Minneapolis is included in a group of 50 of the country's most polluted and hazardous waste sites that have been singled out to receive a share of federal stimulus money to continue cleanup operations.
The money announced today by the Environmental Protection Agency will pay to excavate contaminated soil from hundreds of residential lawns in Minneapolis, as well as in cities in Indiana, Missouri and Nebraska.
In all, sites in 28 states will share in the $528 million in recently approved economic stimulus funding.
The sites were contaminated years ago by mining waste, lead smelters, landfills, and other sources of chemicals but the companies responsible are no longer around to pay for their cleanup.
At half the sites, cleanups were either stalled last year or were expected to face delays this year because the EPA was running short of funds.
Since 2000, the Superfund program has suffered budget shortfalls, with money for the dwindling cleanup fund declining each year.
In south Minneapolis, the EPA will do cleanup and restoration work at about 500 residential properties to clean up soil that's been contaminated with arsenic, at a cost of $10 million to $25 million. The EPA will restrict access to properties it can't clean up.
The arsenic came from a grasshopper pesticide plant that operated at the corner of Hiawatha Ave. and 28th St. for 50 years, until 1968. The wind carried arsenic-contaminated dust from the plant to homes and businesses throughout the neighborhoods.
The arsenic was discovered at the plant in 1994 during planning for the Hiawatha light rail line. The levels of soil and groundwater contamination at the plant were considered lethal.
The EPA has been doing some testing and cleanup n the area for the past few years, but the new infusion of money will speed up that process.
In addition to the neighborhood cleanup, about $10 to $25 million will connect 180 houses in southeastern North Dakota to public drinking water. Their wells were tainted with arsenic from bait applied to control grasshoppers in the 1930s and '40s.
At New Bedford Harbor, Mass., where the announcement was made by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, three times more mud will be dredged from the harbor-bottom over the next two years than would have occurred without the money.
"There is no one there to do the work," said Jim Woolford, the director of the EPA's Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation.
He said the money would create jobs for cleanup contractors, soil excavation companies, hazardous waste disposal facilities and labs that test samples to detect contamination.
Beyond the jobs, the money will supply -- at least temporarily -- much needed cash to a program that has struggled to find money to pay for cleanups. Since 2000, the program has suffered budget shortfalls, with money for the dwindling cleanup fund declining each year.
Congress in 1995 refused to renew the excise tax on hazardous chemicals and petroleum products that was supposed to pay for the majority of the Superfund cleanup costs.
Today the fund has declined to $137 million, while costs of cleanup annually have exceeded the amount Congress has been willing to appropriate.
President Barack Obama in February called for injecting $1 billion into the Superfund program by reinstating the tax beginning in 2011, after the nation emerges from its current economic problems.
The result has been fewer Superfund sites being cleaned up.
Last year, the EPA did not have enough money to pay for cleanup projects at 10 sites. This year, without the stimulus money, the agency expected work at 15 sites to go unfunded.
The effect has been that many sites languish on the Superfund rolls. Since 1980, EPA has identified 1,596 hazardous waste sites. Today, there are still 1,264.
"They were just doing the minimum they could do with the money they had," said Lois Gibbs, executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, whose experience living atop the Love Canal hazardous waste site outside Niagara Falls, N.Y., led to the passage of the law that created Superfund.
"The stimulus money is going to only put a Band Aid on these really problematic sites, and it does not deal with the core problem that Superfund doesn't have any money," said Gibbs, executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. "It shouldn't be the American taxpayers that have to pay for it."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)