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Clean Land

View of the Grand Canyon

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Toxic sites on land can harm people three ways: By direct contact, polluting water, or concentrating pollutants in the food chain. This chapter illustrates how EPA is working to clean up toxics and block all three pathways of exposure.

In rural Arizona mining towns, smokestack emissions from smelters long ago deposited toxic metals like arsenic and lead. Today, EPA is working with landowners and smelting companies to investigate and clean up contaminated soil in local yards and parks while assessing air quality impacts.

Toxic dumping from decades ago pollutes groundwater urgently needed for drinking and other uses in urban areas. EPA is overseeing dozens of sites where groundwater treatment is restoring this vital resource.

Offshore from Palos Verdes, DDT dumped long ago has moved up the food chain into fish. EPA has partnered with local governments to keep these fish off the dinner table through outreach and a ban on selling them.

In Las Vegas, a closed landfill threatens to pollute the city's water supply. EPA won a court ruling that makes responsible parties pay for a long-term solution.

And a small group of EPA employees is making a big difference in China by putting the agency's experience
and expertise to use in helping China deal with pressing toxics issues.

Cleaning Up Toxic Legacy of Smelters in Arizona Towns

EPA is overseeing removal of contaminated soil from yards of up to 300 homes in Hayden, Arizona.

Since the inception of EPA's Superfund program in 1981, most cleanups have focused on the toxic legacies of earlier industries. In the Pacific Southwest, EPA has been involved in cleanups of mining sites since the early 1980s. A recent focus has been investigating and cleaning up smelters-where the ore extracted from mines is heated in a furnace until it liquefies, and the pure metal separates from the unusable molten slag.

Historically, smelters were a dirty business. Before the 1970s, they emitted stack smoke high in toxic metals such as lead, copper and arsenic as well as sulfur dioxide from burning sulfur. Mining towns were built around the smelters, and homes and yards were covered with toxic dust day after day, year after year.

Today, stack smoke at smelters has been controlled and only a few smelters are still operating, but people living in the rural smelter towns are at risk from the toxics deposited in their yards decades ago.

The smokestack of a copper smelter rises above Hayden, Ariz.

At the ASARCO Hayden Plant site in Arizona, which still produces copper from a smelter, EPA's Superfund program is overseeing the removal of contaminated soil from up to 300 yards in residential areas under an Administrative Agreement and Order on Consent signed by ASARCO and EPA in 2008. Through this agreement, which utilizes the Superfund Alternative approach, EPA and the responsible party, ASARCO, are implementing the Superfund cleanup process-from public involvement to Record of Decision and cleanup-even though the site is not added to EPA's Superfund National Priorities List.

ASARCO filed for bankruptcy in 2005, but under the agreement the company set aside $15 million that can only be used for the cleanup and that will be available even if the Hayden Smelter shuts down. At several other smelter sites in Arizona, mining and smelting companies have recognized their responsibility and are doing their own remedial investigations and cleanup. These include smelter sites in Superior, Douglas and Ajo, Ariz.

In the case of the Humboldt Smelter in Dewey-Humboldt, Ariz., however, the smelting company went bankrupt and the smelter shut down decades ago. There are no surviving entities to pay for cleanup, but several hundred people still live there. EPA added this site to the Superfund National Priorities List in 2008. Initial soil sampling found several "hot spots" of contamination in the yards of several homes. Here, the top two feet of soil has been removed and the bulldozed yards have been re-covered with a two-foot layer of clean soil.

In early 2009, EPA set up air monitors around Dewey-Humboldt to measure the particulates (dust) in the air, and the metal content of the dust. Results will be used to evaluate cleanup options.

In Hayden, population 800, the town park's top two feet of soil has been removed and replaced with clean soil, making it safer for children to play there. The aging plant at Hayden has complied with smokestack air pollution regulations, but air monitoring in town has shown levels of arsenic, lead and chromium still exceeding public health standards, probably due to toxic fumes escaping from leaks in the plant outside the smokestack.

As the exact source of air contamination in Hayden is discovered and controlled, the town's residents can look forward to breathing easier.

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Reclaiming Groundwater in the Arid West

Click here to download a graphical map & photos of groundwater treatment facilities at the North Indian Bend Wash Superfund site, 1 page, 141 kilobytes

Map and photos (PDF) (1 pp, 141K, About PDF) of groundwater treatment facilities at the North Indian Bend Wash Superfund site in Scottsdale, Ariz.

With years-long droughts underway in Arizona, Nevada and California, surface water is in short supply. It's more important than ever to restore contaminated groundwater, making it safe for use as drinking water. Since the early 1980s, EPA's Superfund program has been doing just that at dozens of sites throughout the arid West.

In the early 1900s, groundwater went straight to the tap, because it was assumed to be pure. But since the 1930s, liquid fuels and hazardous wastes dumped on the ground in some areas have seeped into the groundwater, making it unfit for human consumption. In some cases, "plumes" of chemically contaminated groundwater have spread vertically into deeper groundwater aquifers and laterally for miles across property boundaries and city limits.

