the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

A Superfund Story

Posted by Jeff Id on January 15, 2011

By John Pittman

If you want to read the regs start with CERCLA, then SARA. After reading the first few pages you will probably want to come back here to read this because you will realize I would have to be practically brain dead to be as boring as reading regs.

Superfund was set up with good intentions. Of course, that statement also in general implies there is a problem that has been hard to solve using the normal and usual mechanisms and the politicians have stepped in. Super fund is NOT an exception to this. So, I am going to tell a true story about Superfund.

My introduction to CERCLA or Superfund came about earlier in my career than the main story, but it provides some needed background. The first environmental job I had was investigating PCB contamination that had shown up in a body of water. In this case, we have the archetypical businesses that caused Superfund to happen in the first place.

The PCB’s came to be buried on-site when they were supposed to be sent back to the manufacturer for destruction. For those unfamiliar with PCB’s, they were used as a di-electric in transformers and as heat exchange fluids in reactors. They were also used to spray down dirt roads to keep the dust down. Recently, there has been some evidence that it was PCB’s not DDT that caused fragile egg shells that inspired Silent Spring.

I was out on this site where the “Invitation to Dance” was about $6 million. The ItD was our slang for those who would have to pay for the cleanup. The reason anybody was interested in cleaning up at all, you may not be familiar with. Because the total cost was about $12 million and there were one, two, or three parties who would have to pay the bill, it paid to determine your culpability because Superfund has a hammer clause. The clause is that if you don’t cooperate, you can be charged with 3X the total clean-up costs. Superfund is one of the few places where strict liability applies. In for a penny, you bought the whole wad. Refuse and you pay 3X the total cost. So it pays to do your share. Well sort of.

Now of course, since it was done with good intentions, there must be unintended consequences. The unintended consequence, of course, is once you get the parties together, it pays for them to join forces and screw the other parties. So, who are the recipients of much money? Lawyers. Not a big gasp of surprise here at tAV, I imagine.

As a newbie in the environmental arena, I was unfamiliar with the typical cast of characters. My job was to go out and determine where and how much PCB’s and other chemicals were present, and devise a clean-up and recovery system. So, I go out auguring holes, and collecting samples. I go back to the office where we have obtained photos from a local aviator club. Aviators love to take pictures. And I personally have used them to prove all sorts of things in my professional career, which I did in this case. I used to have a whole list of things to check whenever I went to a site, but that’s another story.

So I write my report. Now one of the things I don’t understand about realclimatescience (sarcasm intended), is their aversion to review and audit. With $12 million on line, believe me, I felt like the only duck at the lake on the opening day of duck hunting. I had engineers, lawyers, executives, geologists, and even chemists taking turns trying to poke holes in my report. We would spend hours going over sentences tearing them apart and putting them back together to make sure that the sentence meant what it said, and said what it meant. But this isn’t why I brought it up. The next part is.

So, I send my report to the different parties. After the gauntlet, I know I have explained and justified the culpability and the proper approach for clean-up and recovery. What happens next is one of those unintended consequences. We get a notice form one of the party’s lawyers that a different environmental group will be on-site evaluating the site working for their lawyer. Being the newbie, it is explained to me, when I asked, that when you do the work for the lawyer, and not the client, it becomes the lawyer’s work product, and gets to be treated differently. Huh?

They show up on site, and instead of talking about chemicals, or hydrology, they are taking pictures of our sampling, collecting specimens of plants, and other weird activities that appeared useless. I, being suspicious, and my partner, being experienced, did what you should always do in these strange deals; we took pictures of them taking pictures, and took samples where they were taking samples. We go back to the office, and we have a WTHIGO meeting (what the hell is going on). Since I have a biology degree as well as a chemical engineering degree, it is duck season at the office again, for me. It is lonely being the duck.

My hypothesis is that they are going to try to get out of the costs by proposing to use bio-remediation. Over the objections of it won’t work, plants don’t like hydrocarbons that much, I win the duck award again, by maintaining that it is not about it working, it is about being cheap. What is the duck award? You get to be the duck again. Talk about the pitfalls of positive feedback.

A strange thing happened on the way to the post office. The other firm’s secretary sent the copy that was to go to the client explaining how they were going to screw our report over, got sent to us. It also contained their strategy of bioremediation where they knew it would not work as advertised, but would put the clean-up off for years, so that they would have time to find other ways to get out of the clean-up. It was like being the opposing coach at the Superbowl and you just found the other coach’s playbook, including when and why he will use his trick plays, for both offense and defense.

My introduction to why Superfund and other regulations were set up the way they were. Also, my realization I was now our group’s permanent duck.

My next part in Superfund was more like what those who think Superfund is an imposition on wealth and business. In this case, a public entity fought EPA to do the clean-up versus having industry and commerce do it. Their reasoning was that they had invited industry and commerce in, and that they were going to pay their share and make sure costs to industry and commerce were minimal. They continue to this day to actively seek new businesses, and use their commitment in the face of typical Superfund activity as a selling point.

My position was a bit unique. I designed the remediation system. I then went to work for one of the parties ItDed. I was also on the Technical Subcommittee for the Chamber of Commerce. So, I went to the meetings with one of our state’s most respected environmental lawyers, who represented the legal part of the Technical Subcommittee.

