If you think Superfund sites, also known as hazardous waste sites, are someone else’s problem, think about this: Nearly half of all Americans live within 10 miles of the 1,304 active and proposed Superfund sites listed by the EPA.
Well over a year in the making, The Center for Public Integrity’s report on Superfund sites revealed an environmental program in shambles. Insufficient funding, lax enforcement and political and industry influence have combined to render this 27-year-old program moribund. Along the way, the Center identified the top 100 companies linked to the most toxic waste sites in the country.
This massive undertaking began with the leak of an underlying document from the EPA, according to project manager Alex Knott. Next, Knott said, “Center researchers determined how many subsidiaries each company had under its corporate umbrella — some had more than 400.” The team combed several government databases and then sent companies its list of sites in an effort to ensure accuracy.
“Not a single company quibbled with the sites they had been linked to after the project’s release,” Knott said.
The result: The Center uncovered a range of problems facing the Superfund program that had long evaded mainstream media.
According to Executive Director Bill Buzenberg: “1,624 toxic waste sites are included on the project Web site, along with individual Google maps and satellite photos, lists on contaminants on each site, as well as the names of specific companies involved with the site.”
Impact of the release of the Center’s report has been significant, from its use in oversight hearings in Congress, to media coverage across the spectrum. The public responded as well. One reader wrote to say: “Thank you for taking my life and the lives of others seriously. Thank you for showing how expendable myself, my family and my community was/is considered in the grand scheme (scam) of big business. Thank you for being a journalist, in the truest sense of the word.”