GAO: Superfund Cleanup Pace Slows

Published June 1, 1997

Superfund, the nation’s costly and singularly unloved hazardous waste cleanup program, has few supporters save for the legions of lawyers who have made small fortunes exploiting the statute’s vast litigation web.

Critics customarily point out that cleanup of the some 1,300 sites on EPA’s National Priority List (NPL) is proceeding at a snail’s pace and has already cost $30 billion. What is less appreciated is that the cleanups may be more hazardous than the sites themselves.

J. Paul Leigh, an economics professor at San Jose State University, has analyzed the occupational hazards of environmental cleanup projects. He concludes that the risk of fatality to the average cleanup worker–a dump truck driver involved in a collision or a laborer run over by a bulldozer–is considerably greater than the cancer risks to individual residents who might be exposed to the sites.

As the Hoover Institution’s Henry Miller points out, worker-fatality risks tend to increase as the desired levels of cleanup increase, because more soil excavation and transportation are required to make the site cleaner. By contrast, baseline risks at contaminated sites are low, according to Miller, because of the small number of people who live near the sites. Miller adds that in the official records of decisions at many Superfund sites, worker safety is not even mentioned.

PF: Henry Miller’s comments first appeared in the Bridge Forum, a publication of Bridge Information Systems. The full text is available on PolicyFax. Call 847/202-4888 and request document #????????