States are asking the EPA to take on more contaminated sites, directly conflicting with Administrator Scott Pruitt’s new goal of cutting down the Superfund list.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced July 31 that it has added seven sites to the National Priorities List—which contains the country’s most contaminated sites—and is considering adding four more. The new sites include two in the Northeast, three in the South and one each in the Midwest and Puerto Rico.
The EPA added the sites to the list because of their scores on the agency’s Hazard Ranking System. The system assigns numerical scores to sites according to the contamination present and risks to public and environmental health.
However, news of the additions came six days after EPA issued its Superfund plan, which emphasizes deleting sites from the list by holding parties accountable for cleanup.
“This shouldn’t be a list that you never get off of,” Pruitt said at a media roundtable July 25 when the plan.
At most of these newly proposed or listed sites, “the state [cleanup] program doesn’t feel they have the right resources, or sufficient resources, to get it done,” said Doug Arnold, partner and co-chair of the environmental practice group at Alston and Bird LLP. The EPA’s National Priorities List contains the country’s most contaminated sites.
Some of these sites were abandoned by companies that could not pay for cleanup, such as Microfab Inc. and Eagle Industries. At other sites, potentially responsible parties have not yet been identified, according to EPA and state records.
The EPA didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment. The addition of the new sites, and EPA’s plan, could surface at a hearing on Superfund Aug. 1 before the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight.
The agency’s new plan for the Superfund program focuses on getting potentially responsible parties or third parties to pay for cleanup and speeding up the remediation process by setting new, more-aggressive deadlines for the EPA. Currently, the agency mainly relies on potentially responsible parties to pay for cleanup.
The task force that developed the plan didn’t make specific changes to the state-federal role in cleanups.
The EPA is withdrawing its proposal to add a Livingston, Mont., site to the National Priorities List because the potentially responsible party, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co., has agreed to clean up contamination there.
But, at other sites, states haven’t been as lucky. States have already used their limited funds at some locations to deal with contaminated drinking water, abandoned properties and groundwater plumes.
At the proposed Eagle Industries site in Midwest City, Okla., the state stopped a company from dumping trichloroethylene, but the company couldn’t afford to investigate the resulting groundwater pollution.
At another site in Valley, Neb., that is now part of the National Priorities List, the state found a 2.5-mile-long groundwater plume but has not found its source or a potentially responsible party who could pay for cleanup.
As a result of the agency’s additions, 1,343 sites are now on the finalized National Priorities List.
Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics has been involved with a site at the Village of Hoosick Falls in New York, where one of the company’s manufacturing facilities released chemicals that contaminated soil and groundwater, according to the EPA. Those chemicals include perfluorooctanoic acid, which does not have a federal drinking water standard.
Saint-Gobain has long argued against the EPA’s Hazard Ranking System in an effort to keep the site off the National Priorities List. The company commented to EPA that the unregulated compound should not be used to calculate hazards present at the site because there are no binding federal drinking water standards for it.
In a July 31 statement acknowledging the site’s addition to the National Priorities List, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics spokeswoman Dina Pokedoff said the company’s top priority continues to be providing potable water to residents.
The village’s mayor, Rob Allen, said in a statement that he is “grateful” that the site has been added to the list, and for additional expertise and resources from EPA.
The EPA received few comments on its proposal to add seven sites to the National Priorities List but most were from residents advocating for the sites to be added to the list.
The EPA plans to publish notices of the added and proposed sites in the Federal Register Aug. 3, opening the changes to public comment.
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