In Philly, EPA announces $1B to speed up U.S. Superfund cleanups, including a city site
$1 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure bill will speed up cleaning dozens of superfund sites nationally, such as the Clearview Landfill in Philly, and start new cleanups at 49 more sites.
The Clearview Landfill in Philadelphia rises 100 feet above the Eastwick neighborhood with an unbroken view of the city skyline — a view residents can’t see because the site is so contaminated.
On Friday, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan stood at Clearview to announce that $1 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure bill will speed up cleaning dozens of Superfund sites nationally, such as Clearview, and start new cleanups at 49 more sites. Regan made the announcement along with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, and both men hailed the moves as an important step toward environmental justice, given that many Americans of color and those in poverty live near a contaminated site.
The $1 billion is the first round of funding stemming from $3.5 billion for Superfund sites contained in the $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law by President Joe Biden last month.
“This is the first wave of projects that will help deliver lasting public health protections in communities that need them the most,” Regan said at a press conference at the landfill. “Approximately 60% of the 49 sites that will receive funding are in underserved communities. I think that’s important.”
Clearview is part of a larger Superfund complex of two landfills known as the Lower Darby Creek Area. The Folcroft Landfill, about two miles downstream, is the other. Both once took in municipal, demolition, and hospital wastes that contaminated soil, groundwater, and fish. The landfills were placed together on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List in 2001.
Philadelphia’s Eastwick section, which is about 71% Black, has also been subjected to chronic flooding, mostly because it was built on low-lying ground next to the creeks. Storms fueled by climate change have further aggravated that situation.
“We have to acknowledge the long history of policies that have caused lower-income, vulnerable communities to unfairly bear the consequences of pollution, and to disproportionately play hosts to sites like this one,” said Wolf, who noted there are 90 Superfund sites in the state.
Regan said the infusion of money will clear the backlog of cleanup projects that had been waiting for years.
“These cleanup projects will make a visible and lasting difference in our communities plagued by decades of pollution,” Regan said, noting that one in four Black and Hispanic Americans live within three miles of a Superfund site.
U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D., Pa.) said “completing these projects is also about justice for our neighbors.”
The cleanup plan for the 65-acre Clearview Landfill was announced in 2014, and work began in 2017. About 50 acres of the site is privately owned. The city owns the rest. Philadelphia has already agreed to pay $8.4 million toward its cleanup as part of a lawsuit settlement.
Josh Barber, EPA’s project manager, said he hasn’t been told exactly how much of the new money the site will get for cleanup, but he estimates the projects needs $30 million. If it gets most of that, the work can be finished by 2023, rather than 2024 or 2025 as had been expected. About $40 million has already been spent on cleanup.
So far, a total of 25,000 tons of contaminated soil on 195 adjacent residential properties has been removed. A city park was restored with new grass and trees. Stream banks have been strengthened and a half mile of retaining wall has been installed.
About 15 acres of the landfill has been capped with silt and clay, with 35 more acres remaining. More than 1,000 trees and shrubs, grown in an on-site nursery built in 2014, have been planted to absorb storm runoff, and help minimize leachate, or water that seeps from the landfill, and groundwater contamination. The EPA expects 50,000 trees will eventually be planted.
Ted Pickett, an Eastwick resident and cochair of an advisory group that worked with the EPA, said he was pleased with how the EPA has treated residents.
“Many residents got involved and stayed involved in what EPA was doing in the community,” Pickett said. “We’ve worked hard to make this project a success and also make this project work for the entire community. It was hard work on the part of residents, and a sincere, long-term commitment by the EPA to listen, learn, and meet the community’s needs ... the residents of Eastwick are resilient, smart. We know how to fight for our future.”