Thirty-one of the country’s most contaminated sites are likely to be available for building new housing, business or other development soon after they are cleaned up, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said today, a step that’s part of Administrator Scott Pruitt's push to accelerate the cleanup and make the land available for community use.
Some of the so-called Superfund sites on the list have been considered too contaminated for use for decades and while today’s announcement signals no immediate changes, it opens the door for companies that want to use the land in the future to start that process.
No development could happen until the areas are considered safe and removed from the EPA's list of contaminated sites.
There are nearly 1,200 sites on that list -- known as the Superfund National Priorities List, across the country -- that are managed by the EPA. The agency works with the companies considered responsible for the pollution and local governments to create a plan to clean up the sites and, in some cases, collect settlements used to pay for the cleanup.
Sites included on the list released today are considered good options for redevelopment in the foreseeable future based on location, access to transportation and interest from potential developers, according to the EPA news release.
At least one of the sites has been of particular interest to Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general and state senator. The site of a former lead smelter in East Chicago, Indiana, was the first Superfund site Pruitt visited as administrator before the EPA announced in December it was a site targeted for "intense, immediate cleanup action" to be overseen by the administrator directly.
Multiple areas in East Chicago were added to the Superfund list in 2009 after testing showed high levels of arsenic and lead in residential areas. Residents had to evacuate a housing complex in the area in 2016 because of the contamination and the complex is now set to be demolished, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The governor of Indiana issued a disaster declaration for the city to increase resources for the area and the mayor of East Chicago said the city would need more than $56 million to deal with the contamination, the newspaper also reported.
"The City of East Chicago continues to have dialogue with the US EPA, and it believes that the Superfund site is quite viable for redevelopment given the continuing interest by companies to locate in East Chicago," Mayor Anthony Copeland said in a statement. "The city looks forward to continued work with the EPA in completing the remediation, which we feel should be completed to residential standards - the highest level of remediation, and promoting the development of the site.”
The EPA lists reusing a former elementary school building on the site as one of the possibilities for the site.
Another example on the list is a Superfund site on the coast of Lake Washington and close to the practice facility for the Seattle Seahawks. It was contaminated by coal tar and creosote from manufacturing until 1969 and a cleanup plan is expected to be finalized in 2019.
The owner of the land wants to redevelop it for 10 buildings with retail and residential units, according to an EPA fact sheet.