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E-M:/ Media release: Extreme Weather Increases Toxic Waste Cleanup Costs

For release: March 19, 2009   
Contact: Shelley Vinyard, (734) 662-9797, and Maggie McNamara, (202) 683-1250 (DC)       

Extreme Weather Increases Toxic Waste Cleanup Costs

Extreme weather, caused in part by global warming, is increasing the health threat posed by the country’s most toxic waste sites, known as Superfund sites.  Superfund:  In the Eye of the Storm, a new report from The Center for Health, Environment, and Justice (CHEJ) released by Environment Michigan profiles the cleanup efforts at numerous Superfund sites across the nation, which have been affected by extreme weather events and hampered by funding shortfalls.  The Velsicol Chemical site in St. Louis, Michigan, has been plagued by massive amounts of toxic chemicals in the water of the Pine River watershed and a lack of sufficient funding to completely clean up the site.

“Extreme weather events fueled by global warming will increase the health threats and cleanup costs of our most toxic waste sites.  We need to protect our future by cleaning up the messes of the past and make sure there is enough funding to do so. ” said Shelley Vinyard of Environment Michigan.

Superfund: In the Eye of the Storm shows that the impact of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods at Superfund sites further compounds the health threat and funding problems facing these locations. In the wake of these disasters, there was not enough funding to adequately investigate potential toxic exposures and health risks, leaving communities across the nation potentially exposed to unrecognized public health threats and making it difficult to discern the true extent of contamination.

In his budget proposal last month, President Obama called for the reinstatement of the polluter pays fee, a fee on chemical producing industries levied to replenish the cleanup fund.  However, it will be up to Congress to pass legislation to re-instate the fee.

“For too long, polluting companies have escaped responsibility for their toxic chemicals, leaving hundreds of hazardous waste sites to threaten our health and our water and cleanups unfunded and incomplete. Fortunately, President Obama has called on Congress to reinstate the polluter pays principle as part of the federal Superfund program -- so we can hold polluters accountable and better protect our communities,” said Vinyard.  “We urge Congress to follow the President’s lead and support his budget and the polluter pays fee,” she added.

The report finds that the Superfund trust fund is dire condition.   The need for toxic exposure testing after extreme weather events has strained an already ailing budget.  This means even fewer sites are being cleaned up.

1.     In the Gulf Coast region alone, 56 Superfund sites were affected by hurricanes from 2004 to 2008.  Due to limited funding, EPA testing following these events was narrow, making it difficult to determine the full extent of the contamination.  Despite limited testing, 96% of the affected sites showed additional leaking of toxic waste.  

2.    The decreased funding has led to a dramatic reduction in the number of sites cleaned up.
•    From 1997 to 2000, when the revenue from the polluter pays fee was still in the fund, the EPA averaged 87 completed cleanups a year.
•    In 2007, only 24 sites were cleaned up.

There are currently 1,258 Superfund sites. Michigan is home to 87 Superfund sites.

“Contrary to popular perception, these toxic threats are not far away, in ‘someone else’s’ neighborhood.  In fact, one in four Americans lives within three miles of a Superfund site.  We need to support Obama’s budget to get the funding we need to cleanup the nation’s worst toxic waste sites,” said Vinyard.

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Environment Michigan is a state-wide, citizen-based, environmental advocacy organization dedicated to protecting Michigan’s air, water, and open spaces.  For more information, please visit www.EnvironmentMichigan.org.


Shelley Vinyard

Environment Michigan

103 E. Liberty St., Suite 202

Ann Arbor, MI 48103

(734) 662-9797