Solar Array Boulder County, CO


Cowdery Solar Array Boulder County, CO

The Aurora solar array is the second community solar project where EPA Region 8 has provided technical assistance this year. The property is located atop contaminated ground water that has migrated from the Air Force base. EPA’s RePowering America’s Lands program funded a study to evaluate placing a solar project at the location. That study caught the attention of Clean Energy Collective, a Colorado company that has pioneered the concept of community-owned solar energy. Earlier in the year, EPA helped them locate a 500 kW project adjacent to the Marshall Landfill Superfund site near Boulder, Colorado, which is another site where contaminated ground water is a concern.

Projects like the ones in Aurora and Boulder County will allow more people than ever to generate electricity, leading them to pay more attention to the energy they’re using and strive to conserve it. Furthermore, these projects are demonstrating that contaminated lands can have a second life, one with a big environmental upside.
As we leave the ribbon cutting, the construction manager tells me that an F-16 flew a couple hundred feet above the site 45 minutes before I arrived – big sigh – but I won’t complain. It’s been a great day.

About the author: Tim Rehder is a senior environmental scientist in EPA’s Region 8 office in Denver.  He works in the Brownfields program promoting renewable energy projects and green building on contaminated and formerly contaminated lands.

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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Superfund in the Big Apple

By Elias Rodriguez

New York City may soon notch a third site on the EPA’s Superfund list of the nation’s most hazardous waste sites. The candidate is the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company site, a defunct business that processed and sold minerals containing thorium from the 1920s to 1954 in Ridgewood, Queens. Wolff-Alport imported monazite sands, rich in thorium, from central Africa. The site is currently radioactively contaminated, although the risks from this residual radioactive contamination do not represent a health concern in the short-term, it could pose a health risk under certain long-term exposure scenarios. Additional investigation and remedial work is needed, so the EPA is proposing that Wolff-Alport be added to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites.

A lot of work has already been done at the site. The EPA installed protective shielding on portions of the site that will prevent nearby residents, employees and customers of area businesses from being exposed to elevated gamma radiation from below the surface. The shielding material included concrete, lead and steel, depending on the area.

Reporters often ask me to compare the cleanup work at the two other NYC Superfund sites, the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek.  The Gowanus Canal was built in the 19th century to ease the transport of goods and services. After its completion in the 1860s, the canal became a busy industrial waterway including manufactured gas plants, coal yards, concrete-mixing facilities, tanneries, chemical plants, and oil refineries. Sadly, it also became a giant receptacle for untreated industrial waste, raw sewage and runoff. EPA’s $506 million Gowanus cleanup will require the removal of contaminated sediment and the capping of dredged areas. The plan also includes controls to reduce sewage overflows and other land-based sources of pollution from ruining the cleanup.

Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal share a legacy of urban and industrial pollution as major arteries in the City’s transportation system. In the late 1800s and throughout most of the 1900s, Newtown was replete with sprawling oil refineries, petrochemical plants, factories, plants, sugar refineries, canneries, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards. Similarly, the creek is negatively impacted by discharges from combined sewer overflows and sewer treatment plants.

Where the Superfund sites differ significantly is in the status, or better said, where they are situated on the Superfund Roadmap.  In 2013, the EPA issued a Record of Decision for the Gowanus cleanup. This milestone document explains what cleanup alternatives the Agency has decided are the best choice to clean up a Superfund site. In the case of the Gowanus, the decision document came after the EPA held a 120-day period to receive public comments and hosted two formal public meetings. Prior to the Record of Decision, the Agency evaluated more than 1,800 e-mails, letters, postcards and petitions about the cleanup. Conversely, Newtown Creek is a few years away from a Record of Decision. Currently, the creek is undergoing assiduous sampling and study as part of the EPA’s Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study. During this phase, the EPA will determine the nature and extent of contamination. This scientific work is expected to be completed in 2018 and would be followed by a proposed cleanup plan for the public’s consideration.

Another NYC site, the Radium Chemical Company site at 60-06 27th Avenue, Queens was on the Superfund list from 1989 to 1995 when the EPA led a successful cleanup of a radioactively-contaminated plant that no longer poses a threat to public health or the environment. It has since been delisted.

Naysayers claim that placing these sites on the Superfund list creates a stigma and is “bad for business.” Protecting human health and the environment is EPA’s first concern, but there is ample evidence to suggest that a Superfund cleanup can help communities and be a boon to local commerce by creating economic opportunity and using innovative technologies to mitigate contamination in a cost-effective manner. A cleanup also gives rise to redevelopment of an area that was once blighted, thus returning a contaminated property to the community and the tax rolls.

