Lies and lawyers<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY2NTA3Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1OTMwNjk3Nn0.zDyqSK9sB5YsUwljWZprGHeUehVj4wr35bsXQav93V0/img.jpg?width=980" id="651cb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="95c17b1255730ba0b67a052dbfa7b734" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="ann gorsuch EPA Reagan" data-width="750" data-height="497" />
Ronald Reagan meets with Anne Gorsuch. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)<p> The public next got a bellyful of toxic waste and Superfund news in 1982, when the town of Times Beach, Missouri, hired a waste hauler named Russell Bliss to spray oil on its dirt roads to keep the massive clouds of dust down. Bliss took the opportunity to get rid of another load of waste, mixing in a dioxin-contaminated liquid with the oil. Soon, horses dropped dead and people fell sick. Times Beach was evacuated. </p><p> Superfund next hit the headlines in 1983. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Anne Gorsuch, a Reagan appointee and mother of current Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, was forced to resign in a scandal that sent her aide, Rita Lavelle, to a six-month prison term. Lavelle ran the Superfund program and was <a href="https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1985-04-20-mn-21740-story.html" target="_blank">convicted of lying to Congress </a>about her previous employer's pollution. </p><p> The Superfund law operated on the "polluter pays" principle. Polluters—even defunct ones like Hooker—would be hunted down and held to pay for past sins. A separate fund would cover cleanup at sites where "responsible parties" can't be determined. <br> </p><p> Nice plan, but it failed to factor in another sometimes-toxic phenomenon: Lawyers. </p><p> In no time flat, Superfund cases ran into the toxic quicksand of protracted courthouse battles delaying many cases, and many cleanups, for years. </p><p> By Bill Clinton's <a href="https://millercenter.org/the-presidency/presidential-speeches/february-17-1993-address-joint-session-congress" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first State of the Union speech in 1993</a>, a Democratic President was moved to speak ill of a blockbuster environmental law. "I'd like to use that Superfund to clean up pollution for a change and not just pay lawyers." <em></em> </p><p> Also in 1993, one of my favorite Superfund stories hit the headlines: Residents of Triumph, Idaho, a lead-mining community turned wealthy second-homeowner haven, <a href="https://www.hcn.org/issues/78" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">battled to keep Superfund out</a>. One of the community's leaders was the late Adam West, better known as TV's Batman. The imagery doesn't get much clearer than Batman versus the EPA. The case dragged on until 2018, when <a href="https://www.idahopress.com/eyeonboise/idaho-environmental-group-settle-triumph-mine-pollution-lawsuit/article_5d9f7945-cf64-533c-bf06-b8e662f57be2.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a conservation group settled with Idaho's state environment agency.</a> </p><p> In 1995, Congress let a special tax that fed the cleanup fund expire. Superfund has toiled on as a pauper program ever since. </p>
Life after Superfund<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY2NTEwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MzM0ODA0OX0.ciq3eEkI3R6Zt0xuLgLe2h0-TqMLJ-0eLH5swld0ASM/img.jpg?width=980" id="9be73" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="226320fd7bbf6c67a9444f3993e0a0b4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="643" />
A pair of Canadian geese in the Meadowlands. (Credit: Steven Reynolds/flickr)<p>President Biden inherits more than 1,500 Superfund sites. Most of them with unfinished business. The Government Accountability Office recently reported <a href="https://www.epa.gov/superfund/superfund-national-priorities-list-npl" target="_blank">that 945 Superfund sites remain vulnerable </a>to the impacts of climate change through increased intense storms and sea level rise. <em>Inside Climate News</em>, the<em> Texas Observer</em>, and <em>NBC News</em> recently teamed up on a <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/superfund-sites-climate-change" target="_blank">five-part series</a> on Superfund's current woes that is worth checking out.</p><p>But back to Jersey, and a hopeful note: One exceedingly imperfect example of how Superfund <em>might</em> work exists in the Hackensack Meadowlands, a few miles from my boyhood home. The Meadowlands, a huge, once pristine salt marsh virtually in the shadows of Manhattan's skyscrapers, spent more than a century as the lucky recipient of a veritable industrial bowel movement, courtesy of New York City and dozens of Jersey cities and towns. Cleanup of three Superfund sites on Meadowlands tributaries has helped immensely.</p><p>Parts of the Meadowlands are still filthy. Some always will be. Others are paved over, like MetLife Stadium, home of pro football's Giants and Jets. But other parts have recovered their status as a <a href="https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/environment/2018/09/12/meadowlands-now-haven-birds-according-audubon/1123676002/" target="_blank">vital stopover for migratory waterfowl,</a> and a permanent home for resident birds and their human birdwatching entourage.</p><p>So there can be life after Superfund, foibles, failures and all. </p>
As Ann Arbor's dioxane case intensifies, local officials met with U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell to strategize.
In Butte and Anaconda, Superfund cleanup is foremost a matter of community health and safety. As agreements are settled and cleanup kicks into high gear, however, the two communities also stand to reap economic benefits.
Plan to assess all Silver Bow County schools for soil contaminants revealed at community Superfund meeting
The RMAP program hopes to assess, and, if necessary, abate the soils on every private and public school property in the county by the end of the 2021 summer break.
"I was a total cheerleader for this industry at the beginning. Now I just want to make sure no one else makes the same mistake I did. It has ruined my life."
Jane Worthington moved her grandkids to protect them from oil and gas wells—but it didn't work. In US fracking communities, the industry's pervasiveness causes social strain and mental health problems.
We tested families in fracking country for harmful chemicals and revealed unexplained exposures, sick children, and a family's "dream life" upended.
EHN.org scientific investigation finds western Pennsylvania families near fracking are exposed to harmful chemicals, and regulations fail to protect communities' mental, physical, and social health.
"Once they had the results of our study [families] felt like they had proof that these chemicals are in their air, their water, and making their way into their bodies."