Children's Health Protection
Hazardous Waste Sites
Abandoned and uncontrolled hazardous waste sites may pose risks to children who play in or near them, and the sites also may cause pollution of drinking water, ambient air, and foods. Superfund is the federal government's program to clean up these sites. EPA's principal mechanism for placing sites on Superfund's National Priorities List (NPL) is a scoring system that uses information from initial, limited investigations to assess the relative potential of sites to pose a threat to human health or the environment.
Sites with scores indicating a high risk potential are proposed for addition to the NPL. EPA then accepts public comments on the sites, responds to the comments, and finalizes the listing for those sites that continue to meet the requirements for addition to the list. Sites on the NPL are studied in detail and cleaned up as necessary. Sites are deleted from the list when EPA determines that no further response is required to protect human health or the environment.
Sites at which substantial cleanup work has been completed may be designated as having reached "Construction Completion." This means that any physical construction necessary to reduce potential exposures has been completed, and other controls are in place to prevent exposure while final cleanup levels are being achieved. Construction Completion represents a level of site remediation at which potential exposures have been significantly reduced, although additional cleanup work remains.
Residence in a county where a Superfund site is located is a surrogate measure for potential exposure to contaminants found at these sites. This measure has complete national coverage and includes data for multiple years. The limitations of this measure are that some children living in counties with Superfund sites may live many miles away from those sites, in which case the potential for exposure could be low. Also, the hazards posed to children may vary significantly across the different Superfund sites.
- About 58 percent of children lived in counties with Superfund sites as of August 2000. This figure represents an increase from approximately 55 percent in 1990. The increase is due to the addition of sites to the list through the 1990s as initial evaluations were completed. The soil at these newly listed sites probably has been contaminated for many years, so the increase in the percentage of children living in counties with Superfund sites does not necessarily reflect an increase in hazards to children in recent years.
- Sites that have reached "Construction Completion" are expected to pose a substantially reduced hazard. When only the Superfund sites that have not reached this milestone are considered, the percentage of children living in counties with hazardous waste sites has declined from 55 percent in 1990 to 50 percent in 2000.
- More than 750 out of the 1,500 sites on Superfund's National Priorities List (NPL) have reached Construction Completion. Of these, cleanup has been completed at more than 200 sites and they have been removed from the NPL.
Another way to look at trends in children potentially affected by Superfund sites is to focus only on changes in those sites that were on Superfund's National Priorities List (NPL) at the end of fiscal year 1990. As noted above, the analysis based on the entire NPL may be misleading, because the addition of sites to the NPL in recent years does not necessarily mean that risks have increased. Most of the newly listed sites have been contaminated for many years, and their addition to the NPL in the 1990s means only that EPA has recognized the contamination and that the administrative processes required for listing have been completed.
For this alternative analysis, we disregard sites added to the NPL since 1990 and consider only those sites that were listed by September 30, 1990. We then track the sites that remain on the NPL in subsequent years (i.e., the sites at which remediation was not complete as of 1992, 1994, etc. Both final remediation and cleanup (which results in deletion from the NPL) and "Construction Completion" (which indicates significant reductions in potential exposures) are considered.
This analysis provides an indication of progress in remediation at those sites that were included on the NPL in 1990. The limitation of this measure is similar to that of the previous Superfund measure in that both measures only present the number of children living in counties with Superfund sites. The hazards posed by any Superfund site may be localized and therefore may not affect many residents of the county in which it is located.
- In 1990, 55 percent of children lived in counties that had Superfund sites. By 2000, many of those counties no longer had sites on Superfund's National Priorities List (NPL), because final remediation and cleanup of their sites had been achieved. Fifty percent of children live in counties that had Superfund sites in 1990 and still have Superfund sites in 2000.
- Many of the sites that were on the NPL in 1990 and remain on the list today have been substantially remediated and are described as having reached "Construction Completion." Forty percent of children currently live in counties that had Superfund sites in 1990 and still have Superfund sites that have not reached Construction Completion, a reduction from 55 percent in 1990.