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Superfund Cleanups in New England – Setting The Record Straight

Release Date: 01/09/04
Contact Information: Contact: David Deegan, EPA Press Office, (617) 918-1017

For Immediate Release: January 9, 2004; Release # 04-01-03

The recent release of a long-anticipated EPA Inspector General report on Superfund cleanups, subsequent statements by members of Congress and an Associated Press news story underscores several common misunderstandings regarding EPA's program to clean toxic waste sites. This program, called Superfund, has made significant accomplishments since its inception 23 years ago and continues to identify and clean sites contaminated with toxic pollutants. Because a few cleanup sites within New England are mentioned in the report, it is important for the public to have accurate information which is not misleading.

First, there is a common – and erroneous – impression that because the "Superfund Tax" expired in 1995, and has not been reauthorized by Congress, that therefore Superfund cleanup activity is diminishing and that taxpayers are shouldering all the costs. This is simply not true. EPA always has worked very hard to identify whether the polluter – the person responsible for creating a Superfund site – can be identified and required to pay clean up costs. That has been and continues to be the case. Anyone who doubts this should contact EPA's Superfund lawyers, as well as the polluters' lawyers, who will confirm that EPA continues to aggressively pursue polluters and is firmly committed to the "Polluter Pays" principle. Indeed, 70 percent of all Superfund clean up projects are paid for by the polluter.

The Inspector General's report correctly documents the significant funding resources committed by EPA in recent years for cleanup and construction at Superfund sites. In the last fiscal year (2003), EPA obligated $292 million for long-term cleanup construction work, and $142 million for short-term emergency removal actions at 381 sites nationwide. During the same time period, the Agency had 699 Superfund cleanup projects underway at 436 sites. Although many of these sites tend to be large, expensive and complex, we are pleased that the report confirms that all ongoing Superfund cleanup construction projects continued.

EPA's efforts to clean sites within New England is equally impressive. EPA is committed to doing our work in an open and transparent manner, and our citizens should know exactly what work is being done in and near their communities. One of the critical issues EPA evaluates in making funding decisions about competing clean up priorities is the immediate potential for health risks to members of the surrounding community from sites awaiting full clean up. EPA's first priority when conducting an emergency removal action is to address the imminent threat of human exposure.
EPA New England has made significant progress on each of the four sites mentioned in the report. Although work is not completed at these sites, EPA has worked closely with state and local officials to address immediate health threats and to develop plans to complete work at the sites. To date, EPA New England has invested well over $20 million at these four sites to ensure that any potential critical threats to human health or the environment are immediately addressed. Following is a summary of activities underway:

Atlas Tack Facility, Fairhaven, Mass. – EPA New England has already undertaken several actions at this site, which is on the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL), including: site assessment, development of a three-phase clean up plan, federal and local actions to limit access to the site to reduce potential ingestion of bacterially-contaminated shellfish, asbestos removal from three dilapidated buildings on the site. Thus far EPA has spent over $5 million dollars for these actions. EPA is continuing to carefully monitor the site to ensure that there are no increased health risks for the community, and the Agency will consider this site for additional funding in the current and future years.

Mohawk Tannery Site, Nashua, N.H. – EPA New England has worked closely with the community and with state officials to identify and eliminate immediate hazards at these contiguous parcels, and to expedite eventual cleanup. EPA is continuing to monitor the site to ensure there is no immediate threat to human health or the environment. To date the Agency has committed $1.5 million to clean up efforts here, and EPA will consider this site for additional funding in the current and future years.

New Hampshire Plating Company Site, Merrimack, N.H. – To date, EPA has spent roughly $12 million at this site, primarily for removal of immediate health and ecological threats and efforts to identify status of the area. EPA New England is continuing to spend about $50,000 yearly to monitor the site for any further contamination, pending full clean up. This site does not pose an immediate threat to human health. The Agency will consider funding new work at this site next year.

Elizabeth Mine, Strafford, Vt. – At this former copper mining operation, EPA New England has already spent approximately $5 million on preliminary work at the site, including roughly $500,000 for the time-critical remediation efforts. EPA has substantially completed installation of a diversion pipe and spillway channel to improve the stability of the tailing dam. Additionally, the Agency has committed $3 million for the installation of a soil buttress – work that is scheduled to commence this month.

While Superfund continues to clean up sites at a steady pace, the effort needed to finish the remaining sites has grown. Sites not yet completed are bigger, costlier and more complex, often involving multiple cleanup projects. As more of these sites require construction funding, they are placing a bigger burden on the total Superfund budget requiring a greater percentage of cleanup funding. Fully 54 percent of EPA's long-term cleanup construction budget last year was dedicated to work at eight Superfund sites. To address this issue, the President's Fiscal Year 2004 budget requested $150 million in additional funding for Superfund cleanup construction.

There appears to be some confusion regarding the unwillingness of both Congress and the Administration to reauthorize the so-called "Superfund Tax," and how this affects funding for clean up efforts. The "polluter pays" principal continues to drive Superfund cleanups whenever EPA can identify a responsible party. The Superfund enforcement program ensures that about 70 percent of Superfund cleanups are done by the parties responsible for contaminated sites.

Facts show that the majority of Superfund sites continue to be paid for by the polluter, that appropriations have remained relatively constant regardless of the balance in the Superfund Trust Fund and that President Bush has proposed a $150 million increase in Superfund to clean up more sites. The Superfund program must adapt to address the changing nature of contaminated sites so that it continues to protect communities from the threats posed by toxic waste sites. Protection of human health and the environment remains the ultimate measure of success.
For more information on EPA New England's efforts to identify and clean Superfund sites, see: