St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske sat down with Bruce Morrison, President of Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, and Steve Taylor, press secretary for the Global Justice Ecology Project, to discuss new federal funding designated to remediate Superfund sites in Missouri. The conversation focused on the factors the EPA considers for site selection, the impact of site remediation on Missouri residents, and the importance of environmental justice and citizen advocacy.
The recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Job Acts provides new funding for remediation of EPA Superfund sites, including two sites in Missouri slated for accelerated remediation. President Bruce Morrison, along with local environmental activist Steve Taylor, were featured on St. Louis on the Air to discuss the contamination at these sites and the importance of citizen advocacy and environmental justice in toxic waste remediation.
This past December, the EPA announced that the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocated one billion dollars to address the “backlog of Superfund sites” across the United States. Superfund sites are those in which hazardous waste has been “dumped, left out in the open, or otherwise improperly managed” (EPA). Following the creation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) by Congress in 1980, classification as a “Superfund site” allows the EPA to clean up these sites with federal funds or money from the corporation responsible for the contamination (EPA).
That funding “is great to have,” said Taylor, who stated that, “if you live next to [one of the sites slated for cleanup], [the funding] could be life changing” but, “if you look at the magnitude and scope of the amount of contamination in Missouri, [this funding] really isn’t much.”
Currently, there are approximately 1,300 Superfund sites across the U.S., seventy-eight of which are in Missouri and Illinois. Out of these 1,300 projects, the EPA has selected forty-nine as “accelerated sites” that it will begin work on in the coming year. Two of these accelerated sites are in Missouri: Valley Park TCE and Vienna Wells.
Morrison addressed the contamination occurring at the sites chosen for accelerated cleanup in Missouri, in which contaminated soil has begun seeping into the groundwater.
The contamination is so pervasive in Vienna, Missouri that, according to Morrison, “people can’t drink the water without the water getting cleaned up, and the water can’t be cleaned up because the soil is contaminated.
Morrison speculated that in addition to the urgency of the groundwater issues, the low-cost and time commitment of these projects were likely critical to their selection as accelerated sites. He believes that the EPA offers a fair timeframe and budget for the project’s completion, with the Valley Park TCE site cost projected at approximately $4.5 million and the Vienna Wells site budgeted for just under $20 million.
Later in the segment, Morrison and Taylor discussed the different types of remediation efforts: residential and industrial. Residential sites are those that are cleaned up to meet the standards of residential living spaces while industrial clean-ups only raise the site to the standard for people working but not living full-time on site. Industrial sites prohibit activities such as food production and day-care centers, but do not prohibit the building of power plants, warehouses, and salvage yards (EPA). It is not uncommon for individuals working on Industrial sites to be unaware of the area’s history and the risks of potential contamination.
Morrison detailed this process of partial clean up as “leaving selective processed materials in place, covering them with two feet of clean soil, and then securing the site with fencing”. What’s more, Morrison questioned,
“if the waste would remain in place if the community was in a place of power to demand otherwise”, arguing that when property is considered commercially valuable or located in more affluent communities, the contamination clean-up is held to a higher standard.
Morrison and Taylor placed an emphasis on the need for a greater commitment to minority communities, throughout the segment reminding listeners of the disproportionate impact of contamination sites on minority communities. Morrison pointed out the ways in which minority communities can be left out of the discussions and planning of these efforts. Taylor recalled his childhood growing up near a contaminated river and noted the lack of scientific studies that demonstrate the connection between disease and proximity to toxic waste that he, and many others, experienced.
Morrison and Taylor wrapped up the segment emphasizing that today, “following a period at the federal level where we deregulated”, it is extremely important to develop tougher regulations at every level and to ensure they are enforced. Arguing that enforcement takes citizen action and advocacy, Morrison and Taylor encouraged victims of toxic contamination to reach out to Great Rivers Environmental Law Firm. They concluded by emphasizing that individuals must not wait for issues of toxic contamination to be addressed by city governments or utility companies, instead, individuals must organize and advocate for themselves.
You can read more and listen to the interview at: https://news.stlpublicradio.org/show/st-louis-on-the-air/2022-01-10/as-epa-plans-2-superfund-cleanups-in-missouri-st-louis-region-grapples-with-long-legacy-of-contamination.