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1 in 6 Americans live within 3 miles of toxic waste site, according to new report

WASHINGTON — Millions of Americans live near toxic waste sites across the country and may not even know it.

A new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) explores the funding to cleanup these areas known as Superfund sites.

A Superfund is a contaminated site with hazardous waste that has been flagged by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be cleaned up.

Sometimes the warnings can be obvious with a fenced off area and a sign but other times, it may not be as noticeable.

The contaminated sites could be underground.

“People are often shocked at how close they do live to a Superfund site,” said Jillian Gordner, a Make Polluters Pay Campaign Associate for U.S. PIRG. “You might not see much and it may be underground that there are chemicals. You wouldn’t even know that all the residents nearby are drinking bottled water.”

The report said the chemicals could potentially have serious health effects including increasing the risk of cancer, reproductive problems, birth defects, and other serious illnesses.

They can also contaminate the soil, water and air in that area.

“The chemicals at these sites are the most hazardous known to humankind,” said Gordner. “Anything you can think of that’s very scary. Mercury. Lead. Asbestos. Arsenic. Lots that I cannot pronounce.”

The report said funding for the cleanup has slowed over the last two decades.

“Less than a quarter of the more than 1,700 sites that have been added to the Superfund program’s National Priorities List since it was created in 1980 have been deleted, which is the final step in confirming all cleanup goals have been achieved at the site,” the report said.

But it points to renewed hope after Congress passed the bipartisan infrastructure legislation last month which includes billions of dollars to address Superfund sites.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the EPA said: “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests $3.5 billion in environmental remediation at Superfund sites, and reinstates the Superfund taxes, making it one of the largest investments in American history to address the legacy pollution that harms the public health of communities and neighborhoods, creating good-paying jobs in hard-hit communities and advancing economic and environmental justice. This funding will allow EPA to initiate work on backlogged remedial construction projects and accelerate cleanups at National Priorities List sites across the country.”

“This funding is the biggest opportunity in 2.5 decades to turn around the slow progress of the Superfund program,” said Gordner.

If you want to find out if you live near a Superfund site, you can check out the map from the EPA here.