25 for 25: Cleaning and Revitalizing NH's Worst Sites
By Thomas S. Burack, DES Commissioner
During the 1970s, the dangers of severely contaminated hazardous waste sites, such as the Love Canal Site in western New York, were being widely reported in the press and became a major public health concern. In response to these concerns, Congress in 1980 enacted the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, commonly known as “Superfund,” to achieve cleanup of the nation’s worst abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. Sites being addressed under Superfund are found on the National Priorities List (NPL). By 1987, when the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services was first formed, we already had identified and listed several NPL sites right here in our state. Today, there are 20 New Hampshire sites on the NPL, and 1,200 sites nationally.
DES and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collaborate on the Superfund program to clean up sites in New Hampshire that present the greatest risk to the public’s health or to the environment. The process is multifaceted and can take many years until a site’s cleanup is complete. In reality, due to the magnitude of the contamination at some sites and complexity of the financial liability issues and of the cleanup actions, it is often necessary to monitor sites for many years or decades until all cleanup goals are achieved.
To date, DES has received over $102 million in federal dollars and has expended almost $11 million in State funds to implement cleanup actions at the abandoned Superfund Sites. At 11 sites, EPA and the State have negotiated agreements with potentially responsible parties to recover some of the governments’ past costs and to allow those parties to implement the cleanup actions under EPA and DES oversight.
One of the biggest Superfund success stories here in New Hampshire is the (former) Pease Air Force Base Superfund Site. Now known as the Pease International Trade Port, the site is home to a thriving business park and airport, home to 250 businesses and 7000 employees. The economic impact of this redevelopment adds nearly 500 million dollars annually to the local economy. When Pease Air Force Base closed in 1991, it was considered one of the most contaminated Superfund sites in New England with over 50 contaminated areas. A dedicated clean-up team, consisting of the Air Force, EPA and DES was formed and charged with implementing clean-up approaches to restore the Pease environment while also allowing major concurrent redevelopment of the Base. After 20 years of dedicated effort, Pease Air Force Base is now considered one of the most successful base closures and Superfund redevelopment sites in the nation. DES is proud to be part of the success of this important project and will continue working to ensure that cleanup actions are protective of human health and supportive of redevelopment efforts.
The Superfund program in New Hampshire has matured. Currently, the construction of the cleanup actions has been completed or is underway at 19 of the sites, and investigation activities are nearing completion at the latest site to be added to the NPL, the Chlor-Alkali Site in Berlin. By the year 2016, all 20 NPL sites should have ongoing or completed cleanups.
One of the big lessons of Superfund is that money spent to clean sites up brings major economic benefits by making sites attractive for a variety of uses that can create new jobs and stimulate new business activities. Truly, proof that a healthy environment and strong economy go hand-in-hand.
Author’s Note: In recognition of the NH Department of Environmental Services’ 25th Anniversary, I am highlighting 25 agency activities, programs, and accomplishments of the past 25 years. This article, 24th in the series, discusses the work of the Superfund program in New Hampshire. This series of anniversary editorials are available at http://des.nh.gov/organization/commissioner/25th-anniversary.htm.
# # #