At more than 60 of these sites, EPA Superfund staff have been working with responsible parties and contractors to get groundwater cleanup and containment systems (such as pump-and-treat) up and running. These groundwater treatment facilities, scattered throughout the West's major urban areas, are quietly churning out millions of gallons of clean water each day. In many cases, the treated water is being returned to groundwater basins or supplied directly to municipal water providers.

Some pump-and-treat facilities have been operating for more than a decade now, and the groundwater beneath them is approaching drinking water standards. At these older sites, EPA is conducting five-year reviews to ensure that the treatment systems are still functioning as intended. In a few cases, however, contaminated groundwater has just recently been discovered and mapped, and cleanup is still in the planning stages.

More on Superfund in the Pacific Southwest:

Region 9 Superfund

The old saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," goes double for groundwater. It's much cheaper to prevent contamination than to clean it up. Since the early 1980s, EPA and states, territories and tribes have enforced strict regulations on underground fuel tanks, aboveground oil facilities, and hazardous waste generators and handlers to prevent new spills and leaks. Still, much work remains to clean up the toxic legacy of the past.

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Containing Sunrise Landfill to Protect Las Vegas Drinking Water

For 40 years, Sunrise Mountain Landfill received most of the
Las Vegas area's waste.

In August 2008, EPA settled an enforcement action against the company responsible for the 440-acre Sunrise Mountain Landfill in Clark County, Nev. The agreement, which requires the company to build and operate a comprehensive remedy for the site that will prevent waste from washing downstream into Las Vegas Wash and Lake Mead during rainstorms, caps a decade of effort by a small group of EPA staff.

The landfill's cover was breached by a heavy rainstorm in 1998, discharging waste into the wash, which in turn flows into Lake Mead, the main source of drinking water for the Las Vegas area, the Phoenix area and parts of Southern California. In response EPA issued administrative orders under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act. The operators did short-term repairs, but resisted developing a comprehensive closure.

Aerial view of the Sunrise Landfill near Las Vegas, Nev.

Overcoming the operators' myriad technical and legal objections required patient, persistent effort by EPA staff. Unwilling to leave any aspect of the closure plans to chance, they systematically negotiated an exhaustively detailed design for a lasting landfill cover and stormwater controls.

The company, Republic Services of Southern Nevada, has paid a $1 million civil fine to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act, and will pay an estimated $36 million to implement a comprehensive closure. In addition to stormwater controls, the plan includes an armored engineered cover, methane gas collection, groundwater monitoring, and long-term operation and maintenance.

The settlement will ensure effective long-term control of the landfill, which contains over 49 million cubic yards of waste. The remedy is expected to take roughly two years to build. Upon completion, it is estimated to prevent the release of over 14 million pounds of contaminants annually, including stormwater pollutants, methane gas and landfill leachate.

For 40 years prior to 1993, the Sunrise Mountain Landfill received most of the Las Vegas area's waste, including municipal solid waste, medical waste, sewage sludge, hydrocarbon-contaminated soils, asbestos, and construction waste.

The landfill was operated on behalf of Clark County by entities related to Republic Services of Southern Nevada from the 1950s through 1993, when the landfill stopped accepting more waste. Following the landfill cover failure in 1998, EPA ordered Republic Dumpco, a related company, and the Clark County Public Works Department to correct violations of the federal clean water laws and immediately stabilize the site.

More information on Sunrise Landfill

Sunrise Mountain Landfill Order

The technical advances in developing the unique surface armoring of the landfill serve as a precedent for other desert landfill sites requiring comparable protections from erosion and infiltration. When construction is complete in two years, the Sunrise Landfill should be able to successfully weather a 200-year storm event.

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Luis Garcia-Bakarich: Reaching Out on Cleanups

Effective outreach helps protect Navajo residents from uranium contamination.

Luis Garcia-Bakarich has been a Superfund community involvement coordinator for just three years, and he's already been nominated for a national EPA award for exceptional public service.

At the Brown and Bryant Superfund site in California's San Joaquin Valley, he earned the trust of a community where people feel plagued with environmental problems-the Superfund site, poor groundwater quality, and some of the nation's worst air pollution. When the community criticized EPA's proposed cleanup plan, Luis began meeting with concerned residents, initiating a dialogue between the community and EPA's technical staff. By the time EPA finalized the plan, the community group sent EPA a "thank you" letter for the work he led.

Luis Garcia-Bakarich

Luis Garcia-Bakarich

Luis is also the Pacific Southwest Region's coordinator for the Technical Assistance Services for Communities (TASC) contract, which provides technical and educational services to communities affected by hazardous waste sites. Through his efforts, seven communities have received TASC services, including four completed projects and three underway.

But his most significant contribution has been his vital role in the Navajo Abandoned Uranium Mine Project (see story). In 2008, the project included assessment and cleanup of potentially contaminated radioactive homes and structures, testing of water sources, and informing nearby residents.

With an emphasis on partnership, Luis collaborated with the Navajo Nation EPA to conduct effective outreach and provide information so residents can be more informed about the risks associated with abandoned uranium mines. The abandoned mines are in remote areas, near isolated homes and communities. Luis worked with the Navajo Nation EPA to describe the work to be done on each resident's property. He helps coordinate outreach efforts and materials for both the communities and the tribal agencies.

