Superfund Lab

07 May


In this lab we will be studying the EPA and a few superfunds.  We will be looking at a superfund that is in the Verde Valley along with three others around the United States. This lab is designed to teach what a superfund site is and understand a few superfund sites better.


 Explain the EPA and superfund sites

1. What does the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) do?

The EPA stands for Environmental Protection Agency.  It was established in 1970.   The EPA website list the purpose of the EPA with these seven bullet point:

  • All Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work.
  • National efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information.
  • Federal laws protecting human health and the environment are enforced fairly and effectively.
  • Environmental protection is an integral consideration in U.S. policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy.
  • All parts of society: communities, individuals, business, state and local governments, and tribal governments, have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks.
  • Environmental protection contributes to making our communities and ecosystems diverse, sustainable and economically productive.
  • The United States plays a leadership role in working with other nations to protect the global environment.

2. Why was the EPA established?

The EPA was established in 1970 in order to combine the efforts of 15 government agencies.  These agencies included research agencies, standard setting agencies, enforcement agencies, and monitoring agencies which all dealt with the environmental issues.

3. What is a superfund site?

A superfund site is a land or water site that is in the process of or already labeled by the EPA as being contaminated in the United States.   Most sites that are listed as superfund sites are listed on the National Priority List.  The superfund name came to be because of the program set up by the government that was designed to”(1) provide an immediate response to emergency situations that pose imminent hazard, and (2) clean up or remediate abandoned or inactive sites.” (Principles of Environmental Biology, Cunningham pg.335) This program was funded primarily by taxes collected from producers of toxic and hazardous waste.  The EPA estimates that there are an estimated 36,000 sites that are contaminated in the United States.

Look at Three Superfund Sites

Location 1-Del Monte Corp. (Oahu Plantation)

a. Location, description

The Del Monte Corp. site is located in Honolulu County , on the Island of Oahu, in Hawaii.  The Del Monte Corp. grew pineapples on 3,000 acres starting in 1940.  A spill of over 495 gallons of fumigants happened in 1977.  This spill occurred 60 feet away from Kunia Well which provides water for over 700 people.

b. When were they established?

The EPA got involved with this site in 1993 but before that local government had tested the water in 1980 found it was contaminated and shut the well down.

c. Contaminants

The contaminants involved in the Del Monte site are fumigants EDB, DBCP, DCP, the solvents TCP and benzene, and the pesticide lindane.  These contaminants are found in groundwater and soil.

d. Who is responsible for the cleanup?

Del Monte Corporation has taken responsibility for the clean-up.  Del Monte has quit producing pineapples in the region but continues to be responsible for the accident and all clean-up cost that need to be done.

e. Cleanup results to date

Shutting down Kunia Well and removing over 18,000 tons of soil reduced immediate risks.  Since 1998 Del Monte has been operating a phytoremediation treatment system for the Kunia village.  The treatment facilities have successfully extracted contaminants from drinking water.  As of 2008 the shallow groundwater and basal groundwater had decreased contaminants from hundred of parts per billion to 10 parts per billion.

f. Was phytostabilization used? If so, name two plants species involved.

At this site phytostabilization was not used.

Location 2 – Dixie Oil Processors

a. Location, description

The Dixie Oil Processors Superfund site is located in Harris County, Texas.  It is located about 20 miles southeast of Houston, TX.  The site consists of two land segments one 19.0 acres and the other 7.6 acres.  There is a flood control ditch that runs along the border of both land pieces called Mud Gully.  The land is surrounding the area is undeveloped on all sides except one which backs to a residential subdivision.

b. When were they established?

The EPA established this site in 1988.  The site had been used as a copper recovery and hydrocarbon washing facility from 1969-1978.  After that the site was used for various washing and refining until 1986.  All production stopped in 1986.   In 1984 before the EPA distinguished the site the company removed 6,000 cubic feet of soil that was contaminated and disposed of it off site.

c. Contaminants

The contaminants for the Dixie Oil site were a combination of ethylbenzene, hexachlorobenzene and copper which are in approx. 107,000 cubic yards of soil.

d. Who is responsible for the cleanup?

The clean-up for the Dixie Oil Processors site was completed by the company.

e. Cleanup results to date

As of 3-14-2012 the clean-up for this site has been found to be effective.  This piece of land has been approved non-residential use.

f. Was phytostabilization used? If so, name two plants species involved.

In the case of Dixie Oil Processors phytostabilization was not used.

