Some Superfund stories have a happy ending.
In Woburn, Mass., the Industri-Plex site - once home to chemical manufacturers - will not only be cleaned up, but will also gain a new life as a regional transportation center and highway interchange.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials say this may be the first time since 1980, when the Superfund program to clean up toxic-waste sites began, that a site will be returned to active use.
What is unique is the consent decree that lays out the site's future: It calls for the establishment of a custodial trust, which manages the property and holds its deed during the $50 million cleanup without taking on Superfund liability. The trust's job is to make sure the site gets clean and is suitable for future development.
When the land is ready, the trust will sell the undeveloped portion of the site for commercial and industrial use. Already, 20 acres of the 245-acre site are designated for a park-and-ride facility for commuters to travel to Boston and Logan airport.
Even the two ``deep pocket'' companies tapped to pay for most of the cleanup - Monsanto and ICI, neither of which contributed much to the contamination - stand to get some or all of their money back when the land is sold. The EPA will also recoup its expenses.
Another winner is the city of Woburn, which will receive proceeds from the property's sale, and after that, taxes from businesses that operate there. Trust manager Cynthia Stayton estimates that 12,000 jobs will be created.
``The reuse concept is being considered more and more with Superfund,'' says Michael Light, remediation manager of this and other Superfund sites.
Mr. Light notes another trail-blazing element: ``Covenants not to sue'' are being worked out so that buyers of the land will not face environmental liability. This type of covenant could help solve the problem of ``brownfield'' sites that developers do not want to touch, preferring instead to develop legally safer ``green fields,'' to the chagrin of environmentalists.