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EPA adds 10 sites to the Superfund list

The EPA added 10 sites to the Superfund priority list this week and eight more to its waiting list.

By / Staff Writer / March 3, 2010

One of the 10 new sites added ro the EPA's Superfund list is the Gowanus Canal in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. For years, the canal has been flanked by chemical factories and refineries that have dumped chemicals into it.

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After years of languishing as the neglected stepchild of environmental enforcement, there are signs that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program is beginning a big shift in priorities for cleaning up federal toxic waste sites, advocates say.

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On Tuesday the EPA announced 10 new sites, bringing the total to 1,279 sites on the Superfund's national priority list and eight more on the waiting list, for a total of 61 proposed sites awaiting final agency action. [Click here to see the list of new sites.]

The new additions, along with increased enforcement action in 2009, were seen as signs of progress by some activists and close observers.

“These site additions may be smaller in number than in Superfund’s heyday, but [along with the enforcment numbers] are a sign they're starting to get serious again,” says Rena Steinzor, president of the Center for Progressive Reform, a Washington think tank, who has studied Superfund effectiveness and funding.

An EPA spokesman said the additions represented about the same rate as past years, although an annual total won’t be known until a second group is released in the fall.

But Ms. Steinzor notes that those site additions come on the heels of the EPA reporting an “exceptional year for the Superfund enforcement program” in fiscal 2009, the Obama administration’s first nine months of enforcement.

During that period, responsible parties committed to pay about $2 billion to clean up Superfund sites, the second highest amount since the program began in 1980. That included $371 million in settlements with responsible parties reimbursing the government for money the agency spent cleaning up Superfund sites, the highest cost recovery total in a fiscal year since Superfund began. [Click here to see EPA enforcement actions.]

But it is EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s public commitment to “environmental justice” (many Superfund sites are near poor communities), together with the enforcement spurt and updated lists that together signal a renewed willingness to tackle the nation’s most intransigent pollution problems almost 30 years after the program began, observers say.

“It’s really encouraging to see all these sites added – and stiffer enforcement,” says Lois Gibbs, executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice in Falls Church, Va. “But we think [that] to achieve real progress, Congress will need to restore the 'polluter pays' funding.”

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