From Contaminated to Revitalized: The Story of The Yards

By Barbara Smith


Have you ever wondered how visions like this become realized?
This is the story of how the U.S. Government is partnering with private sector developers to transform a once-contaminated property on the Anacostia River in Washington, DC, into a vibrant riverfront destination/community.

Believe it or not, the vision for a vibrant riverfront community came from this brown space, the Washington Navy Yard (WNY).

Image provided by EnviroMapper by EPA

Image provided by EnviroMapper by EPA

In early 1960’s, the WNY, located in southeastern Washington, DC, was recommissioned from its former use as a weapons manufacturing site to its current use as a Navy office/administration location. As part of the transition, in 1963, the WNY transferred 55 “excess” acres to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to develop into federal office space. The GSA named its new acquisition the Southeast Federal Center (SEFC).


However, the 55 acres had been heavily industrialized, with many abandoned factory buildings where ship boilers and large naval guns were manufactured from pre-World War One to post-World War Two. When GSA received the property in 1963, there were no regulations governing the clean-up of contaminated properties or how to identify and investigate contamination on these properties. Without funding to transform the former industrial site into office space, GSA made little progress in developing the SEFC site to its full potential.

Then, in 2000, Congress passed the SEFC Public/Private Development Act to assist GSA in developing the area. The Act allowed GSA to partner with private sector developers to plan and develop the SEFC parcels for eventual sale or lease. GSA’s master plan shifted from creating federal offices to creating office, residential, retail and public uses for the site.
Since the federal government works to protect human health and the environment, GSA worked with us to properly assess the property and any contamination found. This assessment is in accordance with the requirements of the Resource Conversation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
GSA conducted a site-wide investigation and continues to clean up any contamination found on the individual parcels prior to development.
The investigation, conducted under our RCRA Corrective Action Program, found that previous intensive industrial use had left contaminants in the soil. The picture above shows soil testing taking place at the site to see which contaminants are present.

Several soil removals have been completed, including removing PCB-contaminated sediment from storm sewers and on-site soil contaminated with petroleum and metals. GSA continues to remove contaminated soil from the surface and at depth from parcels being prepared for development.

GSA removed an old wooden seawall on the Anacostia River and replaced it with a modern concrete and steel pier.

Image provided by Kea Taylor/Imagine Photography

Image provided by Kea Taylor/Imagine Photography

The above picture is the first parcel that was developed and sold, known as the “Department of Transportation (DOT) Parcel.” During the site investigation, groundwater contaminated with gasoline was found at levels above EPA drinking water standards. The sources of this contaminated groundwater were leaking underground storage tanks from an off-site former gas station and possibly some on-site contamination.

The groundwater has been treated and contaminant levels are stable or declining. The office building has a moisture/vapor barrier and is supplied by public water which ensures that workers and pedestrians are not exposed to contaminants.

Image courtesy of Capitol Riverfront BID

Image courtesy of Capitol Riverfront BID

The other developed portions of the SEFC are known as ‘The Yards’. The Yards is a part of the revitalization and redevelopment of properties along the Anacostia River in Washington, DC known as the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, which includes the Nationals Baseball Stadium just down river, adjacent to The Yards. The Yards Park (shown above) is located within The Yards and includes an entertainment/performance area, boardwalk and now a marina. This public park was made possible by GSA, the developer, Forest City Washington and the city of Washington, DC.

Image courtesy of Capitol Riverfront BID

Image courtesy of Capitol Riverfront BID

The Anacostia River Trail is also a result of the redevelopment. This picture shows a section of the River Trail located by The Yards Park.


Almost half of The Yards development parcels are complete, with total build out scheduled for 2025. What was once an urban, industrial environment is now a revitalized area, anchored by redevelopment.

Our RCRA Corrective Action program continues to oversee the environmental investigation and clean-up process to ensure that development and future land use will be protective of human health and the environment.

About the author: For the last 15 of her 25 years with EPA Region 3, Barbara Smith has been working in the RCRA Corrective Action group, working with Facilities in transforming their contaminated properties into cleaner, safer places to live and work. Barbara looks forward to living in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere someday.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

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. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.