Superstorms Mean Trouble for Superfund Sites

On the morning of Nov. 29, 2012, U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey spoke at a Senate hearing to address the impact Superstorm Sandy had on New Jersey. He requested the Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Public Works (EPW) move forward in rebuilding the affected areas. Lautenberg, who is chairman of the EPW subcommittee on superfund, toxics and environmental health, proposed a Superfund Emergency Response Act to protect the public from toxic waste released during natural disasters. The emergency fund would cover the costs of re-containment of Superfund sites after natural disasters such as hurricanes, monsoons or earthquakes.

A Quick Superfund History Lesson

The EPA describes a Superfund as a program that addresses the containment of hazardous waste sites along with a fund that was established as part of the Compensation and Liability Act of 1980. The EPA has been vigilant in listing these sites on its website and working with remediation companies like Sevenson, which was involved in the cleanup of the original Superfund site, Love Canal. These remediation companies contain waste to minimize contamination of water and soil.

Superstorm Meets Superfund

After rescue teams dispersed and victims gathered to assess damages and meet with insurance adjusters for Superstorm Sandy, the cleanup companies got to work. The New Jersey Independent Press quoted Sen. Lautenberg saying at least two N.J. Superfund sites had been affected and he asked the EPA to conduct a thorough investigation of all sites in the area where Superstorm Sandy hit.

Looking to the Future

The Superfund Emergency Response Act requires the EPA to survey Superfund sites immediately after a superstorm. It also requires Congress to provide funds for remediation. Above and beyond this measure, Lautenberg suggested that Sandy is a sign of what is likely to be, regarding changing climate and the growing intensity of storms. He maintained that resources for rebuilding should be in place to prepare New Jersey and other storm-affected Superfund sites for faster recoveries.

Since the storm, Lautenberg and Sen. Robert Menendez will work together to build a committee that will focus on the rebuilding of N.J. and the containment of the surrounding Superfund sites at the Orange Valley Regional Ground Water site on the Orange/West Orange borders, according to Lautenberg mentioned the Raritan Bay Slag Site, which is a Superfund in Sayreville. The site includes a seawall that has been contaminated with lead slag, which can cause lead poisoning in humans. He wrote to EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck, and in his letter, Lautenberg asked that there be extra testing for toxic contaminants that may have been leached from any Superfund sites into the surrounding environment. If you wish to read a copy of the letter that Lautenberg wrote to Enck, you can find it on the Senator’s site.