When I designed the remediation, I was an experienced professional. One of the strange things about the project was the limited potential for negative impact. My previous sites where of the “Holy Crap” type. One of those beloved engineering terms for “Did you see this? I can’t believe its so fxxxxd up.” But still, I was paid to design a system, I designed it. These designs are not cheap. But they do work.

So we go to this meeting where the EPA is requesting more money for their part in the caretaking of the site. In the meeting handouts, they had monies for technical items that were unexplained. Since it was an outline, this is not unexpected.

If you have not been to one of these meetings, it goes like this. The EPA’s lawyers are typically up on the podium or stage. Seated in the audience are environmental professionals, environmental lawyers, environmental activists, interested public, politicians, regulators, and business professionals. Next, the EPA spokesperson introduces the subject, and/or usually a government or local official introduces themselves and the goals of meeting that may or may not exactly agree with the other parties, and then they start going over the details.

The first part was the justification and then came the details. Not being the quiet type, I am whispering to the Tech Sub’s lawyer what is wrong with the proposals, why it is wrong, why it won’t work, why it is unnecessary, and a whole host of sarcastic remarks.

Now after details are explained, comments can be made. As you may have guessed I get volunteered to be the duck, again. So, I start out with introducing the group to the design. See, what people don’t often understand, Superfund is more of a legal implementation than a regulatory or technical implementation. The persons leading the discussion are typically lawyers, the person representing business or environmental activist are most often lawyers, and the rest are typical business professionals with their environmental professionals. Usually the environmental professionals are there to see that the regulatory and the legal part are done correctly, not about the technical design.

After describing the design, I start in on why the proposed technical action items were wrong. And this is where the legal nature hit me. They did not bring their technical staff to explain the technical action items. See, I asked for their basis of proposing the actions, so I could discuss what they really needed to do rather than what was proposed. The persons in charge did not know such technical details as when you cap a landfill; you don’t poke holes in it because you are curious. I had designed a collection system so any leaks could be tested and if necessary treated. You don’t disturb the natural earth cap, because you want the grass to grow. The “run-off” someone had complained of was actually the irrigation system to make sure the grass kept growing in times of drought, not leachate. They wanted to take soil samples to make sure the soil was not contaminated, which was unnecessary because we tested all the soil that came from a virgin borrow area before we used it.

So, I can agree that with all these lawyers present Superfund is often more expensive than it should be. I can also agree that the rule of unintended consequences is why this happens. But where I disagree with opponents of the regulations is that the reason it is the way it is. It is because once again short term focus on money means that a significant number of companies or individuals are trying to game the system, not clean up. And, that is what drives it to being more expensive that it should be, and even worse it probably makes economic sense to do so.

Note that part of the unintended consequences, is that it only takes one of the major parties (major meaning the most culpable) trying to game the system to drive the costs up due to the strict liability. Another perhaps not so obvious linked unintended consequence is that the major parties do their utmost through their lawyers to get the minimal parties to pay more than their fair share. After all, if your potential cost is only a few thousand dollars, you can’t afford to have the EPA come in and charge you 3X the multi-million dollar cleanup.

So, in response to how expensive Superfund is, it is that way for economic reasons, not environmental reasons. That is why I, as a professional challenge, those who think there is something better. I know the reason it is the way it is. And it is economic, not environmental. I hope someone does find a more economical methodology. The world could use more money for other good works.

50 Responses to “A Superfund Story”

  1. GaryP said

    About 15 years ago I attended a good talk on the Superfund program that was very critical of it due to poor cost effectiveness. Two questions need to be answered. How many people have died due to a Superfund site. (How hazardous are they really?)
    What is the cost per life saved from the Superfund program and how does it compare to the cost per life saved of say, painting fresh lines on the roadways for an example?

    The talk I attended claimed we were spending money on programs inversely to how dangerous the actual problem was. The speaker had a long list of problems and superfund sites ranked about last in terms of deaths. She listed tobacco as being the worst and was irked that the news magazines of the day had large articles about the dangers of superfund sites, (highly exaggerated of course), and the back cover the the same magazines had full page cigarette ads.

  2. John F. Pittman said

    Well cigarettes do kill more but it is a matter of choice. Superfund sites however effect persons who did not choose this usually. In order to rank its cost effectiveness other factors than just death would need to be included. Sickness from contamination is generally what it has been best at preventing or lessening.

  3. Geoff Sherrington said

    Thank you John, You are helping step by step to clarify your logical positions.

    After a first read, two quick questions come to mind:

    (a) do you believe that there is a widespread, unjustified chemophobia for man-made chemicals? I rely heavily on “The Apocalyptics” by Edith Efron (1984) as a detailed exposition of the philosopy of much of what we are discussing, its early evolution in the USA and the results of the years since – which have shown that much fear was generated but little detriment was proven. The present official USA list of known human carcinogenic chemicals has under 30 entries, many seldom mixed with Man. It is fears of man-made chemicals that fill Edith’s 580 pages.

    (b) Second, and I mean this seriously as an aid to communication, might you look at the following clip and the say which scene you identify with most. I’m in the giraffe group. You seem to have put industry in the stork-on-stork group. Others are most welcome (should Jeff permit) to mix a little personal ID with their learned commentary. It’s an exercise in getting to know each other better, to enhance communication. Sometimes it can take a while to reach a level of discourse where one is not talking down or talking up.

    The link is

    I apologise for not knowing the way to properly attribute it.

