Superfund case studies: Is federal intervention the way to go

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The Valley of the Drums
“The Valley of the Drums,” a nightmarish dumpsite of more than 17,000 chemical barrels near Louisville, Kentucky, was placed on the Superfund list in 1983 and was declared safe in 1990 — and promptly touted as one of the early triumphs of the Superfund program. But last year, a second, unnoticed barrel-strewn landfill was discovered on the other side of a chain link fence ringing the original site. The site is currently being remediated.
Result: Mixed. First clean-up took seven years, but was incomplete.

The Upper Hudson River
Contamination of the Hudson was mostly confined to a 40-mile stretch near Albany where General Electric dumped more than 1.3 million pounds of PCBs, a potential carcinogen, into the river before 1977. In 1984, the feds designated most of the river a Superfund site — but then spent the next 16 years fighting to get GE to pay for the clean-up. In 2002, the company agreed to spend at least $750 million. Removal of the PCBs is expected to be finished in 2015.
Result: Clean-up not finished. Slated to take 31 years.

The Love Canal
The granddaddy of environmental catastrophes, this troubled section of Niagara Falls, NY actually spawned the legislation in 1980 that created the Superfund program. The trouble started in the late 1970s when investigators noticed high levels of birth defects and rare cancers in the area — the result of long-buried chemicals seeping into homes and a school. A horrified nation prompted the government to evacuate hundreds of families. Though some critics say there are lingering risks, the Environmental Protection Agency removed the Love Canal from the Superfund list in 2004 after a $400-million cleanup.
Result: Clean-up took 24 years, though it’s unclear if it fully worked.

There’s substantial debate over whether federal Superfund designation is a good thing or a bad thing for a toxic site. Here are some case studies:

Updated 5:12 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Sid from Boerum Hill says:
no money in the SuperFund!
April 16, 2009, 11:27 am
Agnes from Gowanus says:
So let's let Toll Bros. build - they say the Gowanus Canal isn't really that dirty. They got their spot rezoning after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying for it. Then they try to sell their expensive condos (they are luxury home builders) - of course, anyone can google and find out that the canal was nominated as a Superfund site. Who in their right mind would choose to live there knowing the place is not cleaned up - that Toll actually fought the clean-up?

But if the canal is remediated - and the EPA clearly stated they would remediate to accomodate the wishes of the community, then it is a potential win-win. I have been in this area 25 years now, and the time goes very quickly!

Note that the EPA stated that they are the only one to really clean the canal properly and comprehensively.
April 16, 2009, 10:46 pm
observer from all says:
The amount of misinformation and half truths regarding this issue is amazing... EPA has no intention of cleaning the canal.. their efforts will focus on finding a responsible party for sediment contamination from historic coal tar sites along the canal.. this contamination lies anywhere from 5 -15 ft below the surface sediments... the lawsuits that will sort out liability for this contamination and who untimately does the work and pays could take decades to sort out..
April 23, 2009, 10:26 am
JP from South Brooklyn says:
Observer is correct in that the long periods before remediation is complete largely stem from litigation. The EPA must first identify potentially responsible parties, then sue them to undertake or pay for the remediation, and then, simultaneously or afterwards, the PRPs sue their insurers for the cash to pony up for the remediation. As the pollution from manufactured gas plants (I'm assuming this is the bulk of the pollution) started in the 19th c., obtaining evidence can be difficult. But the actual remediation can take place in as little as a few years for MGP sites.
April 23, 2009, 1:39 pm

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