Superfund, a program from the Environmental Protection Agency, is designed to address abandoned hazardous waste sites, help clean them up, and enforce against those who are responsible for the damage. These toxic bits of land can often contaminate groundwater or damage the health of nearby citizens—arsenic, mercury and lead are all some of the potent contaminants found at these sites.
Many of these sites are large corporations, landfills, refineries and so on. But, which ones are the worst of the worst? TakePart looked at the EPA’s National Priorities List, which ranks the highest priority sites, and Scorecard, a resource for pollution information, to find out just exactly where some of the worst offenders are. Click through to read on.
Photo: Wittselbach Bernd/Getty Images
Pearl Harbor Naval Complex—Hawaii
The Pearl Harbor Naval Complex, which occupies 6,300 acres on Oahu in Hawaii, is the site of the infamous Japanese attack during World War II. In the 1980s, the Navy found that the site had 30 potential hazardous waste sources, from waste oil facilities to pesticide disposal pits.
This superfund site has a laundry list of chemicals in the soil, including PCBs and mercury, and volatile organic compounds that could potentially release gases in the air. Tetrachloroethene, a chemical often used in dry cleaning, was found below the ground surface—the worry is contamination in groundwater, as about 110,000 people get drinking water from wells near the naval station.
Photo: Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Creative Commons via Flickr
Taylor Lumber and Treating—Oregon
A still-active wood processing facility, Taylor Lumber and Treating made the list because of groundwater contamination. The Oregon site leaked wood-treating chemicals such as arsenic and pentachlorophenol, which have now been contained by an underground barrier wall.
The EPA filters the contaminated ground water through a treatment system before releasing it to the South Yamhill River. Physical cleanup at the site has already finished: in the past few years, 5,000 tons of contaminated soil was moved and taken to a hazardous waste landfill, roadside ditches were cleaned and restored, and monitoring wells were closed.
Photo: Google Earth
This one's real bad.
For decades, Massachusetts’ Industri-plex was used to make insecticides, explosives, acids and other chemicals. The area continues to leak toxic metals in the environment, and the groundwater is contaminated with arsenic, chromium and lead.
We’ll leave you with this quote from the EPA: “As excavation progressed, pockets of buried animal hides from glue manufacturing were exposed to the air, causing odors.” Because of decaying animal hides, Industri-plex has a persistent “rotten egg” odor from hydrogen sulfide gas. The site, which threatens nearby wetlands, is currently under construction.
This Garden State sore spot closed in 1980, but during its time, it collected not only municipal waste but also industrial waste filled with paint, heavy metals, hospital wastes.
An underground fire in 1981 burned for about two months, emitting “noxious fumes.” In 1983, air samples showed high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and soil was polluted with heavy metals such as cadmium and lead. Since then, the site has been cleaned up and construction completed.
Photo: Pool/Getty Images
McCormick & Baxter Creosoting Co.—Stockton, California
For decades, McCormic & Baxter treated utility poles and railroad ties with a heavy combination of chemicals and heavy metals. Waste products such as pentachlorphenol (PCP) leaked into stormwater runoff and contaminated soil. While drinking water in the Stockton, Calif., area has thankfully not been affected, site-related toxins have been found in locally caught fish, which could be consumed by fishermen and their families.
Currently, the EPA has completed tasks including installing stormwater collection ponds and excavating oily waste ponds; the site is still under construction.
Photo: Phliar/Creative Commons via Flickr
Lipari Landfill—New Jersey
Lipari Landfill, though only six acres, created major problems in New Jersey. While it was open from 1958 to 1971, the landfill accepted about three million gallons of liquid wastes (and 12,000 cubic yards of solid waste), including paints and thinners, formaldehyde and much more. Toxins seeped into nearby marshlands, streams and a lake, which closed for recreational use. Wildlife in the area may have been harmed, as well as humans who trespassed to swim in the lake or fished there, according to the EPA. About 128,000 tons of soil from the marsh was excavated and the area was filled with clean soil; the lake also reopened in 1995. The site is still under construction.
Photo: U.S Army Corp Engineers/Creative Commons via Flickr
Washington County Lead District Old Mines and Richwoods—Missouri
Part of the state’s “Old Lead Belt,” Old Mines and Richwoods, both of Washington County, Missouri, have soil and groundwater contaminated with arsenic, barium, cadmium and lead caused by a long history of mining. Elevated levels of these contaminants have been found in nearby creeks too. Currently, physical cleanup has started at both sites and the EPA has provided bottled water to nearby residents.
Big River Mine Tailings & St. Joe Minerals Corp.—Missouri
The worst Superfund site on our list: a heavy mining site in Missouri. Also part of the “Old Lead Belt,” Big River Mine Tailings/St. Joe Minerals Corp. was used to dispose of lead mine tailings, or waste, from 1929 to 1958. The EPA learned about the site about 20 years later, after 50,000 cubic yards of tailings—which contain lead, cadmium, zinc—had fallen into the Big River during heavy rains.
The state has found elevated levels of lead in fish downstream of the site, and that dust created by wind erosion is laced with metals and potentially hazardous. And most of all, a 1997 study indicated that 17 percent of kids under the age of seven had blood-lead concentrations that were higher than acceptable health levels. Since the EPA has started cleaning up the area, the rate has dropped to 2.6 percent as of 2009.
Kelly Zhou hails from the Bay Area and is currently a student in Los Angeles. She has written on a variety of topics, predominantly focusing on politics and education. Email Kelly | @kelllyzhou | TakePart.com