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The EPA begins rolling out billions to clean up Superfund sites

At the Upper Tenmile Creek Mining Area Superfund site in 2018, water contaminated with arsenic, lead and zinc flows from a pipe out of the Lee Mountain mine and into a holding pond near Rimini, Mont.
Matthew Brown
At the Upper Tenmile Creek Mining Area Superfund site in 2018, water contaminated with arsenic, lead and zinc flows from a pipe out of the Lee Mountain mine and into a holding pond near Rimini, Mont.

One billion dollars from the bipartisan infrastructure law signed by President Biden last month will go toward clearing out the Superfund backlog in 23 states and Puerto Rico, the Environmental Protection Agency says.

Superfund sites are places where hazardous waste is dumped, including manufacturing facilities, processing plants, landfills and mining sites. When no company is held liable for the cleanup or the company can't afford it, the government funds the cleanup process. Thousands of Superfund sites exist across the country, and this investment will help clean up 49 of them that have previously been unfunded, the EPA said Friday.

One of those sites is the Scovill Industrial Landfill in Waterbury, Conn., which has been waiting on funding for cleanup since 2017.

"This site has been plagued with legacy contamination that, until now, EPA has not had the funding to cleanup," Deb Szaro, EPA New England acting regional administrator, said in a statement. "Getting this site off of the backlog list and cleaned up is a very important step for Waterbury to envision potential future uses for this area."

EPA Administrator Michael Regan also noted that the backlog and delay in handling Superfund sites disproportionately affects minorities: Among Black and Hispanic communities, 1 in 4 people live within 3 miles of a Superfund site.

"Approximately 60% of the sites to receive funding for new cleanup projects are in historically underserved communities. Communities living near many of the most serious uncontrolled or abandoned releases of contamination will finally get the protections they deserve," Regan said.

The initial $1 billion investment is just a start. A total of $3.5 billion was set aside in the infrastructure package to clean up Superfund sites. The EPA says it is working to disseminate funding and get construction work started as soon as possible.

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Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.