Would you want to raise your children on the site of an old toxic-waste dump? Unless you’re some sort of uneducated cartoon villain, the answer is probably no. Most of us don’t realize how close these dangerous sites are to our own backyard. According to the Society of Environmental Journalists, “over half the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of one of the 1,304 Superfund sites listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the nation’s worst toxic waste dumps.”
Origins of the Waste
A Superfund site is what the government and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls a place where “human exposure is not under control,” which means contamination is at an unsafe level, and there is the possibility for humans to come into contact with the contamination. The contamination also hasn’t been stabilized, treated, or contained well enough to prevent exposure, according to HowStuffWorks.
The need for Superfund sites arose in response to 1980 legislation that was passed when national disasters like the Love Canal took center stage in the media. The Love Canal was a small community built on an old toxic-waste dumping ground that wasn’t properly contained. The area flooded, and waste surfaced, causing unspeakable diseases and horrors in the community. Sevenson Environmental Services was one of the contractors on this cleanup. Since then, the EPA has worked tirelessly to clean up Superfund sites; although, for the thousands of them that exist, only a handful have been cleaned up.
Spreading the Word
While more than 11 million people live within a mile of a Superfund site, many are unaware. Although 1,035 sites have made the cleanup list, there is not enough funding available to do the necessary work. Many of the companies responsible for the major toxic dumping have avoided paying for the cleanups by filing bankruptcy. If they hadn’t, it’s estimated $750 million would have been collected from them to clean up the dangerous messes. Sevenson has completed 118 Superfund sites.
What Can Be Done
Superfund sites are still popping up all over, and due to the funding delays, they might not be registered or cleaned up for years. The EPA encourages people to speak up and get involved, but involvement isn’t as easy as grabbing a loudspeaker and standing on the steps of the capital. Involvement requires lots of research and learning what is going on with the Superfund sites in your area. The EPA’s website outlines the steps as follows:
- Listen carefully to what the community is saying.
- Take the time needed to deal with community concerns.
- Change planned actions where community comments or concerns have merit.
- Keep the community well-informed of ongoing and planned activities.
- Explain to the community what EPA has done and why.
Ridding the world of toxic-waste sites is something we probably won’t see in our lifetime, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take baby steps to spread awareness and help get our hometowns become a little bit cleaner.
About the author: Marshall Gregg is a Princeton man from a long line of Harvard men, Marshall has always found a way to break the mold. His articles on finance and small business have been published widely online and in print.