10 examples of why the Superfund program matters

Read the full story from Mother Nature Network.

The U.S. Superfund program was created in 1980 to clean up the country’s most toxic places. It gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) new authority to identify the parties responsible for noxious hazards nationwide, and to make them clean up their messes on their own dime. The program (formally titled the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA) is vital for keeping corporations from ruining our land, air and water without consequence.

Today, more than 1,300 sites are on the program’s national priorities list. One might exist near you, since about 53 million Americans live within 3 miles of a Superfund site.

That’s why it’s worth keeping tabs on the successes and setbacks of the Superfund program. Its original funding source — taxes paid by polluters — was allowed to expire in 1995, and congressional funding has been dwindling for years. The Trump administration has proposed further budget cuts, yet despite meager funds, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has also pledged to ramp up the agency’s focus on certain Superfund sites.

To illustrate the ongoing importance of this program, here’s a closer look at 10 of the country’s most prominent Superfund sites.

How Military Outsourcing Turned Toxic

Read the full story in ProPublica.

The military is one of the country’s largest polluters, with an inventory of toxic sites on American soil that once topped 39,000. At many locations, the Pentagon has relied on contractors like U.S. Technology to assist in cleaning and restoring land, removing waste, clearing unexploded bombs, and decontaminating buildings, streams and soil. In addition to its work for Barksdale, U.S. Technology had won some 830 contracts with other military facilities — Army, Air Force, Navy and logistics bases — totaling more than $49 million, many of them to dispose of similar powders.

In taking on environmental cleanup jobs, contractors often bring needed expertise to technical tasks the Pentagon isn’t equipped to do itself. They also absorb much of the legal responsibility for disposing of military-made hazards, in some cases helping the Pentagon — at least on paper — winnow down its list of toxic liabilities.

But in outsourcing this work, the military has often struggled to provide adequate oversight to ensure that work is done competently — or is completed at all. Today, records show, some of the most dangerous cleanup work that has been entrusted to contractors remains unfinished, or worse, has been falsely pronounced complete, leaving people who live near former military sites to assume these areas are now safe.

Probiotics help poplar trees clean up toxins in Superfund sites

Read the full story from the University of Washington.

Researchers from the University of Washington and several small companies have conducted the first large-scale experiment on a Superfund site using poplar trees fortified with a probiotic — or natural microbe — to clean up groundwater contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE), a common pollutant found in industrial areas that is harmful to humans when ingested through water or inhaled from the air. Their results were published in final form Aug. 11 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Sourcing Urban Soil Contaminants to Improve Cleanup

Read the full story from the U.S. EPA.

Identifying the source of soil contaminants is vital to decision-making during an environmental cleanup. Soil in long-established cities has accumulated decades of low levels of pollutants caused by urban activity. Deposition of metals and other chemicals like polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) come from historical industrial activity and manufacturing materials used to build the infrastructure of a modern society. Naturally occurring metals such as lead and arsenic may also occur in urban soil. The combination of natural and anthropogenic background levels of chemicals is known as urban background contamination.

Urban background contaminants are generally widely dispersed in low levels over large urban areas. These metals and chemicals can intermingle with higher concentrations of chemicals from spills and industrial waste. This creates challenges in understanding how an industrial site is contributing to overall soil contamination.

Pruitt says EPA will create ‘top-10’ list for Superfund cleanup

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt vowed Tuesday to cut through bureaucratic red tape that has slowed the cleanup of toxic Superfund sites and follow a task force’s recommendations to act more boldly in holding companies responsible for past contamination…

But many critics question his ability to turn around the issues, including regulatory delays and litigation, that have meant lagging progress. The administrator has defended a White House budget proposal that would cut his agency’s funding by 34 percent for fiscal 2018 and would reduce funding for Superfund sites by $330 million annually.

Polymer network captures drinking water contaminant

Read the full story in Chemical & Engineering News.

Long-chain perfluorinated chemicals contaminate millions of Americans’ drinking water. These compounds are a legacy of industrial pollution and the use of firefighting foam at military bases and airports; they persist in the environment because of their strong carbon-fluorine bonds. Now scientists have designed a cross-linked polymer that might more effectively remove one of the more prevalent and harmful of these compounds, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2017, DOI: 10.1021/jacs.7b02381).

Scott Pruitt vows to speed the nation’s Superfund cleanups. Communities wonder how.

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

In Bridgeton and elsewhere, others are asking similar questions with various degrees of hope and hesi­ta­tion. In his previous role as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt had long-standing ties to oil and gas companies and a litigious history fighting the EPA. And although he has called the federal Superfund program “vital” and a “cornerstone” of the EPA’s mission, the Trump administration has proposed slashing its funding by 30 percent.