Low-income communities face massive health risks from Superfund sites

Data Source: EPA

The Path Forward

3 solutions can help us combat Superfunds and inequality - We need to (1) add more toxic chemicals to the Substance Priority List on a more regular basis; (2) hold parties accountable when they pollute areas; and (3) better prioritize toxic site cleanup to focus more on equity instead of ease.

  •  🧑‍🔬 More regular updates to the toxic chemicals list — The EPA’s Substance Priority List is updated every 2 years to determine which chemicals are dangerous enough to be cleaned up. This means that families can spend a dangerous amount of time living around toxic chemicals that just haven’t made it onto the list. 275 chemicals are currently on the Substance Priority List. The list should instead be updated annually so that Superfund sites do not get neglected and can be cleaned up with greater urgency. In the 8 years from 1992–2000, 153 chemicals were added to the list. In the 16 years from 2001–2017, only 51 chemicals were added. 

  • 🗑 Improve waste accountability—The EPA isn’t the only ones responsible for cleanups. “Potentially Responsible Parties” (PRPs) that dump toxic chemicals are the ones who are supposed to be principally responsible for cleaning up any mess. The law relies on 6 factors called “Gore Factors” to create a standard of proof, but these factors are not clear on what happens if multiple factories are polluting the same river, or about who is responsible if a large company acquires a smaller one that had been polluting for years. The Gore Factors ought to be revisited to improve how we evaluate PRPs. 

  • 🧪 Prioritize the most toxic sites for cleanup — The EPA can do more to support the most vulnerable communities instead of sites that are easiest to cleanup. The EPA currently uses a “Hazard Ranking System” to score Superfund sites along a scale of 1–100 to determine the cleanup prioritization of a site (the higher the score, the sooner it gets cleaned). This ranking does not account for the impact a Superfund site may have on a low-income population. Instead, the the ranking skews heavily towards ease of cleaning. Just because work is hard, doesn’t mean it can’t be prioritized. The EPA should add a new variable to score how much a project supports vulnerable communities.