10 Contaminated Superfund Sites of the United States

new-idria-superfund-site (Image: mlhradio, cc-nc-4.0)

Superfund is a program initiated by the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States, with the goal of identifying, isolating and clearing up areas of the country that have been contaminated by hazardous waste materials. Most of these areas have been abandoned – perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently. The process of cleaning up a site to make it safe for human occupation once again is an extremely long and complicated one, meaning that these Superfund sites are not going to be safe for anyone for a long, long time.

10. Tar Creek, Oklahoma

tar-creek-oklahoma (Image: tarcreekfilm via YouTube)

Most of Oklahoma is a beautiful state that truly captures the spirit of the Midwest. But Tar Creek was cursed with a wealth of metals and minerals, and its residents have paid dearly for it.

Located in the northeastern part of the state, Tar Creek encompasses a 40-square-mile hazard zone that impacts about 30,000 people. Home to a group of Native American people called the Quapaw, Tar Creek has been high on the list of most hazardous places in the country for 20 years – and it was only in 2006 that the government finally started offering residents buyouts for their property.

tar-creek-oklahoma-3 (Image: EPA)

The damage to the environment of Tar Creek was done by mining. The entire area is incredibly rich in zinc and lead, part of the Tri-State Mining District that also includes parts of Missouri and Kansas. Unfortunately, it’s only the bottom line that matters at the end of the day, and the results of the massive mining operations are nothing short of horrific.

tar-creek-oklahoma-2 (Image: Krystal Jennings, cc-4.0)

Piles of mining waste litter the landscape – some over 200 feet tall and full of unusable, incredibly dangerous minerals. There’s roughly 2,900 acres contaminated with more than 165 million tons of mine waste. Local children play on chat piles, exposing themselves to high concentrations of lead, cadmium and zinc. Heavy metals from the waste piles have seeped into the groundwater, killing all the fish and wildlife in local rivers and streams and turning their banks bright yellow.

Chat piles are, in large part, on privately owned or Native American land, and in order to get rid of some of them, people had been resorting to selling the piles of material for use in other projects, from new construction to paving roads. It all means that mineral-heavy dust that’s filling the air is coming from multiple sources, not just the mines. Mining activities largely stopped in 1970, creating even more problems as the massive, underground rooms were slowly filled with water that began a chemical reaction that led to the creation of rooms literally filled with acid that then seeped into the surrounding area.

9. Southern Shipbuilding, Louisiana

slidell-louisiana (Image: Google Maps)

Canulette Shipbuilding Company was founded in 1919, and throughout the war years supplied ships to the US Navy. By 1954, part of the shipbuilding operations included facilities for repairs, cleaning, and control of the gases that build up within cargo ships. Operations ceased in 1993, but the damage had already been done.

The operations sat on 55 acres that had included several sludge pits (spread over eight acres) that were used for the dumping of waste materials including scrap metals, waste drums, chemicals, and even abandoned equipment. The facility relied on levees to control the waste materials, and in 1992, the levees failed and dumped more than 300,000 gallons of hazardous materials into the nearby bayou. Over the next few years, measures were undertaken to help control the release of toxic waste, purify what had leaked into the environment, and shore up the levees to prevent more damage from being done to the surrounding waterways.

slidell-louisiana-2 (Image: Google Street View)

The hazardous materials had the potential to impact nearby towns to the west and the south of the site, with the nearest homes only being about 400 feet from the border of the site, and wells that supply the community’s drinking water about a quarter of a mile away. Deemed unfit for human occupation and hazardous to those in the area, cleanup efforts were undertaken and, in 1997, the area was given a clean bill of health when extensive testing indicated that there was no further danger.

8. Del Monte Corp, Hawaii

kunia-camp-oahu-hawaii (Image: Joel Abroad, cc-nc-sa-4.0)

Del Monte is perhaps one of the biggest names in American fruit production, and their pineapple plantation covers about 3,000 acres on the island of Oahu.

Between 1940 and 1983, pineapple crops were under the constant threat of destruction from nematodes. These pests, which attack the root of the crops, were controlled using a variety of chemicals – so many chemicals that testing in 1980 determined that pesticides had been seeping into the area’s groundwater and contaminating wells. In 1977, the situation was aggravated by the accidental spillage of almost 500 gallons of ethylene dibromide into one of the local wells. The chemical, which is mainly used as a gasoline additive, can cause an increased risk of cancer along with years of liver, stomach and kidneys problems.

kunia-camp-oahu-hawaii-2 (Image: Google Maps)

Testing after the spill showed that there was no permanent damage that was done, but further testing done in the subsequent decades have shown that there is an increased level of fumigants and pesticides in the soil and groundwater. As late as 2007, land use in the area has been restricted for safety reasons, and water-use is prohibited without a permit and extensive monitoring.

As part of the cleanup, Del Monte was required to develop and plant a covering of vegetation over contaminated areas. By 2004, it was deemed that there was no threat to human health from just being exposed to the area, but it’s still being monitored by the EPA.


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About the author: Debra Kelly




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