    John, I have to go out but tomorrow I’ll give a more thoughtful response to your posts. You have succeeded in making me put time aside to think more deeply.

  4. John F. Pittman said

    There are some excellent studies that use the octanol/water partition index for determining bioaccumulation. I forgot the name and technique for biomagnifications. The basic relationship is that the more soluble it is the less bioaccumulation, but the more you have in water that can affect the organisms. The more double bonds the more carcinogenic it is. Next in order are peroxide like amino carbon chemicals, forgot the name of the class, but aldehydes of certain molecular weight are in the group. I don’t have my references with me and it is late. If your listing only has 30 entries it is because it has whole classes of carcinogens as a single listing, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Over a dozen carcinogens in that group alone.

    I don’t think there is a phobia by most professionals. However, there is respect for the problems that can occur. Usually the most insidious are the bioaccumulating and magnifying such as mercury and lead. The depuration rate from the biosphere is much scarier than the CO2. The assumptions that make the estimate of a disturbance of hundreds of years just do not seem to stand up. One of the assumptions, IIRC, was that the natural sinks would fill and have a less effect as CO2 concentration went up. This has not been the case. This indicates a constant purge that means a CO2 pulse is statistically gone after 50 years. As anything that challenges the consensus, the assumptions you make to get 50 years are highly contested. I find the assumptions of the 300+year scenario seem to be based on this utopian thought that all was in balance until bad ole man came along. It ignores what the fossil record indicates about competition such as other species that have dominated the biosphere in their day. Ferns, dinosaurs, angiosperms, mollusks, quite a few. The record does not indicate some set balance. It indicates extinction from competition is the most common extant of a species.

    The one I identify are the red faced laughing loons? . I find many things quite humorous.

  5. John Norris said

    Jeff Id,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. It is interesting and I learned a number of things.

  6. Brian H said

    Edit note: “That is why I, as a professional challenge, those who think there is something better.”
    I think it reads better (i.e., comprehensibly) as:
    “That is why I, as a professional, challenge those who think there is something better.”

  7. michel said

    Very interesting experience, and penetrating reflections on it. Isn’t the fundamental argument that Geoff Sherrington is offering something like this?

    There are two ways of dealing with conduct by people or companies which has environmental effects we do not like. One way is to leave well alone until all the people and companies doing it stop. The other way is to regulate.

    The cost/benefit ratio, the argument would go, is always in favor of leaving well alone. If we regulate, we’ll end up spending more and much of what we do will be false positives.

    I can’t see any evidence based reasons for taking this point of view. It seems like a sort of religious mania. There will admittedly be false positives. But consider some large obvious examples. Take air pollution caused by burning coal in cities. It is a fact that air pollution from this cause caused lots of deaths in London. It is a fact that it made the city unhealthy and unpleasant. Its also a fact that there was no sign of a mass move to smokeless fuel, but that regulation in the form of the enforcement of smokeless fuel regulations did produce such a move, and the great smogs became things of the past.

    Even if, eventually, everyone would have stopped burning coal, which there was no sign of their doing, as soon as we knew coal was the problem why should we patiently wait for them all to come around?

    Sometimes this is about checks and balances. If you think about smoking, once it became clear this was really bad for people and killed them, Geoff’s prescription would have been to make no regulation at all governing advertising or sale or public place smoking, but to simply wait until people changed their behavior, if they did. The issue here is, what is the check and balance on the tobacco manufacturers?

    If you think about some farming and food production practices, including food adulterationl or large scale use of farming practices detrimental to public health, Geoff’s prescription would once more be buyer beware and wait for it to die out. What is the evidence this leads to greater welfare than regulation?

    Then if you consider the question not from a public health point of view but from that of individuals, people live and work in places where companies are polluting. Pittsburgh used to be known as a two shirt a day city, the air was so dirty that you needed to change a white shirt halfway through the day. Suppose you lived within range where a plant putting out huge quantities of pollutants had started up, what were you to do? Tough, move? Its the commons issue, in Geoff’s world you have no rights, anyone has the right to do anything they like in terms of emissions, but you have no recourse.

    In the UK they have had intense discussions about farming practices – salmonella in eggs, mad cow disease. Geoff’s answer would be, let everyone feed cattle whatever they want, let the meat come to market, if it turns out to be infectious, that will emerge, people will either sue or stop buying it, but whatever we do, do not let us regulate by law what goes into the feed. If people want to have huge battery chicken farms, fine, if it produces salmonella outbreaks, doubtless the producers will eventually wise up and stop.

    Most people will react with a sort of weary indignation to these proposals, which is my reaction too, but that is not really the point, the point is that they are not evidence based, they are ideological faith based policy. And they do not acccord with our current view of the rights of communities and the duties companies and people. We really do not think it right that someone should be able to start up a waste incinerator putting out dioxin on the outskirts of a village without having any duties except those imposed by public opinion, and without the village having a say in whether this is done.

    The problem with CO2 regulation is not that it is regulation, it is what it is regulating. We should not be limiting CO2. But that does not mean we should not be limiting particulates or dioxin. We have to stop governments trying to regulate destructively. But that does not mean we should allow companies to pollute destructively. This is all about checks and balances and getting policy and implementation right. Its not about going back to a world in which a large company was essentially unaccountable and unstoppable in whatever it did.

  8. Geoff Sherrington said

    Just quickly if you join the game with

    it is impolite to our host to suggest that the Air Vent starts at 18 seconds in.

