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Defending superfund.

As Bernard J. Reilly's article ("Stop Superfund Waste," Issues, Spring 1993) makes clear, Superfund is a program people love to hate. The press has been barraged with commentary on the problems with the program, and it has taken an uncritical look at the allegations made by enemies of the program. The public is consequently deprived of understanding the real problems that Superfund dumps continue to pose to communities across the nation.

Contrary to Reilly's statements that Superfund sites pose trivial risks, consider these EPA statistics: 82 percent of Superfund sites are located in residential areas; 91 percent are within a mile of an operating well; 73 percent have had observed releases into the groundwater; and 64 percent have waste easily accessible to the public. Is this the result of the "haphazard" selection of priority sites described by Reilly? Do such statistics support his statement that Superfund has "skewed priorities"?

Statements concerning the "extreme remedies" required by the statute similarly lack basis. Superfund's statutory preference for permanent remedies is very rational; it derives from our very limited technological and institutional capabilities to isolate and contain hazardous constituents over the long haul--as the general public is aware from society's difficulties with isolating nuclear waste, and as some citizens living near "contained" Superfund sites can attest from their direct experience living with endlessly eroding and breached clay caps. Furthermore, although for good reason EPA prefers permanent remedies to containment, it nonetheless selects containment remedies at fully 50 percent of its Superfund sites, a statistic that clearly does not support allegations that the program's remedy selection is "absurd" or a result of a duty to consider "extreme, costly remediation solutions."

To top it off, Reilly argues that the lack of scientific consensus as to the precise magnitude of the dangers posed by chemicals at the site clouds Superfund's risk debate. Yet, the most frequently occurring contaminants at Superfund sites, such as lead, trichloroethylene, benzene, chromium, and tetrachloroethylene, are chemicals with well-established toxic effects. What additional precision is necessary to conclude that drinking such chemicals is undesirable? None, I suggest, if that drinking water is yours.

LINDA E. GREER Senior Scientist Natural Resources Defense Council Washington, D.C.
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Title Annotation:response to Bernard J. Reilly, Issues, Spr 1993
Author:Greer, Linda E.
Publication:Issues in Science and Technology
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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