News Feature | January 16, 2018

EPA Overstates Its Work On Superfund Cleanup

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online

pruitt.reg

Though the current U.S. EPA administration is boasting about its action to clean up the nation’s Superfund sites, it appears that it has not done as much as implied.

Designated Superfund sites are those that the EPA has identified as contaminated by hazardous waste and a possible risk to human or environmental health. They are at top-of-mind for environmental activists and the treatment sector, which may have to deal with the contaminants they leach into source water and bring to drinking water systems.

“The agency … credited the leadership of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt with tripling the number of sites fully or partially removed from the Superfund’s National Priorities List in 2017, compared with the two sites taken off in the Obama administration’s last year,” per Time.

Even though the EPA is framing this accomplishment as one that should be credited to the current administration, it appears that environmental advocates actually have previous administrations to thank for the progress.

“The Environmental Protection Agency is touting cleanups at seven of the nation’s most polluted places as a signature accomplishment in the Trump administration’s effort to reduce the number of Superfund sites,” reported The Denver Post. “But records show the physical work was completed before Trump took office.”

The confusion may stem from an honest miscommunication by the EPA, but it should be made clear that the hard work of clearing Superfund sites of hazardous material is a lengthy process, and one that Pruitt would not have been able to lead in his relatively short tenure.

“Cleanups of Superfund sites usually take decades, spanning presidential administrations,” according to Time. “Records show that construction work at all seven sites hyped by Pruitt’s EPA, such as removing soil or drilling wells to suck out contaminated groundwater, was completed years before Pruitt was confirmed as the agency’s chief in February.”

If anything, this EPA’s ability to delist Superfund sites has been slower than what’s typical. According to Time, Obama’s EPA delisted more than 10 sites a year and President George W. Bush delisted almost 18 sites per year.

But the important thing for water utilities around the country is that there are now seven fewer areas that pose an acute contamination threat.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Scott Pruitt," Gage Skidmore © 2015, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/