Superfunds and Inequality

Superfund sites are located in low-income communities

1,318 of the nation’s 1,882 superfund sites are located less than 1-mile from a public housing facility. In America’s public housing, 43% of tenants are Black on average, despite being only 14% of the population.

Superfunds without enough funds

A superfund is a toxic waste site that poses “a significant risk to human health or the environment” according to the EPA, often consisting of radioactive material, asbestos, lead, hazardous waste, oil leakage, or contaminated groundwater.

Superfunds have terrible impacts on health

Your health will deteriorate as a result of living next to a superfund site, meaning that many Americans develop cognitive challenges, die earlier, pay more in healthcare costs, and suffer from chemical exposure. As we’ve repeatedly seen in America, healthcare challenges are both social and economic challenges, often preventing many from achieving the American Dream.

  • Cognitive development — Children born within 1 mile of a superfund site are 10 percentage points more likely to be diagnosed with a cognitive disability. When families move away from superfund sites, the siblings in these families do not experience these challenges.
  • Life expectancy — Worst yet, living next to a superfund site decreases life expectancy by 15 months on average.
  • Pregnancy — Women living less than a quarter of a mile away from a Superfund site during the first three months of their pregnancies have been found to be 2–4-times more likely to give birth to a child with a heart or neural tube defect.
  • Lead — Residents of the West Calumet Public Housing Complex in East Chicago felt the pains of living next to a superfund site. After many residents had lived in the housing complex for decades, the EPA told them they had to relocate after lead and arsenic were found in the soil, which had been seeping from the Anaconda Lead Products facility. The EPA took soil samples in 2014 and 2015 and found that lead and arsenic levels were as high as 91,100 ppm (parts per million), or 200-times higher than the level required for immediate action. 90% of the residents in Calumet are either Black or Latinx.
Akeeshea Daniels talks about lead levels in her home during a public listening session hosted by the EPA in 2019 — Source: Chicago Tribune

NJ, CA, and PA have the most Superfund sites in America.

The gunk in the Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn is often referred to as “black mayonnaise.” Source — Curbed

The Path Forward

More regularly update the toxic chemicals list — The Substance Priority List is updated every 2 years, which means that families can spend a dangerous amount of time living around toxic chemicals. 275 chemicals are currently on the list. The list should instead be updated annually so that superfund sites do not get neglected and can be cleaned up with greater urgency. In the 8 years from 1992–2000, 153 chemicals were added to the list. In the 16 years from 2001–2017, only 51 chemicals were added.

While living near a superfund site, Melissa Nootz found out her daughter Esme (left) was born with lead in her blood — Source: Montana Standard



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Jeremy Ney

Jeremy Ney

Google, MIT, Harvard, UPenn, Federal Reserve, now writing about inequality at