Tackling Superfund Sites Will Be One of Biden's Greatest Climate Challenges

Lizzy Rosenberg - Author

Dec. 28 2020, Published 11:45 a.m. ET

who cleans superfund sites
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Upon his 2021 inauguration, President-elect Joe Biden is expected to tackle a number of climate disasters resulting from the current U.S. presidential administration. From mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic to rolling back dozens of environmental protections, Trump has done everything possible to exacerbate the ongoing climate crisis, including his inability to address several massively underfunded — and highly dangerous — superfund sites nationwide. But what exactly is a superfund site?

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Keep reading for more on the issues behind superfund sites, and the reason why Joe Biden will be inevitably responsible for tending to them. Needless to say, they are considered to be one of our country's greatest environmental atrocities.

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What is a superfund site?

The Superfund Program was established in 1980 under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), as an immediate crisis response to toxic waste dumps such as Love Canal. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), superfund sites are designated dumping sites for hazardous and toxic waste such as landfills, mines, or processing plants, which are eventually intended to be cleaned by the EPA.

Protecting nearby residents from toxic chemicals was supposed to be a quick process, though that wasn't the case. Decades later, according to Property and Environmental Research Center (PERC), the superfund cleanups have been incredibly stagnant, and hundreds of highly contaminated dumps still exist nationwide. The cost of cleaning them was way higher than expected, and they still continue to harm residents in surrounding areas.

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As of 2020, communities of color and underserved communities have been disproportionately harmed by superfund sites, according to The Hill. A 2017 report shows that 70 percent of the U.S.'s superfund sites are located within a mile of government-assisted housing, which means about 77,000 people live within that range of toxic waste dumps, which affect communities with harmful chemicals such as lead poisoning.

what is a superfund site
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Joe Biden will be responsible for addressing superfund sites nationwide.

Now there are 1,570 superfund sites nationwide, as per NBC News, and the Biden Administration EPA will be responsible for overseeing all of them. Unfortunately, funds for cleaning at least 34 of them are dry, and in 2019, 945 sites were identified as unstable during climate-related disasters such as hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and rising sea levels, which Trump failed to consider. This means toxic chemicals are at risk of overflowing from designated sites to surrounding communities.

The Obama administration had previous plans to address the superfund sites in relation to the issues associated with climate change, but the Trump administration failed to even address the issue of global warming at all. Therefore, officials and activists alike are hoping that Biden's recognition of the climate crisis will fuel his drive to start actually cleaning up these underfunded superfund sites.

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“Even before taking office, the Biden administration accomplished one of the GAO’s key recommendations: acknowledge the climate threat,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., according to NBC News “A Biden EPA will need to assess every federal Superfund project and help states do the same. As the GAO showed, climate change brings a new priority to rapid Superfund cleanup work.”

biden superfund
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Hopefully Biden starts to address the issue of superfund sites early on in his presidency, or else more communities across the nation will be harmed by chemicals from superfund sites.

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