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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Celebrating National Native American Heritage Month

Members of the site visit tour of the Santa Clara Pueblo, center OSWER Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus

Members of the site visit tour of the Santa Clara Pueblo, center OSWER Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus

Recently, while in New Mexico attending the 4th annual Tribal Lands Forum, EPA’s Region 6 Regional Administrator Ron Curry and I were honored to be hosted by the Governor of the Santa Clara Pueblo Bruce Tafoya, the Tribal Sheriff Regis Chavarria, and the Environmental Director Joseph Chavarria on a tour of the Pueblo and its surrounding areas.

I experienced first-hand the impact of recent flooding and fire on canyon lands that are culturally significant to the Santa Clara Pueblo.  The Pueblo launched an organized multi-year emergency response effort to address imminent dangers and eventually restore the canyon’s land and water.

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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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Pollution by Design: Reducing Pollution Through Organizing


By Penny Newman

Untitled-22

Heavy rains cause overflow from toxic waste pits to run through a local Glen Avon school

Thirty five years ago, I joined a rag tag group of moms who gathered together to decide how we were going to stop the exposures from the Stringfellow Acid Pits, a permitted Class 1 toxic dump site that accepted chemical wastes from throughout California.  This was in response to an incident where the State of California, during a heavy rain period, released over one million gallons of liquid toxic waste into our community in order to relieve pressure on a the dam that was holding back 34 million gallons of hazardous waste. They did this without informing us, flooding our streets, and inundating our homes and school.  Our children splashed in the puddles, made beards and became snow men in the frothy mounds of gray toxic foam.

Untitled-23When we realized what had happened, we decided we’d had enough.  Concerned Neighbors in Action (CNA) formed to stop it. By 1980 we began to hear rumors of places like Love Canal and Times Beach, where communities were experiencing similar problems.  Putting our heads and hearts together we launched into a decade long battle to make the system respond to the health crisis that we, and other communities, were facing.  Our efforts changed laws, developed legal precedent and created new institutions.

In 1993, after stopping the exposures and winning a personal injury lawsuit with a $114 million settlement, CNA became the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ) to broaden our work and bring focus to the underlying factors of polluted communities.  We learned that these situations don’t just appear by accident. They are the result of a system that seeks the lowest costs, which can lead to high polluting industries locating their operations in poorer communities and communities of color.  This is why CCAEJ has developed a mission of “bringing people together to improve our social and natural environment,” as recognition that the social environment—economic, political, education— determine the fate of our community’s environment and our living conditions.

If we do not have the power to influence decisions in those systems, they will be used to advance other interests.   It is not by accident that our small rural community ended up with the Stringfellow Acid Pits – it was a decision made by powerful interests taking advantage of the system.   The goal was to find cheap places to dump their poisonous wastes in a place that is out of sight—commonly called “remote disposal.” While we knew this by instinct, our feelings were confirmed when we uncovered a report commissioned by the State of California and written by a consulting firm.  It profiled the communities that would be the easiest to site polluting facilities.  In the summary they write, “all socioeconomic groupings tend to resent the nearby siting of major facilities, but the middle and upper socioeconomic strata possess better resources to effectuate their opposition.” 

Untitled-24In other words, pick the most vulnerable communities.  Understanding that poor communities and communities of color are targeted for pollution is an important factor in how to attack the problems. That’s why CCAEJ works specifically in Inland Valley communities like Riverside and San Bernardino in Southern California; which face some of the highest levels of air pollution in the country today.  Building power for these forgotten communities through leadership development, trainings, and actions; forcing the public and politicians to see the issues so they can’t be ignored or hidden; and flexing our political power is the true pathway to environmental justice.

Penny Newman is executive director and founder of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), which serves Riverside and San Bernardino counties. She began her fight for environmental justice with the battle of the Stringfellow Acid Pits, California’s worst toxic waste site. This 25-year battle of a small town against the pollution from the Stringfellow site is recounted in her book, “Remembering Stringfellow.” Ms. Newman has received numerous awards during her 27 years as an environmental activist, including Jurupa’s “Citizen of the Year.” Newman has also appeared on numerous television shows such as the “Remembering Your Spirit” segment of the Oprah Winfrey show. She was the subject of an HBO documentary, “Toxic Time Bomb.”

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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One of EPA’s Finest

A longtime leader of EPA passed away suddenly on Friday, July 26, 2013.  Ira Leighton was the Deputy Regional Administrator in New England; more importantly he was my colleague and friend.

EPA Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding (left) and Deputy Administrator Ira Leighton (right)

EPA Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding (left) and Deputy Regional Administrator Ira Leighton (right)

Ira started his legacy at EPA on June 11, 1972, just over two years after the Agency was created.  He participated and helped lead EPA through historic environmental progress.  Ira was an early pioneer in the Waste programs at EPA.  He began his career working with states before Superfund law existed, and he participated in not only developing but executing on our Superfund law in communities around New England.  To put that in perspective, there are 118 Superfund Sites in the region, and Ira Leighton has touched every single one of them in some way or another.

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