  9. Geoff Sherrington said

    michel said January 16, 2011 at 4:19 am

    re doing no regulation – a more complex answer is in prep, but first let me say of the London fogs and Chacago grime that the inexorable march of technology should be counted in as well. As natural gas and industrial jet turbines came to be more widely used, less soot was produced. Unfortunately, it takes some decades from the discovery of a large FOAK resource of natural gas to its routine use as an important global fuel. The deeper question is whether regulation will shorten or lengthen the time it takes, and at what benefit:cost.

    I have already indicated there are times when regulation is needed. I’m not 100% opposed. It is very useful in the creation and enforcement of standards (like fuel reserves carried by civil airliners). Many of the good examples have a way to show, as experience accumulates, whether they have solved a problem or caused one.

    My strongest resistance is to open-ended ones where there is no effective way to account for their eventual success or failure. Regulating lead in petrol falls into this category, also the hole in the ozone layer. So do regulations fighting progress, ref Moore’s law analogies above. So do new regulations that are made to continue the existence of structures set up to solve specific problems, which then morph into structures inventing problems to solve.

    Never underestimate the power of human ingenuity, especially in the private sector.

  10. John F. Pittman said

    Thanks Brian H. Sometimes people think English is my second language.

    Michel. Yes, it appears to me that you are correct. History shows that where there are market solutions the market works. History also shows that there are those who think the market should be allowed to work even though it has been shown to be an abject failure. I have to admit that the flowing terms used to describe the market solutions that simply did not work when they had the chance, do seem to be more religious mantras than a guideline for an improved social contract.

    Because part of the social contract in western democracies is that you pay for what you do. You especially pay for harm to innocents.

  11. M. Simon said

    For some tobacco is not a matter of choice:

    Schizophrenia and Tobacco

  12. BDAABAT said

    Just to throw my $0.02 in.

    Superfund is a disaster. There is no other way to describe it. The initial proposal for Superfund came after the big scares at “Love Canal”, New York. People were claiming all sorts of illnesses and cancers as a result of poor land use (property that had previously been a hazardous waste site was donated to the local community; local community developed the site and built a school on part, despite recommendations of the previous site owners and, you know, common sense). ALL of those claims of cancer epidemics secondary to leaching chemicals were false. None actually happened! Yes, people were exposed to material they ought not to have been. But, the reaction that occurred afterward resulted in nationwide chemophobia and a law and program that has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, has enriched many, many lawyers and specialty “clean up” companies, but has done almost zero to help improve the lives of actual people.

    Jeff, I’m surprised your story (BTW: thanks for sharing!), didn’t include the other issue: determining how clean is clean? Is the area after the cleanup “clean” when there are no more substances that can be identified? Or, is there a threshold at which it’s considered “safe” (how clean is clean???)??? Usually, there are major rows about the level and extent of the cleanup that further delay and further jack up costs to astronomical amounts, again adding zero value to the process except for the lawyers and consultants.

    Need a big, expensive problem to deal with, one that we know causes problems? How about cleaning up houses in the US where there is a major lead burden. We KNOW lead causes problems. We KNOW where the houses are that have major lead burden. If the 1/10 the money that has been spent on Superfund was instead used to deal with lead in homes, that would have had an incredible impact on public health and would actually have accomplished something positive. Instead, we get more chemophobia and more wasted resources.


  13. M. Simon said


    We know how to fix lead in homes – paint over it. See that the kids have enough to eat. When the house reaches end of life – carefully dismantle it. Same for asbestos.

  14. BobN said

    As a 20+ year environmental professional, I can totally relate to Jeff’s story and some of the idiosyncracy’s of Superfund, legal involvement, strict liability, etc., etc. However, relative data collection and sharing, I think it is interesting to compare data requirements for environmental projects compared to the data handling we see in climate science. Even for the simplest field level measurement(temperature, pH), the instruments must be properly calibrated, calibration clearly documented, personnel collecting the measurements noted, etc., etc. For chemical analysis, the amount of QA/QC information required can be mind-boggling. All of the data must be carefully tracked and managed, any modifications or “corrections” clearly documented with the reasons for such changes. And most importantly, all of the data, raw and processed, must be submitted to the regulatory agency for its review along with review by any third party that wants. This is true whether it is a simple small tank removal costing a few 10s of thousands to multi-million dollar cleanups. You must manage your data well and you don’t have the option of not sharing. Contrast that with what we see many in the academic climate community doing. If the results from climate studies are going to be used to develop regulations, the underlying data must be subject to the same level of QA/QC and database management as in environmental investigations and cleanups.

  15. John F. Pittman said

    Bruce, Jeff forgot to put that I was the author.

    Not all programs or all instances even in good programs are successful, whether we talk of law, regulations, or even instruction manuals. Some are more successful than others. One of the items that indicated a problem was the statistical increase of certain rare diseases and cancer. But just for the same reason as there is a failure of the commons for air, there is a failure of the commons in medical. Take cancer, one can not usually say yes this cancer was definitely caused by chemical XYZ from Manufacturer XYZ. This is why tort has been unsuccessful in these cases.

