contamination

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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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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