Each day for a year, starting on September 1, 2007, Superfund365 visited one toxic site in the Superfund program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We began the journey in the New York City area and worked our way across the country, ending the year in Hawaii.
Today the archive consists of 365 visualizations of some of the worst toxic sites in the U.S., roughly a quarter of the total number on the Superfund's National Priorities List (NPL). Along the way, we wrote an email update with highlights and conducted video interviews.
WHAT EXACTLY IS SUPERFUND?
HOW DID YOU CHOOSE YOUR SITES & WHAT'S YOUR ROUTE?
PARTICIPATE IN SUPERFUND365!
WHERE DID YOU GET YOUR DATA?
WHAT DOES THIS TERM MEAN?
Superfund365 was conceived, designed and produced by Brooke Singer. The programming and Flash guru behind the project was John Kuiphoff. Kurt Olmstead provided business analysis and additional programming. Emily Gallagher assisted with project research and EPA relations. Camera and sound work by Andrew Rueland.
Superfund365 is a 2007 commission of New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc. for its Turbulence website. It was made possible with funding from the Jerome Foundation and the National Endowment for the
Arts. Additional funding provided by New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA).
Special thanks to Helen Thorington and Jo-Anne Green of Turbulence and Lois Marie Gibbs of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
The EPA states that: "The Superfund is the federal program that investigates and cleans up the most complex uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the country." In September 2007 when this site first launched, there were 1,315 final and proposed sites on the National Priorities List (NPL) and thousands more waiting for approval. We would have had to run Superfund365 for three and a half years to cover all the sites listed as NPL.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (which came to be lovingly called Superfund) was born in 1980, largely in response to Love Canal. Experts thought there were only a small number of eligible sites and that the $1.6 billion trust would be ample. But more sites qualified for Superfund status than anticipated, and each year many more sites are added to the list than cleared. As the NPL continues to grow, so does the frustration on the part of many who live near Superfund sites. Today the "super" fund is exhausted. The Polluter Pays tax sunsetted in 1995 and has not been renewed by Congress. Without money going into the coffer, the Superfund Trust Fund officially went broke in Fall 2003. This means that U.S. taxpayers' dollars are now being used instead of money from the companies that pollute and are responsible for the toxic mess. When Obama was elected in 2008, many believed the Polluted Pays tax would be reinstated, but there is still no action.
Without a robust trust fund, Superfund not only translates into a burden for taxpayers but is weakened politically. The program today is more like a Band-Aid than a remedy. The EPA, without financial or political power, is hard pressed to take care of the worst cases of contamination that threaten human health and the environment across the U.S.
Initially we were going to use the EPA's Hazardous Ranking System (HRS) score to determine which 365 sites out of the over 1,300 NPL listed sites we would visit. The problem with this score is that it is based on initial and incomplete testing by the EPA at the onset of site discovery. The average length for cleanup of a Superfund site is roughly ten years and the Hazardous Ranking Score, we found, is more a mechanism for determining if a site qualifies for Superfund status rather than a reflection of its current threat or status.
In light of this, we turned to the Center for Public Integrity's list of the Most Dangerous Superfund Sites. This list includes all NPL sites that are classified by the EPA as not having human exposure under control and/or not having contaminated groundwater migration under control. It also includes sites whose data is inconclusive and, therefore, exposure control is unknown. This list contains 411 sites and was compiled in April 20, 2007.
We then narrowed the list down to 365, eliminating some sites where data was inconclusive as well as sites that are no longer on the NPL. Next, we plotted our selected sites on a map and planned our cross-country trek starting in New York City (where we live) and working our way West to our final destination, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. To see how we will made our way across the country, see our route on Google maps or a simple list of the sites by day.
Help us document the 365 sites featured in Superfund365. Pick a site near you and make a trip there with your camera. Bring friends, bring the whole family, even bring a picnic. Afterwards, upload your images with captions along with a longer text description of the site using our upload page. You will see your images in the gallery at the right and your description and/or comments in the discussion forum at the bottom of the site's page. The Superfund365 archive will be better with your input!
Almost all of the data in this project came directly from the EPA. The EPA maintains a publicly available database of Superfund information. More information can be obtained by calling the EPA Superfund hotline.
The EPA database, we found, was incomplete with many, many missing entities, spelling mistakes and inconsistencies. We, for the most part, did not try to correct or normalize the information. In the case of missing contaminants and site types, we worked long days to fill in these blanks. We also put in additional hours to clean up and make usable the Responsible Party data. More specifics about the work we did can be found below in the description of terms.
Other Sources of Data:
The health hazard ranking of the contaminants comes from the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
This is a number out of 275 that may appear after the contaminant name in the site visualizations. Because the EPA database does not use a standard naming system (one contaminant may be referred to by numerous names or spellings), some of the contaminants may not display a ranking number when, in fact, they are on the ATSDR's list.
