The Environmental Protection Agency is starting off the new year claiming progress on cleaning up the nation’s most contaminated toxic land areas, known as Superfund sites.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Tuesday that the agency has removed all or parts of seven Superfund sites from the National Priorities List, which includes locations that most urgently need cleanup of toxic chemicals.
"We have made it a priority to get these sites cleaned up faster and in the right way," Pruitt said Tuesday. "By creating a streamlined task force and making major remedy decisions that hold potentially responsible parties accountable for clean up, the Superfund program is carrying out the agency’s mission of protecting human health and the environment more every day."
The EPA says three sites have been completely removed from the priority list, meaning the agency says no further cleanup is needed at them.
The sites are:
• Nutting Truck & Caster Co. in Minnesota, contaminated with trichloroethylene in groundwater.
• Shpack Landfill in Massachusetts, which had contaminated soil, sediment and groundwater.
• Perdido Ground Water Contamination in Alabama, which was contaminated with benzene.
EPA also designated four sites as “partially completed,” where progress has been made, but cleanup efforts are continuing.
The sites are:
• Mystery Bridge Rd/U.S. Highway 20 in Wyoming, which had a groundwater plume and soil that contained benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and total xylenes.
• Ellisville Site in Missouri, which contained drums full of hazardous materials.
• Omaha Lead in Nebraska, where surface soil was contaminated by deposition of air emissions from historic lead smelting and refining operations.
• The North Penn-Area 6 in Pennsylvania, where soil and groundwater were contaminated with volatile organic compounds.
Pruitt said he has made more progress on cleanups than predecessor Gina McCarthy did last year. The EPA says the agency removed one full site from the priority list in 2016 and portions of another.
But the EPA in previous years achieved similar or higher cleanup records. The EPA removed seven sites from the priority list in 2015, 15 sites in 2014 and 12 sites in 2013.
Speeding up cleanup of Superfund sites has been one of Pruitt’s main goals.
Early in his EPA tenure, Pruitt appointed a task force to study the Superfund program, adopting 42 recommendations and saying he wanted to create a list of the most dangerous sites.
Last month, the EPA released a list of 21 Superfund sites that it said the agency will target “for immediate and intense attention.”
Critics note that President Trump's proposed EPA budget for 2018 would cut funding for the Superfund program by about 25 percent and 31 percent of EPA funding overall. Critics also worry that focusing on speeding up the cleanup process at particular high-priority sites could result in inadequate cleanups at other sites.
“Progress on Superfund sites is urgently needed,” said Nancy Loeb, director of the Environmental Advocacy Center at Northwestern University's Pritzker School of Law. “But speed is not the only measure of success. What matters most is that these sites are truly cleaned up and that people living near them are protected.”
More than 1,300 Superfund sites exist nationwide.