Epa still trying to clean state’s superfund sites virginia roanoke.com kd 7 electricity socks

• Avtex Fibers at Front Royal. The state shut it down in 1989, but health officials still issue warnings about the dangers of eating Shenandoah River fish contaminated with toxic chemicals called PCBs, which seeped from the fiber-making factory. Experts believe PCBs can cause cancer.

• The Richmond metro area is home to four Superfund sites: The Defense Supply Center Richmond in Chesterfield County, where pesticides and other wastes were dumped or spilled; C&R Battery Co. in Chesterfield, which once removed lead from old batteries; Rentokil in Henrico County, a former wood preserver; and the H&H burn pit in Hanover County, where chemicals were dumped and burned.

A lot of military installations harbor toxic-waste sites because, until a 1992 federal law prohibited the pollution at bases and posts, there was little that regulators could do to force cleanups, said Leonard Vance, a lawyer, chemist and Virginia Commonwealth University adjunct professor.

“Some of the sites we are still investigating, still collecting data, and at other sites we have our risks under control. But the important thing is, if we discover an imminent and substantial endangerment to the public, we will take immediate action,” Driscoll said.

Rebecca LePrell, the Virginia Department of Health’s director of environmental epidemiology, said via email: “It would be very difficult for [the heath department] to determine how many residents have been affected by Superfund or other hazardous waste sites in VA. We do not know how many illnesses have occurred in relation to these sites.”

“The question at any Superfund site is how big is the risk to public health? In some cases, the risk is major and immediate, and EPA will move quickly to get barrels out of the ground, or get the public onto alternative drinking water supplies.”

Congress approved the Superfund law in 1980 in response to catastrophes like New York’s Love Canal in the 1970s, where residents complained of cancer and other ailments after learning that their homes were built atop a massive toxic-waste dump. The law authorized the EPA to compel cleanups.

Now the money the EPA uses for cleanups comes mainly from general appropriations — that is, from taxpayers — while smaller amounts come from sources that include funds the EPA recovers from polluters for work the agency has done at their sites.

EPA officials say most cleanup costs — not reflected in the Superfund program dollars — are borne by private parties that contributed to the pollution. These “responsible parties” typically don’t reveal the amounts they spend, and there is no tally of what they spent in Virginia, EPA officials said.

“The biggest plus of the program, by far, is one that’s hard to measure: the threat of legal liability has made companies much more responsible in the way they handle chemicals and waste,” Sachs said. “We don’t see the midnight dumping of waste and burying barrels underground that we saw in the 1960s and 1970s.”

Addressing a Superfund site is complicated, the EPA’s Driscoll said, requiring a lot of data collection, analysis, planning and then “years and years” of cleanup work such as pumping toxic water out of the ground and treating it to make it safe.