We used the Center for Public Integrity's "Most Dangerous Superfund Sites" list, created in April 2007, to help us determine which 365 sites out of 1,300+ possible NPL Superfund sites that we would visualize. We also used the Center for Public Integrity's figures for how many people live within ten miles of a specific site.
They state that 20% of Americans live within ten miles of one of these "Most Dangerous Superfund Sites."
The demographic information (except for population within ten miles of a site) was obtained from the US Census Bureau.
If it's not tagged with Superfund365, then images are a result of online searches. Users can upload their own images too. Look for the "Add Image" icon on the right side of site pages. Images with blue caption labels indicate user-added content.
The discussion forum at the bottom of each site visualization page is available for people familiar with the site to add information or comment on the displayed data. General comments are, of course, welcome too.
For a complete listing of Superfund terms:
EPA Defines its Acronyms
Terms and Definitions from Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
Contaminants and Media:
When you roll over a colored spoke in the contaminant visualization on each site page, the name of the contaminant appears. If the contaminant name is one of the worst 275 contaminants as determined by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the name is highlighted in red and a number will follow indicating its ranking (1 being the worst). You can click the spoke to go to a ATSDR webpage for that contaminant if one exists.
The color of each spoke relates to the media type in which the contaminant is found. These media as defined by the EPA are: ground water, sediment, soil, subsurface soil, surface soil, air, debris, liquid waste, solid waste, sludge leachate, soil gas, residuals, buildings, other. For more information, please see the EPA contaminated media page.
Contaminants for many of the sites come right out of the EPA database. There are, however, over 100 sites in our list of 365 that do not have contaminants listed in the database. But we know that they exist because these are Superfund sites after all! When contaminants are "missing", we read through EPA records and/or contact regional EPA offices to find the data and fill in the blanks.
There is great inconsistency in the way contaminants are listed in the EPA database and records. This is partly due to the fact that the EPA conducts preliminary assessments at site discovery and only later do more in-depth testing. If the site is in an early phase of site cleanup, then the contaminant listing (or list of Contaminants of Concern) is less complete. Also, some contaminants can have numerous names (like Tetrachloroethylene is also Tetrachloroethene or Perchloroethene or PCE or PERC or...).
These facts, however, do not account for all the inconsistencies -- like some sites will classify only the presence of a contaminant type (for example, Volatile Organic Compounds or Heavy Metals) rather than the specific contaminant (such as Benzene or Lead). You will see irregularities like these reflected in the visualizations.
Responsible Parties (RP):
Each RP for a site is represented by the five-sided icon above.
The RP standardized name is the name that Superfund365 uses to ensure that one company is represented by only one name. This allows us to run queries like how many Superfund365 sites is one company responsible for. Also, if we know that a company is a subdivision of larger company or has been bought out, we will use the larger or more current comapny name for the RP standardized name. For example, TEXACO was changed to CHEVRON to reflect that TEXACO no longer exists as a separate company after CHEVRON bought it in 2001.
The RP site score is the sum of all the HRS scores for the sites attached to the given company (using the standardized name).
The RP entity type can be private, pubic or government.
EPA looks for evidence to determine liability by matching wastes found at the site with parties that may have contributed wastes to the site. If Responsible Parties are found, they must pay for clean up. If no Responsible Parties can be determined then EPA uses Superfund money to cover the costs. Read this to understand more about how the EPA finds Potentially Responsible Parties (PRP).
We have tallied the top 25 Responsible Parties for Superfund365. The Center for Public Integrity lists the top 100 Responsible Parties for all Superfund sites.
This is an EPA code identifying the general classification of a type of site or incident that appears under the site name on the visualization pages. The types as defined by the EPA are: Abandoned, Chemical Plant, City Contamination, Dioxin, Ecological Damage, Federal Facility, Groundwater, Housing Area/Farm, Industrial Waste Treatment, Inorganic Waste, Biological Threat, Landfill, Manufacturing Plant, Military Related, Other, Pure Lagoons, Radioactive Site, Mines/Tailings, Waterways/Creeks/Rivers, Wells, and Fire/Explosion.
Although type is clearly defined by the EPA, many sites are missing this value in the EPA database. Due to this gap in data, we have done our best to define each site's type in Superfund365 based on EPA site descriptions.
Most of the types, therefore, are not generated by the EPA but rather by us interpreting EPA data and making up for the EPA's incomplete filings.
Hazardous Ranking Score:
This is the EPA's Hazardous Ranking System (HRS) score for determining if a site is qualified to be on the National Priorities List or not. This score is calculated at the onset of investigation and is not re-evaluated during the cleanup process. For more information about the HRS score, please see the EPA's HRS Score page. This score is controversial (listen to the Lois Gibbs video interview on Superfund and scoring).
"These figures are actual cost information for National Priorities List (NPL) sites found in the EPA database (CERCLIS) as of June 8, 2007. The cost information reflects obligations, deobligations, outlays and deoutlays as recorded in CERCLIS for the NPL Sites. It may not include all costs associated with the site expended by non-EPA sources, such as potential responsible parties (PRPs), EPA contractors, or States." This is the exact wording from an EPA official who sent us the data via the EPA hotline.
