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article imageThe nation's Superfund sites — Cleanup of toxic waste

By Karen Graham     Dec 4, 2014 in Environment
We all know what hazardous waste is supposed to be, right? It is usually defined as a solid waste that has the potential to cause, or contribute to an increase in death rates or serious debilitating illnesses, as well as posing a risk to the environment.
There are many businesses, large and small, in cities and towns all across the country and the world that generate toxic wastes. There could be one close to where you live. Dry cleaners, automobile repair shops, hospitals and pest control companies are just a few that come to mind. Larger companies might include chemical companies, electroplating businesses and oil refineries.
From the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 through the creation of the Superfund or Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), we have been fighting to stop the illegal dumping of toxic wastes as well as cleaning up the result of the dumping of toxic and hazardous wastes over the past decades.
Superfund sites in the contiguous United States  as of March 2010. Red indicates currently on final ...
Superfund sites in the contiguous United States, as of March 2010. Red indicates currently on final National Priority List, yellow is proposed, green is deleted (usually meaning having been cleaned up).
Skew1
Superfund sites a national priority
As of February, 2014, there were 1,322 Superfund sites on the National Priorities List (NPL). These sites are polluted locations that require long-term cleanup of hazardous materials. These sites could very well be capable of creating environmental and health problems. An additional 53 such sites were being considered for entry to the register in February..
The EPA has the authority to identify the parties responsible for the contamination, as well as make them pay for the clean up. This authority is vital in seeing that our land, air and water is not destroyed. With over 1,300 of these sites around the country, it is a fact that 11 million people live within one mile of a Superfund site. Let's look at a few of the most prominent sites in the U.S.
Love Canal. New York
Aware that 21,000 tons of toxic waste had been buried on the Love Canal site, the Niagara Falls School Board bought the 36 square blocks for one dollar in 1953. A school and 100 homes were built on the site that had been covered with soil. Heavy rains in 1978 caused the chemicals in the soil to leach out to the surface, causing a spike in birth defects, miscarriages and diseases. Lawns, trees, and gardens also started turning black and dying.
A view of Love Canal in 2012: Most toxic areas on the site have been resealed or removed. 
 Ground Z...
A view of Love Canal in 2012: Most toxic areas on the site have been resealed or removed. "Ground Zero" is still fenced off.
Buffalutheran
Pearl Harbor Naval Complex, Hawaii
Pearl Harbor, the site of the 1941 attack by the Japanese Empire is a beautiful, peaceful looking place today. But underneath the peaceful facade is a toxic mess. After WWII, industrial activity rose sharply as did toxic waste. By the 1980s, 30 different toxic chemicals had been identified within the complex. It was discovered that the wastes had possibly leaked into Oahu's groundwater wells.
Clean up efforts at Pearl Harbor are on-going today.
Clean up efforts at Pearl Harbor are on-going today.
PH2 Thompson, USN - U.S. DefenseImagery photo
Hudson River, New York
In 1984, a 200-mile long section of the Hudson River was designated a Superfund site. Considered one of the "nastiest" waterways in America, the Hudson River, from the Hudson Falls to New York City is contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB's. The PCB's were dumped in the upper Hudson by companies run by General Electric from 1947 to 1977. Fishing has been banned and the water cannot be used for agriculture.
Clean up of PCBs in New York s Hudson River will cost General Electric about $460 million to complet...
Clean up of PCBs in New York's Hudson River will cost General Electric about $460 million to complete. To date, 1.3 million cubic yards of sediment have been removed. Picture taken in 2014.
EPA
Gowanus Canal, New York
Added to the Superfund list in 2010, the 1.8-mile long Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York is now considered one of the most polluted bodies of water in the country. Besides sewage there is everything from PCBs to coal tar wastes, and heavy metals and volatile organics. In 2013, a dolphin made the mistake of accidentally swimming into the canal and died while struggling to get out. The EPA has a seven-layered plan to clean up the canal.
This June 7  2014 photo of the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn shows a serene and pastoral setting. But th...
This June 7, 2014 photo of the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn shows a serene and pastoral setting. But the waters are literally "toxic."
Peak Player
The Hanford site, Washington state
The Hanford site is a mostly decommissioned nuclear production site operated by the federal government. Established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, reactor B was the first full-scale plutonium production reactor in the world. It has been discovered from accessing government documents that safety procedures and the disposal of radioactive waste were terribly inadequate, with the release of radioactive materials into the air and the Columbia River. In June, 1988, was included in the Superfund list.
In 1989, the Washington Department of Ecology, the EPA, and the Department of Energy entered into a three-party agreement to clean up the site. The clean up has turned out to be the largest environmental cleanup in the world. It will cost $113.6 billion. This is more than $3.0 billion per year for the next six years, and even then, the work will not be finished.
The Hanford Reach of the Columbia River  where radioactivity was released from 1944 to 1971.
The Hanford Reach of the Columbia River, where radioactivity was released from 1944 to 1971.
DOE photo
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