    M Simon’s proposal for lead in homes to work would require a regulatory web to work. Remember, even doing nothing has unintended consequences. The decision to do nothing is still a decision, and decisions cause unintended consequences. Even the “carefully dismantle it.” Who pays, why do they pay? If you think it should only be the unlucky, consider why we have and people demand insurance. Proposals such as simon make are not fleshed out as proposals that appeal to the general population. They were the ones who clamored for insurance and are the ones who clamored for environmental regs.

    Too often, I can only think of those who complain but offer no realizable solution, as simply offering sour grapes. A real proposal would delineate costs, responsibilities, and the framework of doing the work, and measuring the success or failure thereof. It would include a path for the necessary legislation as well, otherwise you need to ask yourself what is really being proposed.

  16. John F. Pittman said

    I wrote the post.

    Yes, BobN, I do spend a lot time and money making sure that what I do is measured by properly calibrated, certified, traceable instruments. The nature of which has to be reviewed and approved BEFORE I make the first measurement. Now, not all are this way. I can do exploratory work without such. However, once you go to report, and there are lots of things you have to report, it has to meet requirements and specifications. Then, they look at the results, which might mean even more to do.

  17. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: John F. Pittman (Jan 15 23:00),

    The assumptions that make the estimate of a disturbance of hundreds of years just do not seem to stand up. One of the assumptions, IIRC, was that the natural sinks would fill and have a less effect as CO2 concentration went up. This has not been the case. This indicates a constant purge that means a CO2 pulse is statistically gone after 50 years. As anything that challenges the consensus, the assumptions you make to get 50 years are highly contested. I find the assumptions of the 300+year scenario seem to be based on this utopian thought that all was in balance until bad ole man came along.

    The carbon cycle models actually work fairly well. Only in the popular press do you get the meme of a sink filling up. The sinks keep absorbing because the concentration keeps going up. The concentration keeps going up because emissions continue to increase year over year. But those high concentrations in the sinks aren’t going away. That’s where the long time scales of pulse decay come in.

    But the warmers appear to think that massive reductions of CO2 emissions (an immediate reduction of greater than 50% in emission would be required to stop concentration increasing with further reductions in succeeding years required) is not going to be hideously expensive (a new 1GW nuclear power plant commissioned/day for the foreseeable future) with potentially large human costs as well. Those human costs would be mostly in the less developed world the warmers claim will benefit most from mitigation. Entirely too many warmers also reject the one technology that could actually make a difference, nuclear power. It’s all pie in the sky bye and bye or magical thinking as Pielke, Jr. puts it.

  18. Jeff Id said


    The story is John’s. I put his name in before posting but it didn’t take for some reason. There isn’t much time for blogging now and I didn’t notice the problem until this morning.

  19. Kenneth Fritsch said

    John, you appear not to see that the Superfund laws/regulations are at the heart of the problems you describe. That companies attempt to protect their interests and in ways that advocate lawyers do everywhere should not be surprising given how the system is set up.

    2) Repeal retroactive liability in the new Superfund bill.
    The current law makes every polluter at a Superfund site potentially liable for paying the entire cleanup costs, even if that company’s actions were legal before the Superfund law was enacted. Not surprisingly, older companies with deep pockets tend to get stuck with big cleanup bills and spend a lot of money suing more-recent occupants of the sites. And there’s little correlation between the companies that pollute waste dumps and those that get stuck with the bills. Using IRS data, the American Petroleum Institute calculates that oil companies pay as much as 60 percent of Superfund taxes, while the EPA says those businesses are responsible for less than 10 percent of the pollution at Superfund sites.

    In the 103rd Congress, two New Hampshire Republicans, Rep. Bill Zeliff and Sen. Bob Smith, sponsored a Superfund amendment that would have repealed retroactive liability and paid for cleanups by doubling the Superfund tax rates. Zeliff, who may chair the Public Works and Transportation subcommittee that oversees Superfund, will reintroduce his amendment this year. Repealing retroactive liability in this manner would do more than limit lawsuits and other transactions costs, which eat up more than one-third of Superfund money; it would also place Superfund on a budget and force environmental officials to set cleanup priorities rather than mindlessly attempting to eliminate the last molecule of a proscribed substance, regardless of cost.

  20. Kenneth Fritsch said

    I am quite familiar with this Superfund site as it is close to my home. I get a chuckle out of the comment below that implies that since the clean-up, it is now used for recreation. That is not the case at all as it was used for these activities before, during and after the remediation. The only consequences that I noted before remediation was that a swimming lake was shut down long before remediation started because of the detection of trichloroethylene, not on the swimming water as I recall, but in a location nearby. Since remediation the swimming lake remains closed for swimming.

    I was able to watch the remediation as it proceeded on my walks in the area and I must say it appeared to take a long time with long lapses between activity. I did see not much soil removed from the site but instead I suspect that certain areas were sealed with a barrier to prevent leaching.

    The Dupage County Landfill Superfund site covers approximately 40 acres within the 1,235-acre Blackwell Forest Preserve. Two million cubic yards of wastes were deposited in the landfill between 1965 and 1973, creating a virtual mountain of waste and soil that rises 150 feet above the original ground surface. Local residents call this “mountain,” Mt. Hoy. EPA found ground water contamination and, in 1990, added the site to its list of hazardous waste sites needing cleanup. EPA, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and the Dupage County Forest Preserve District cleaned up the site, and it is now being used as a recreational area with picnic and camping areas, trails, and a lake. Mt. Hoy is used for sledding during the winter months.

