By Sofia Liszka
Over the past couple of weeks, Hurricane Florence has rightly held the top spot in environmental news. Its looming landfall in the Carolinas put the nation on edge, as Florence threatened to tear through countless towns and cities, spread animal waste from North Carolina’s leading pig farm industry and bring in an extremely high storm surge. Less known, however, was the threat of impact to at least nine of the EPA’s Superfund sites in the Southeast region, a disaster of its own.
Superfund sites are more than just a regional problem, however. These sites, EPA-labeled areas filled with unsafe elevated levels of hazardous material, exist all around the country. While Florence spun towards the East Coast, the EPA released its latest list of Superfund site additions to its National Priorities List. Among the sites listed was a contaminated aquifer in Donnelsville, Ohio, a town about 30 minutes from Dayton.
A designation to the NPL indicates that a Superfund site needs heightened cleanup efforts. The EPA’s statement on the matter explains that an NPL label is necessary to obtain adequate funding for the cleanup. While this elevated status is well-intentioned, a closer look into the timeline of contamination in Donnelsville is troubling.
The 2011 Health Consultation for the aquifer generated by the Ohio Department of Health reveals a longer history of the NPL-listed aquifer we see today. According to the report, “There is an indication that people may have been drinking contaminated water for a long period of time, at least since 1995”. The report details thorough testing done on several wells in the area by the Ohio EPA and U.S. EPA, where the potential for an elevated cancer risk was evaluated.
As of 2011, 17 wells, most of them residential, had test results that revealed excessive levels of perchloroethylene (PCE) in the water. The source of the contamination remained unidentified during this time, but the National Library of Medicine, housed under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, links PCE to means of “dry cleaning fabrics and degreasing metals”. Following the testing in 2011, the EPA took action, distributing water treatment devices to affected residences. Seven years later, the site has been given a spot on the National Priorities List. Donnelsville has been grappling with a contaminated aquifer for at least 23 years. Such a figure should leave us wondering what can be done to expedite change with these sites in the future.
Now, as the EPA has confirmed intensification of the cleanup, there exists an extended federal commitment for safer water in Donnelsville. As of last week, four other Superfund sites joined the Donnelsville aquifer on the NPL, bringing the total number of sites on the concerning list to 1,345. What sites will be next?
Looking ahead, even more concerning are the implications for sites in the path of natural disasters, like Hurricane Florence. Though an event like the hurricane brings these issues to light, the hazards and distress for a location like Donnelsville are not new. This struggle is shared across 1,300 sites and counting all around the country.
Photo via Pixabay.