By James Woolford
December 11 marks the 35th anniversary of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act—better known as Superfund—that President Jimmy Carter signed into law in 1980. Anniversaries are good occasions to look back on what’s been accomplished. For Superfund’s 35th anniversary, we chose the theme 35 Years, 35 Stories to give people across the country an opportunity to reflect on the difference Superfund cleanups have made in their communities.
From the 35 stories on our website, you will hear again and again how cleaning up a hazardous waste site signaled a community’s new beginning. You’ll hear how protecting human health and the environment makes a positive difference in people’s lives. You’ll hear how a clean environment and a thriving economy go hand in hand in making a better community.
Take for example, the Kansas City Structural Steel site in Kansas. The former steel plant was shut down in the 1980s, leaving behind contamination and hundreds of unemployed workers. A blighted spot in the community for years, the site was cleaned up and made suitable for redevelopment. As part of our 35 Years, 35 Stories series, you’ll learn more about how the site came to be the location for a Walmart Neighborhood Market in the underserved Argentine neighborhood.
You’ll also hear from Alex Mandell, a community involvement coordinator in our Philadelphia regional office, about land restoration around the Palmerton Zinc site in Pennsylvania. Beginning in the early 1900s and continuing for 80 years, zinc smelters released heavy metals into the surrounding area’s land and waters. The smelting activities eventually denuded over 2000 acres of land on the Blue Mountain near the Appalachian Trail. Superfund activities included cleaning up residential yards and surface water, as well as extensive replanting of native vegetation. The land now is a thriving native prairie and home to the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, where both wildlife and the public can enjoy the open space.
I’ve spent most of my career involved in one aspect or another with the Superfund program. During the early years of my career, I was involved with Superfund enforcement, and I later oversaw federal facility site cleanups when I headed up EPA’s Federal Facility Restoration and Reuse Office. Nine years ago, on Superfund’s 26th anniversary, December 11, 2006, I became the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation’s director. What keeps me inspired every day is the fulfillment I realize working in a program that makes a visible difference in people’s lives.
The 35 stories we’ve captured for the 35th anniversary of Superfund are just a portion of the environmental and economic restoration work occurring across the country. There are many more stories to be told.
About the author: James Woolford is the Director of the Office of Superfund Restoration and Technology Innovation.