    More on the Blackwell site below:

    How does the leakage at Mount Hoy affect drinking water?

    When the EPA originally scored the site, it did not find any connection between the site and contaminated supplies of drinking water. It listed the site because of the number of people who lived in the general area and because a potential did exist for contaminated drinking water. Today, ongoing monitoring has detected contaminated groundwater only within 200 feet of Mount Hoy, and none of the contamination exceeds any health-based standards for drinking water.
    Why was the swim beach closed at Blackwell? Will the beach be reopened?
    The District closed the beach in 1984 as a precautionary measure after monitoring wells detected the contaminated groundwater between the beach and Mount Hoy. At the request of the EPA, the beach area remained closed until the completion of the required studies and cleanup.

    In 1999, the EPA issued a set of guidelines under which it would allow the swim beach area, now call Sand Pond, to reopen. The EPA has not detected any contamination of Sand Pond from the landfill but is concerned that any use of water associated with the redevelopment of the Sand Pond area might interfere with groundwater monitoring. Additionally, to reopen Sand Pond as a swim beach under current health codes would cost about $5,000,000.

    Instead, the District is incorporating the pond into a new recreational area centered on Blackwell’s existing archery range. The new area will feature a regional trailhead, an expanded archery range, an ADA-compliant fishing pier, restrooms and a picnic shelter.

    What are the green fiberglass “boxes” on Mount Hoy?

    The devices are 8-by-4-foot vaults, which contain the tops of wells, which remove contaminated liquid, called leachate, and landfill gas from inside the landfill. Underground pipes convey the leachate to a collection tank, which is then trucked to a processing facility for treatment and disposal. Separate pipes convey the gas to a vent stack at the top of Mount Hoy.

  21. Mark T said

    Hehe, I used to work at a Superfund site: Harris Corporation in Palm Bay, Florida. We joked about it, actually. I don’t think anything was ever done.


  22. Geoff Sherrington said

    BDAABAT notes “How about cleaning up houses in the US where there is a major lead burden. We KNOW lead causes problems.”

    Lead was studied for 40 years by my medical friend Dr Allen Christophers and his partner Pam de Silva. Allen was high up in Occupational Health for many years in the state of Victoria. Lead was a particular interest. We met professionally when my company acquired another company that had been operating a car battery recovery site, then bulldozed it for housing.

    Lead harms children when taken in large doses, medical term “pica” applies. There is no solid evidence that it harms through low-level exposure, as from leaded petrol. See It’s a classic case of reverse causation. Also a classic case of spending millions of $ on a dry gulch and “noble cause corruption”.

  23. Geoff Sherrington said

    M Simon on lead “Just paint over it”. Many documented cases are from painted putty holding window panes in frames. The taste of the putty appeals to some youngsters. I was one such child. Painting over it is not a good cure – the old leaded paint is still there. BTW, when these studies started, they concentrated on ingestion by mouth. The published, peer-reviewed estimates of the weight of “soil” ingested by mouth by children ranged over 2 orders of magnitude. That’s not a good base to infer toxicity. AFAIK, no author has withdrawn estimates shown to be grossly in error and the lead myth continues.

  24. John F. Pittman said

    Re: Kenneth Fritsch (Jan 16 18:05),

    John, you appear not to see that the Superfund laws/regulations are at the heart of the problems you describe. That companies attempt to protect their interests and in ways that advocate lawyers do everywhere should not be surprising given how the system is set up.

    I did not claim all regs were great or successful or that some were not mixed bags. I did claim they were a human response to problems caused by humans. My point is that whether you have regs or not, companies will attempt to protect their interests. So will people or pollution victims, and yes even lawyers. It is a human response.

  25. John F. Pittman said

    Re: Kenneth Fritsch (Jan 16 18:52),

    The only consequences that I noted before remediation was that a swimming lake was shut down long before remediation started because of the detection of trichloroethylene, not on the swimming water as I recall, but in a location nearby. Since remediation the swimming lake remains closed for swimming.

    Since you sent me to read that long piece which I have not finished, I would point out your testimony indicates that there was a physical invasion of TCE. Whether they put the prohibition in the wrong place does not negate the physical invasion you allude to does it?

  26. John F. Pittman said

    Re: Geoff Sherrington (Jan 16 20:25), The data I have is that lead is bio-accumulating and bio-magnifying and that is what I posted on.

  27. John F. Pittman said

    Re: Mark T (Jan 16 18:55), The work I did on Superfund and LUST were in the Orlando area. Not familiar with Palm Bay.

  28. Brian H said

    One valid use of regs is to “level the playing field”, so that no one has to bite the bullet and go first. But such regs must be clear and simple, with obvious payoffs. Most fail these tests.

    It’s actually enough to make one think that most government is a huge exercise in “noble cause corruption”, with a helluva lot of “ignoble cause profiteering and graft” along for the ride.

  29. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Geoff Sherrington (Jan 16 20:25),

    Part of the problem of assessing damage from lead ingestion is that accurate tests for blood lead are a relatively recent development. Sample contamination caused an overestimate of blood lead levels by several orders of magnitude until clean laboratories and clean sampling techniques became widely available. There is evidence that even low levels of lead in infants (<10μg/dL) causes a measurable decrease in intelligence. The scatter plot in the article doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in the results, though.

  30. Fed Up said


    Yet another
    Onerous climate disagreement
    Universal rancor everywhere

    As we
    Raise our
    Environmental concerns

    Always and forever like this?