Early on, he helped organize a stakeholder workshop in Gallup, New Mexico, to discuss the project's five-year cleanup plan. Approximately 150 people attended, including representatives from 13 federal agencies, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the states of New Mexico and Arizona, two universities, nonprofits, and private citizens.

Later, Luis worked collaboratively with EPA and Navajo Nation staff on outreach, including the development of a communications strategy that he presented to Navajo Division of Health and Indian Health Service personnel, to ensure that Navajo families don't drink contaminated water. He developed signs that are now permanently displayed at livestock wells that are unfit to use for drinking water due to uranium contamination. In addition, Luis created a half-page ad in the Navajo Times warning residents about the locations of the contaminated wells and prepared illustrated reports for members of Congress.

Working in concert with colleagues in EPA's Pacific Southwest Tribal Program, Luis has contributed significantly to EPA's strong relationship with the Navajo Nation.

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Reducing Public Health Impacts of Contamination on Palos Verdes Shelf

PV Shelf meeting
Training session for Palos Verdes Shelf outreach workers.

While the shimmering waters off the coast of Los Angeles appear blue and clear, a large deposit of toxic DDT and PCB-contaminated sediment on an expanse of ocean floor known as the Palos Verdes (PV) Shelf has created a health risk to consumers of local fish.

The most contaminated species of fish, white croaker, is readily caught by subsistence fishers from local piers and can be bought in local markets. Local residents who eat these fish, including children and pregnant women, are exposed to dangerous levels of DDT and PCBs.

EPA banned use of the pesticide DDT in 1972, and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) a few years later, but the toxic legacy continues. An estimated 110 tons of DDT and 11 tons of PCBs flushed down the sewers by local industries in the 1940s to the 1970s lies on the PV Shelf.

Outreach poster warns coastal residents to avoid eating white croaker due to DDT and PCB contamination.

Over the past seven years, however, EPA's Sharon Lin, Jackie Lane and Lori Lewis have collaborated with local partners to create a highly successful stakeholder-driven public outreach and education program to teach at-risk populations about safer fish consumption practices: the Palos Verdes Shelf Institutional Controls (ICs) program. They have worked closely with federal, state and local health agencies, community-based organizations and environmental groups to reach vulnerable populations and reduce their health risk.

Sharon has been working with the Fish Contamination and Education Collaborative (FCEC), a partnership of state agencies and local groups, to educate local community members on the dangers of eating bottom-feeding fish from the area. To further involve the partners, Sharon negotiated four Cooperative Agreements in 2007-2008 to provide funding and create alliances with local and state agencies: the City of Long Beach, the Orange County and Los Angeles County Departments of Public Health, and the California Department of Fish and Game. These agencies are providing enforcement and outreach support to supplement the community and angler outreach and education efforts.

The FCEC partners have reached more than 100,000 community members in more than ten languages. After training through the ICs program, public health nurses from L.A. County, Orange County and Long Beach have been working closely with a number of community- based organizations serving different ethnic groups. In the past year, outreach was done through L.A. County Department of Public Health programs, reaching thousands more people, including more than 360 obstetricians and 1,200 pediatricians.

The angler outreach program, carried out by Heal the Bay and the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, reaches anglers at piers, shorelines and bait shops. Pier outreach occurs at 10 piers and eight shoreline locations on a year-round, weekly basis.

Evaluation and measurement of behavior modifications based on the ICs program has shown that the message "Know your fish, reduce the risk" has effectively reached thousands of anglers, fish markets and consumers. Community members are modifying their fishing and consumption behaviors to reduce their health risks.

The collaborative effort has been so successful that the community partners of the FCEC were recognized with a 2009 EPA National Citizen Excellence in Community Involvement Award.

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Crossing Borders

Assisting China's Efforts to Protect Land, Waters and People

EPA's Lida Tan, Ben Machol and Amy Zimpfer (sitting, near center) with delegation of environmental officials from China, January 8, 2009.

In April 2006, top EPA officials traveled to China for the official signing of the Hazardous and Solid Waste Annex and Strategy, formalizing EPA's partnership with China on these issues.

Since then, EPA's Pacific Southwest Regional Office has been leading the implementation of this strategy-by maintaining contact with China's Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), helping China strengthen its hazardous waste regulations and clean up contaminated sites, and improving its emergency response capacities through workshops and study tours both in the U.S. and China.

EPA's point person in this partnership, and in many ways its architect, is Lida Tan of the Pacific Southwest Superfund Division. A native of China, she came to the U.S. at the age of 18 in 1983, and has been with EPA for the past 20 years. The Hazardous and Solid Waste Annex began as her idea in 2005. EPA's Office of International Affairs approved, seeing it as an opportunity to open up a whole new area of cooperation with China. Lida drafted and negotiated both the annex and strategy. When discussions stalled, she simply picked up the phone.

For the past three years, Lida has worked with EPA colleagues in offices throughout the nation, plus California's Department of Toxic Substances Control, to carry out the strategy. They organized more than 10 workshops in China, and hosted dozens of study tours in the U.S. for MEP officials.

Highlights include:

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