NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cleaned-Up Superfund Sites May be Contaminated, Says EPA

January 31, 2003

After bringing hundreds of polluted sites into compliance with regulatory standards in the last decade, Environmental Protection Agency officials are now setting their sights on a chemical contaminant at those sites which they say may be more harmful than previously thought. As a result, the officials are re-evaluating prior cleanup efforts.

  • The contaminant -- trichloroethylene, or TCE -- is the subject of new research which suggests that it is 5 to 65 times more toxic than previously appreciated.
  • It has been associated with cancer, as well as respiratory, liver and lung damage -- with pregnant women and other sensitive populations being most at risk.
  • Agency officials contend that of the 1,499 Superfund sites -- either cleaned, not yet cleaned or in various stages of cleanup -- one-third to one-half are contaminated with TCE.
  • Because TCE is a solvent commonly used as a microprocessor cleaner, officials are initially focusing on Silicon Valley, which has a higher concentration of shallow groundwater than many other sites.

Authorities say they want to make sure the solvent is not making its way into groundwater and then being disbursed through the air into buildings. They say there is no short-term risk and they want to make sure there is no long-term risk as well.

Source: Matt Richtel, "E.P.A. Takes a Second Look at Many Superfund Sites," New York Times, January 31, 2003.

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