    Can’t we get along?
    Love one another?
    In spite of our differences?
    Ad hominem is

    Sorrowful day
    Sorrowful climate of science
    Have we no hope?
    Our reserves of integrity

  31. M. Simon said

    Geoff Sherrington said January 16, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    When i was a kid I used to chew on solder (63/37). It tasted REAL GOOD. Then I learned it was bad for you. It must have damaged my brain. I eventually became a libertarian Republican. 😉

  32. Geoff Sherrington said

    DeWitt Payne re sampling for lead in blood, yes, I was involved in refining the methods. Also, I was among the first to develop an accurate way to measure mercury in hair (around 1969). My comments take this into account. You appear to rely on Needleman’s many papers for your quote of lead dose, but he was the target of my comment on noble cause corruption. I had to assemble evidence for legal hearings on lead harm, which the Judge found in our favour.

    As for the urban land where the battery factory was levelled, our corporate lawyer suggested it be used as another cemetery which allowed lead-lined caskets.

  33. Geoff Sherrington said

    Re John F Pittman, As promised I post a deeper note on regulation, concentrating on PCBs and their demonisation.

    I will not develop the background argument here. It has been put in shorthand form with references at

    In composing this, I have tried to use authoritative or expert sources. This is because there are so many fringe papers that it takes a while to browse and spot the deficiencies in chemistry, my field of training, and I did not have the time. So, in a way, I am acting like a mainstream GW scientist rejecting the papers of sceptics. Do not see this as a permanently adopted principle; it is merely expedient for this short exercise.

    One cannot fail to notice the way that numerous substances have been demonised. When GHGs appeared, the frameworks for demonisation were already rehearsed on familiar faces like mercury, tobacco, lead, chlorine and chlorinated compounds including DDT, anti-oxidants (whatever they might be, they are not scientifically dissected), asbestos, fluorine compounds as in water supplies, isotopes giving ionising radiation, etc etc. Indeed, some of the very same professional activists were at the helm. Ho hum, another day, what to demonise, what will it pay?

    Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been around for decades, though in the USA manufacture ceased in the mid 70s. They were a group of synthetic chemicals designed by clever, diligent chemists to have useful, defined properties and they were successful. As time passed, some minor, infrequent health issues arose and then the floodgates opened when they were turned into political whipping horses. Like DDT.

    The saga continues, but by now there is enough information to balance the cost of cleaning up PCBs against the cost of cleaning up other matters like diseases – AIDS for example. The regulatory process is open to criticism because the books are seldom balanced as the exercise draws to a close. The question is, in hindsight, was there a more beneficial way to spend the money that went into cleaning up PCBs? I do not know the answer. We all should be able to see the answer on the Web. Auditors earn their incomes from work like this.

    I concede that bioaccumulation is a process that needs closer watching when identified. However, in terms of mortality, the chemicals that come to my mind are dominated by mercury, not mercury metal but methylmercury as an industrial byproduct of the 1950s at Minimata in Japan. Though it is small compensation for the victims, there were not many on a global scale (about 2,000 severe/fatal) and chemists learned from the exercise.

    This is the other problem with regulation of health hazards, actual or potential. If you have an urge to regulate, how do you choose your target? For decades I have marvelled at the way that children can access the lethal electricity in any home or business with nothing more than a length of conductive metal into a socket or toaster. About 1,000 accidental electrocutions happen in the USA each year. I have no figures for the number who survived the shock.

    Sure puts Minimata disease and PCBs well down the ladder.

    An medico friend once suggested for thought that some chemicals common in major wars are remembered by survivors; perhaps remembered as slight heritable mutations that makes protest an unconscious urge. Think chlorine (a hate of greenpeace), lead in bullets, radiation from nuclear bombs. When you look at the surnames of activists (or IPCC authors, for that matter) there is a heavy weighting of Germanic names. But these are idle speculations, not truths, and they are not meant to hurt any individual.

  34. Brian H said

    John F. Pittman said
    January 15, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    It ignores what the fossil record indicates about competition such as other species that have dominated the biosphere in their day. Ferns, dinosaurs, angiosperms, mollusks, quite a few. The record does not indicate some set balance. It indicates extinction from competition is the most common extant of a species.

    Which suggests that the best way to regard any species is that it is a challenge for some new variety/species to overcome and eliminate.

  35. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Geoff Sherrington (Jan 17 05:10),

    In terms of risk, driving automobiles is way up there. Yet we don’t seem to have a problem with cost/benefit analysis there. I think it’s the false sense of security from thinking we’re in control. That we have, as it were, The Right Stuff so accidents will only happen to other people.

    There are documented cases of people developing the symptoms of mercury poisoning from eating too much tuna, something like greater than 4 oz/day, every day.

  36. John F. Pittman said

    33 Brian: That is a truth many wish not to consider. That some of these view themselves as naturalists or environmentalists give me a bit of pause. Ecologists will tell you that that is the way it is; and paleontologists will tell you it’s always been that way.

  37. John F. Pittman said

    Dewitt: Mercury is a bit worse. However, lead, and there are hydrocarbons, as well, that are bio-magnifying and bio-accumulating. Depuration rates are variable and hard to measure in natural systems.

