Have a Superfund Near You? No, You Haven’t Won the Lottery

If you’ve heard the phrase “Superfund Site” mentioned in conjunction with your neighborhood, it’s time to do some research and see how you might be affected. It’s also something you should ask about when you are shopping for a new home in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

Superfund Sites

Superfund is a designation assigned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for an uncontrolled hazardous waste site. The Superfund designation is applied once a site is identified as dangerous and requires remediation. After designation, the real work begins as clean up can take years or decades to complete. Litigation is often necessary to hold the responsible parties accountable for the cost of remediation. Public hearings, political involvement and corporate lawyers all add layers of complication to an already difficult process.

The best way to explain a Superfund site is to use a real-life example. Take, for instance, one site in Jersey City, New Jersey contaminated by hexavalent chromium from Chromium Ore Processing Residue (COPR). Hexavalent chromium is, incidentally, the same contaminant that Erin Brockovich so famously investigated in California. The site in question had been used for industrial work for the better part of a century and a proposed redevelopment led to the EPA designating it a Superfund site. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) contracted with Sevenson Environmental Services to implement remediation.

An independent contractor is hired by the government to implement remediation. They have no financial stake in the site, as they hold no responsibility for the damage done and will be paid either by the government or by government mandated action. The remediation company also communicates with the inhabitants of the affected area to keep them informed about the clean up efforts.

How Sites are Remediated

Sevenson provided —in compliance with all OSHA standards, local and national laws and with all necessary contractor permits — materials, equipment, personal protection equipment and monitoring equipment. They also provided all personnel, labor and monitoring for the site.

It is essential for the remediation company to provide all necessary services to prevent conflicts of interest. If the responsible parties or local politicians were involved with the onsite work, they could be enticed into falsifying information for their own benefit.

On this particular site demolition was necessary. After demolition the soil had to be removed, treated or contained to make the site safe for future use and prevent contamination of the water table or any surface water. It was also necessary to reduce chromium concentrations in already affected groundwater.  Once the basic remediation work was finished, Sevenson conducted several post-excavation surveys to assess the amount of soil excavated, fill material used and how much surface area was restored. Temporary water-treatment systems were installed to lower the water table during soil work, treat affected water and assure long-term water quality.

These examples give an idea of just some of the work, planning and implementation that goes into Superfund site remediation. Every Superfund site’s situation is different and handled differently. According to the EPA, some Superfund sites have been identified as uninhabitable for more than 30 years. Depending on the severity of the site, it can either produce no effect to its surrounding areas or have a serious environmental impact on nearby neighborhoods, so it is important to stay aware of what kind of Superfund sites are in which locations. The lesson you should take away is to treat these sites with fearful respect and to thoroughly research and stay informed on any sites in your area.

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