In this video adapted from Earth Island Institute’s New Leaders Initiative, New York student Shadia Wood tells how she became an environmental activist. Wood lives near several toxic waste sites and was concerned to learn that the New York Superfund—the money set aside for cleaning such sites in her state—had gone bankrupt. Working with other students and environmental groups, Wood lobbied the New York legislature for eight years until the Superfund program was refinanced. Environmentalist Laura Haight says that this law was the most important environmental law passed in New York State in a decade.
In the late 1970s, a neighborhood in upstate New York named Love Canal got international attention when authorities discovered 21,000 tons of toxic waste buried beneath homes and a school. Around the same time, an abandoned property near Louisville, Kentucky—the 23-acre “Valley of the Drums”—became so overrun by illegally dumped drums containing chemical waste that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated an emergency cleanup. These disasters made headlines and pushed the government into action. On December 11, 1980, the United States Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, better known as Superfund.
The Superfund program allows EPA to clean up toxic waste sites and, when possible, force those responsible to either clean up the mess or pay the government to do it. The Superfund cleanup process is long and complex. When someone notifies the government about a potentially hazardous waste site, EPA inspects the site, reviews records, interviews workers and residents, and takes water and soil samples. If a site is hazardous enough, EPA places it on the National Priorities List—the list of hazardous waste sites eligible for long-term remedial action under Superfund—and establishes appropriate cleanup plans. In addition, EPA can remove waste immediately if necessary to protect the public. As of November 2010, the National Priorities List included more than 1,200 sites.
Despite its name, Superfund lacks the money to clean up the sites on the National Priorities List. Taxes on the petroleum and chemical industries originally paid for the toxic waste cleanups. This money went into a trust fund until the taxes expired in 1995. The fund reached a peak of $3.8 billion in 1996, but then ran out of money by 2003. Whenever possible, the government orders a polluter to clean up a designated site itself, and in the past, polluters have paid for about 70 percent of Superfund cleanups. But still, nearly half of the 1,200-plus sites nationwide are considered “orphans,” where no one has accepted responsibility for the cleanup.
Since 2003, the federal government has appropriated public money each year to pay for orphaned sites, but with the public trust fund empty, cleanup has slowed. Some states, like New York, have a state-run Superfund program in addition to the federal program, but these may also have budget problems. Recently, the U.S. Congress has debated the idea of reinstating the national Superfund tax. The idea is controversial. While some argue that it’s fair for polluting industries to pay for their behavior, petroleum and chemical companies argue that it unfairly punishes them.
Academic standards correlations on Teachers' Domain use the Achievement Standards Network (ASN) database of state and national standards, provided to NSDL projects courtesy of JES & Co.
We assign reference terms to each statement within a standards document and to each media resource, and correlations are based upon matches of these terms for a given grade band. If a particular standards document of interest to you is not displayed yet, it most likely has not yet been processed by ASN or by Teachers' Domain. We will be adding social studies and arts correlations over the coming year, and also will be increasing the specificity of alignment.