The timeline at the bottom of each visualization page indicates all EPA actions at the site, starting with site "discovery." This information comes directly from the EPA database. What the actions mean can be found on the EPA site. The timeline begins at 1980 since this is the year Superfund (or more specifically Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980) began.
Superfund365 visualizes information from Environmental Protection Agency databases along with some additional information from the US Census Bureau, The Center for Public Integrity and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry as described above. For the most part, the information comes directly from these sources and misspellings or errors already existed in these databases. The views expressed in the discussion forums and image galleries are not necessarily endorsed by the maker's of this site.
DO YOU KNOW?
Brooke is currently producing a photography and book project based on Superfund365.
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BROOKE at BSING dot NET
"What Community Mapping Can Tell Us About Industrial Lands" at the Brownsfields Conference 2011, Philadelphia, PA, April 2011
Brooke presented Superfund365 at:
Visualizing Marathon, hosted by Seed and General Electric at Eyebeam Art + Technology, New York, NY, speaker
Social History of New Media Seminar with Professor Scholz, The New School, New York, NY, invited guest artist
Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausalito, CA, artist talk
Location is Politics, City Centered: A Festival of Locative Media and Urban Community, San Francisco, co-hosted by KQED, SFSU and UC Berkeley, CA, panel
"Social Networking Technology: Spaces for Creation, Engagement, Discourse and Promotion," Grantmakers in the Arts, Brooklyn, NY, panel
"Artist as Startup: Web Application as Cultural Intervention," College Art Association (CAA), Los Angeles, CA, panel
Goo Gone, Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), Brooklyn, NY, panel
Fine Arts Lecture Series, Pace University, public lecture
Visual Studies Lecture Series, SUNY Buffalo, public lecture
"Agency + Surveillance," Vera List Center for Arts and Politics at The New School, New York City
Virtual Toxic Tour and Mapping Toxins in Your Neighborhood: A Workshop, April 19, 2008, Eyebeam, NYC
TAG's Eco Aesthetics: Monitoring Ecological Data and Patterns of Human Consumption, March 22 - May 2, 2008, The Hague, Netherlands
Eyebeam's Feedback Exhibition, March 13 - April 19, 2008, NYC
E-Tech, O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, San Diego
Colgate University Environmental Art and New Media Technologies: Imagining Sustainable Futures, Saturday, February 9, 2008, Hamilton, New York
New York University's 2007 International Conference on Social Theory, Politics and the Arts, Saturday, October 13, 2007, NYC
The Conflux Festival for Eyebeam's Ecovisualization Design Challenge Panel, Friday, September 14, 2007, NYC
PRESS & NEWS
4TH Anniversary of Superfund Gone Broke -- 3 Ways to Take Action!
Sites for Change American Scientist
Environmental Amnesia by Sandra Steingraber
Superfund365: A Toxic Tour, Coming to You, Grist
Superfund365 is a Yahoo! Pick of the Day
Revisiting the EPA’s Superfund, Wired.com
Toxic Messes Remain, Architect Magazine
Where Toxic Waste Meets Art, Treehuger.com
"Cleaning up its Act," Boston Globe
Pentagon Fights EPA On Pollution Cleanup
Decades Later, Toxic Sludge Torments Bhopal
Montana Town Awaits Asbestos Trial, NPR radio story about Libby MT, Day 252 on SF365
"Controversy over Stratford Cleanup," WHSU/NPR story about the Raymark Site in Stratford, CT
Occidental Chemical Plant and Pottsgrove, PA, described in "Fearing a Flood of Toxins," Philadelphia Inquirier, May 29, 2007
Ringwood, NJ, Superfund site (Day 7) is featured in the article "Decades After a Plant Closes, Waste Remains" in the New York Times, on July 29, 2007
Quick Links for SF365
SF365 Email Recaps
Contribute to SF365!
EPA Terms Defined
Top 25 Responsible Parties
Worst 275 Contaminants
A Superfund Site Timeline Explained
EPA's Superfund Pages
Superfund at 25
CHEJ's Superfund Pages
CPI's Superfund Pages
Scorecard's Superfund Locator
Polluter Pays Tax and Lack of Funding
Costs to Taxpayers without Polluters Pay Tax
Make Polluters Pay Campaign
Polluter Already Pays Argument
Facing Hurricane Katrina’s Cleanup with a Bankrupt Superfund
Hazardous Ranking Score
A New Approach for Keeping Score
Science & Health
Agency for Toxic Substances & Design Registry
Glossary of Terms
The Toxicological Hazards of Superfund SItes
Green Chemistry Wins Converts
The Secret History of the War on Cancer
Participate in Superfund365!
Contact Your Representative
Restore Polluters Pay Tax
Love Canal Collection at UB
Other Contaminated Sites / Superfund's Limits
Globalization of Toxic Chemical Crisis
Bill Moyer's on the Chemical Industry