I want to help find out what and why this happens and want to link up with others who want to understand what governmental programs are and if they can help provide answers.
The Superfund is the federal government's program created to clean up the nation's uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. The program was created in 1980 when Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).
Through it the EPA works with communities, "potentially responsible parties" (PRPs), scientists, researchers, contractors, and state, local, tribal, and Federal authorities to identify hazardous waste sites, test the conditions of the sites, formulate cleanup plans, and to decontaminate the sites.
It was determined the Tar Creek Superfund site posed a risk to human health and/or the environment and was placed on the National Priorities List early as one of the first sites in the country to make the list and still be on it.
CERCLA, also known as Superfund was amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) on October 17, 1986. SARA reflected EPA's experience in administering the complex Superfund program during its first six years and made several important changes and additions to the program.
One change celebrating a 30 year anniversary this week was the toxics release inventory program (TRI). TRI collects data from industrial facilities about which toxic chemicals they're using, how much of each is released into the environment, and what they’re doing to prevent pollution.
The TRI Program tracks the management of toxic chemicals that may pose a threat to human health and the environment. Facilities in certain industry sectors report annually the volume of toxic chemicals managed as waste--recycled, treated or burned for energy recovery--as well as disposed of or otherwise released into the environment.
Making this information publicly available allows communities to make more informed decisions about their health and the environment and creates a strong incentive for companies to reduce pollution.
I have been checking the TRI for Ottawa County and Cherokee County, KS for years and have been astounded by the number of tons of air emissions coming from local facilities. Recently the TRI data has outsmarted me and gotten very "techie" and I am struggling to keep up, but am amazed by what it can do now. For example: just by typing in the zip code, selecting a company, 10 years of air emissions can be viewed in a color coded graft showing thousands of pounds of air releases by chemical, and if that chemical is carcinogenic or if not, what health impacts it may be known to be associated. Then type in another zip code and find several choices, check them out. What is interesting but unknown to me yet, is how to pull all of these sites together for a true picture of what air emissions these zip codes deal with as the prevailing winds bring them to neighborhoods, schools and playgrounds.
One in four Americans lives within four miles of a hazardous waste site, so in Ottawa County with every residence eligible to have their yard tested for lead in the soil from the Tar Creek Superfund site, that must mean four in every four of us. But that doesn't count the air emissions from existing facilities or the impact from years of exposures. And that brings us to another term used by EPA: environmental justice.
The tool the TRI program offers has given communities the information to sit down with emitters and ask for change to be more protective and perhaps making decisions that help industry to improve their operations and even profits. The graphs I saw on our zip codes show great improvements over the years, but surely there is still room for more.
The cost of illness impacts an individual, the family and our community. People are generous and want to help. But here as in other communities around the country there is fear about speaking out but there could be much to gain by speaking up.