In a year-long investigation that involved more than 100 Freedom of Information Act requests to EPA, the Center for Public Integrity discovered that Superfund site cleanups are being started and completed more slowly than in the past; that the reimbursements the Superfund program is getting back from companies for cleanups has steadily declined; and that a lack of funds has delayed needed work at some hazardous sites.

Superfund sites are areas that companies or government entities have moved away from, leaving hazardous materials behind. The Superfund program was initiated in 1980 to “locate, investigate, and clean up the worst sites nationwide.” U.S. residents should care about this program because, the Center’s analysis found, nearly half of the U.S. population lives within ten miles of one of the 1,304 active and proposed Superfund sites listed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

There are 114 sites whose neighbors might find this report particularly worrisome. The Center’s Alex Knott explains:

At least 114 of the sites could pose immediate health hazards for people living nearby, according to the EPA. The agency has determined that the risk of human exposure to dangerous contaminants at those sites is not under control or that contaminated groundwater could be migrating off-site, according to EPA records.

Residents concerned about Superfund sites in their area can click on interactive state maps to find details about different sites, including each site’s status, the parties potentially responsible for the site, and the contaminants identified there.

Anyone interested in researching particular companies’ involvement with Superfund sites will find plenty of useful information here, too.

The Center obtained a “controversial and confidential government document,” and analyzed it to generate a list of roughly 100 companies and federal government entitites that are connected to more than 40 percent of America’s most dangerously contaminated toxic waste sites. Click on the name of a company to find out which Superfund sites it’s linked to — or, plug its name into the Privately Sponsored Travel database and see if they’ve paid for travel by EPA officials.

There’s also a list of contractors who’ve received $25 million or more from the EPA between 1998 and 2005 — and 12 of them were also linked to Superfund sites.

This site is an excellent resource for local residents and researchers investigating companies’ environmental records. Let’s hope its release also puts some pressure on the EPA to speed up work on sites that pose hazards to their neighbors.

Liz Borkowski works for the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services.