Location 3 – Williams Air Force Base

a. Location, description

Williams Air Force Base Superfund site is located in Mesa, Arizona.  This site 4,043-acres of land that was set aside as a flight training school in 1941.  Today 3,856 or those acres are used by the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and the Arizona State University. This site consists of thirteen contaminated areas – two fire training areas, two storm draining areas, a landfill, a radiological burial area, a pesticide burial area, hazardous storage area, a fuel storage area, and four underground storage tanks. This site also involves the contamination of a aquifer that is considered to be a drinking water source.

b. When were they established?

The EPA listed this site on the National Priorities List 07/14/1989.

c. Contaminants

The contaminants on the base include organic solvents, petroleum spills, metal plating waste, hydraulic fluids, pesticides, and radiological waste.

d. Who is responsible for the cleanup?

The United States Air Force is responsible for clean-up they are currently participating in a program called Installation Restoration Program which was established in1978 by the Department of Defense to identify, investigate and control hazardous contaminants at military facilities.

e. Cleanup results to date

The program that the Williams Air Force base is using to clean-up the contaminant is a 6 unit clean-up plan. At this point they have cleaned the southwest drainage system, removed pesticide drums, radiological material, and underground storage tanks to reduce the risk of exposure to the contaminants. Studies are still being conducted and clean-up is still being implemented.

f. Was phytostabilization used? If so, name two plants species involved.

Phytostabilization has not been used as this site as of yet but I think could be used in the future.


Look at the superfund site in the Verde Valley

The superfund site in the Verde Valley is located adjacent to Dewey-Humboldt it is called the Iron King Mine Humboldt Smelter Superfund Site (IKMHSSS). This site is contaminated with mine tailing that pose a risk to the surrounding environment because of wind and water move the tailing contaminants into the environment.   The EPA established this site in March of 2008.  Since 2009 the EPA and the University of Arizona Superfund Research Program have been working together to determine if this superfund site could use phytostabilization to reduce wind and water erosion.  Phytostabilization is when plants are chosen that absorb metals in the root this will contain the contaminants from entering the food chain.

Below are some questions about the IKMHSSS site.

1. How were the specific plant species chosen for phytostabilization of IKMHSSS?

The specific plant species were chosen based on two characteristics.  First, they had to be a native plant to the area so that it would blend into the surrounding.  Second, the plants were tested to see which plants could survive being grown in the mine tailings. They used these two characteristics to find plant species that would provide a variety of plant canopies and root depths.

2. Why would composting increase the pH of the soil?

Composting would increase the pH level of the soil because as compost was mixed with the tailing it added substances that are rich in key nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus.

3. Interpret the tables in the O’Sullivan Field Study Paper.

a. Refer to figure 1 and observe the shaded bars. Give the grams dry weight for each species with 10% compost applied. Which species grew more with less compost?

Answer – Buffalo grass 4 g, Mesquite 1 g, Quailbush 2g, Catclaw acacia 1g, Mountain mahogany 1g, Arizona fescue about .5 g. The species that grew the best with less compost was the Mesquite and Catclaw acacia they grew better at 15% compost then at 20% compost.

b. Refer to figure 3. What was the bacterial count for the planted control at time zero (at the


Answer – At time zero the bacterial count for the planted control was

c. Also figure 3. What was the average bacterial count for the planted treatment area on Day 60

with 15% compost?

Answer – On Day 60 with 15% compost the average bacterial count for the planted treatment was

Conclusion –

There is an estimated 36,000 contaminated site in the United States.  These sites are going to take on going monitoring to insure they get cleaned-up.  The EPA is available to help facilitate the clean-up process and to insure the publics safety.  These sites are not cleaned up overnight and the process takes a combination effort of the responsible parties and the EPA.  The superfund was established to help with these cost until a responsible party is found but the fund is being depleted quickly and may soon run out.

As I looked at the three very different superfund sites I found that each were in a different stage of completion.  Each of these sites are in different stages of the clean-up process.  The Del Monte Corp. site is finished with the clean-up process but the use of the water plant will be a continual process.  The Dixie Oil Processors site has finished clean-up and the land is ready for non-residential development. The Williams Air Force Base is the site that still has extreme amounts of clean-up to complete and will not likely be finished in the foreseeable future.  Even sites like Del Monte which are listed as cleaned up still need monitoring which takes money.

This lab has been a very eye opening experience to make each of us realize how many superfund sites are out there and that they are located around populated areas.  The  IKMHSSS is right in our back yard and I had no clue it existed.  The EPA is suppose to make the public aware but we also have to do our research.  This lab has shown to me that I should know these four things – (1) what sites are close to where we live, (2) what contaminants does the site contain, (3) what risk do these contaminants pose, (4) what can I do to get involved?

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Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Uncategorized


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