  38. John F. Pittman said

    Geoff, I read your bullet thoughts. One of the things that is missing is the standard of care. Typical values for non-accumualting, non magnifying, say ammonia, is a 10:1 safety factor. As chemicals start becoming accumulating and/or magnifying, a 1000:1 or better safety factor may be required; suspected carcinogens of bio-accumulating and/or bio-magnifying 100,000:1 or better safety factor; carcinogens of bio-accumulating and/or bio-magnifying 1,000,000:1 or better safety factor. Sometimes you have to go to the rationale, and I will not claim that you won’t find one that should have been 1,000,000:1 in the 10,000:1 due to some Senator. I have not seen it, but who knows. It is enough to go through the regs, much less all the other papers produced in the process.

  39. Bdaabat said

    Re, lead. The reason for bribing up lead was to show the difference in response between a known “chemical” problem vs what happen at Love Canal and Times Beach and elsewhere.

    There was NO increase in cancer in Love Canal or Times Beach. none. zero. Nada. Zilch. Yet, people claimed that they could see an increase in cancers in neighborhoods…they didn’t need epidemiology studies, they just knew it was happening and they knew the cause. The Feds swooped in and now we’re stuck with crappy laws that waste gobs o’ money for no public benefit.

    Meanwhile, lead, a well known toxic substance continues to cause problems to this day because the problem hasn’t been cleaned up. I wasn’t throwing out a proposal… Just pointing out the inconsistency between responses to different “chemicals”.


  40. John F. Pittman said

    Bruce: little if any human activity on a large scale is perfect. That is not an excuse but an observation. Perhaps you have experienced a different observation.

  41. Geoff Sherrington said


    You describe lead as a well known toxic substance.

    I reply from the literature that “The fact is that it has never been shown that lead exposure however high, but short of the production of encephalopathy, produces mental deficit.”

    Are you working from evidence or from belief?

  42. Geoff Sherrington said

    John, in 38 you write “suspected carcinogens of bio-accumulating and/or bio-magnifying 100,000:1 or better safety factor;”

    I have a problem with the term “suspected carcinogen” in the way I have a problem with “suspected pregnancy”. In my youth the latter term caused great anxiety if I was implicated. In my dotage the first term causes more worry, because it is a synthetic construct. A substance is carcinogenic, or it is not. Given the high mortality from various types of cancer and our lack of mechanistic understanding, it is understandable that regulators prefer to err to caution and to inflate the list of suspected carcinogens. But this is emotional, rather than scientific. It therefore becomes troublesome to logic to amplify the response action by a safety margin for an emotional entity. Safety factors of a million are outside my comprehension, but then I had a term in aeronautical engineering which was dedicated to making objects that fly.

    In the list of suspected carcinogens, there is probably gold among the dross. The main value of the list is to reduce it to the proven, then act on them. The worst use is to lengthen it, to frighten small children and horses.

    The chemophobia movement here is as bad as the global warming movement and often the two are related. The same media push both, often the same scientific bodies add their weight, often the same activists preach both, often teachers do ditto. For example, some very good pesticides are now banned in favour of a spray with soapy water and vinegar or some such witches brew. This will increase the costs of agricultutal produce. But, when you put down the bullet points like I did for PCBs, you begin to see that emotion and misbelief cures little but can cost a lot.

  43. George said

    I have always wondered such things as … why not use an old asbestos mine for disposing of asbestos instead of containing it in some sort of tomb.

  44. BDAABAT said

    John: Agreed. That’s kind of the point. What really was needed after Love Canal and Times Beach was not a large scale response. Thoughtful, considered, measured and targeted responses would have been appropriate and useful and would have likely had a greater positive human and economic impact than CERCLA.

    Geoff: I don’t want to pull this thread off topic. I was just pointing out the inconsistency in responses to different toxic problems affecting different communities.

    And, by the way, I’m not suggesting that Superfund (and other sites) don’t need to be cleaned up. Some do, some don’t. I AM saying that the intended goals of CERCLA/SARA have largely not been met (there are many sites still waiting to be cleaned up ~30 years after legislation was enacted) and the costs for implementing the program have FAR, FAR exceeded the expected costs, and most of those additional costs have not gone towards actual clean up of sites….they’ve gone mainly to lawyers and consultants.


  45. John F. Pittman said

    I will post about feasibility studies and remedial action plans so I can answer some of the questions and comments. It will be this weekend though.

  46. Brian H said

    Geoff #41;
    A substance may be suspected, but not proven, to be a carcinogen. There is also the fuzz factor of differential genetic responses to various chemicals, and the question of dosage (level and frequency). It’s hardly a black-and-white issue.

  47. Geoff Sherrington said

    46 No, Brian. A substance can be a carginogen only when it is proven to be – in a similar (simplified) sense as a substance might be proven an acid or an alkali.

    One of the big mistakes of AGW is suspecting that CO2 is a major player before it is proven to be. The other big mistake is to plan actions based on a suspicion. Major actions should follow once the “suspected” status is either removed or confirmed. Think pregnancy again.

  48. Brian H said

    Perhaps Listed In The Official Book Of Carcinogens only after being proven to be. But my point is that reality is graduated and multifarious. A substance can be mildly or strongly, and selectively or interactively, carcinogenic. And ODing rats with ‘000s of times plausible dosage and dividing by body weight doesn’t prove what researchers think it does. E.g.

  49. kim said

    There are no poisons, only poisonous doses.

    H/t Paracelsus or some other dead white man.

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