huyangshu via Shutterstock.com

To clean up the worst toxic waste sites in our communities, congress should reinstate the Polluter Pays Tax in the Superfund cleanup program.

One in six Americans lives within three miles of a toxic waste site that is so dangerous it has been proposed or approved for cleanup under the federal Superfund program. The chemicals at these sites may increase the risk of cancer, respiratory and heart disease, and other serious illnesses. Worse, as our climate changes, at least 800 of these sites are at risk of extreme flooding in the next 20 years, which could increase the risk of toxic pollution spreading into nearby communities. Instead of accelerating cleanup in the face of this new threat, the federal government has let cleanups lag because Congress has failed to renew the Polluter Pays Tax that funded the Superfund cleanup program.

  • <h4>Toxic waste in the U.S.</h4><p>There are 1,327 toxic waste sites in the U.S. that are so dangerous they are on the EPA’s National Priorities List.</p>
  • <h4>Flooding threatens to spread contamination</h4><p>At least 800 Superfund toxic waste sites are at risk of extreme flooding in the next 20 years.</p>
  • <h4>Taxpayers pay the cleanup bill</h4><p>Since Congress failed to renew the Polluter Pays Tax, the toxic waste clean-up budget comes from general taxpayer revenue, unfairly shifting the financial burden onto taxpayers and slowing down cleanup.</p>
Toxic waste in our communities

The federal Superfund program empowers the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify and clean up the worst toxic waste sites across the country, and to hold polluters accountable for the cost of that cleanup. Today there are more than 1,300 of these toxic waste sites across the country — sites that put our health at risk. Cleanup at many of these sites has slowed to a crawl.

Because Congress failed to reinstate the Polluter Pays Tax that funded the Superfund cleanup program, the clean-up budget now comes from general taxpayer revenue, unfairly shifting the financial burden away from polluters and slowing down cleanup. We can't afford to ignore these sites and hope that the next hurricane, flood or change in sea level won't sweep toxic chemicals into our communities. We need Congress to act.

Make Polluters Pay

To clean up the more than 1,300 toxic sites currently putting millions of Americans at risk, we need to secure steady funding that won’t fluctuate with the federal budget process. That funding should come from the polluting industries responsible for these messes: the chemical and petroleum industries.

It’s called the Polluter Pays Principle: those who produce pollution should be held accountable for its harm to human health and the environment. The chemical and petroleum industries create and profit off products that produce harmful pollutants that threaten the health and safety of millions of people and cause millions of dollars of damage to the environment. They should pay for the cost of cleaning up those contaminants through a Polluter Pays Tax.

Our approach

In order to ensure that polluters pay to clean up their messes, we need to do two things:

First, we need to educate the public across the country on this decades-long issue and the serious health risks it poses. Right now, millions of Americans are living near Superfund toxic waste sites, but many likely don’t even know it. We need to raise visibility around the problem through research reports and media coverage.

Second, we will partner with our sister organization, U.S. PIRG, who will mobilize the public to convince members of Congress to support policies that would hold polluters accountable.

Climate change makes cleanup more urgent

Right now, hurricanes, floods and sea-level rise threaten to sweep toxic chemicals from Superfund sites into nearby communities, lakes, rivers and groundwater, and more severe hurricanes are becoming more frequent. It’s not a question of if, but when these Superfund sites spill highly toxic chemicals into nearby communities.

Protecting you from toxics

The RIPIRG Education Fund Zero Out Toxics program has a decades-long legacy of educating the public about toxics in our environment and our products, and winning commitments from companies to remove toxic chemicals from their products. We have reported on toxic chemicals in children’s products, including lead in fidget spinners and asbestos in children’s makeup. We have produced tip guides to help consumers avoid toxic chemicals in cosmetics, plastic products, and their environment. We’ve convinced retailers such as Target and children’s makeup and jewelry store Claire’s to remove toxic products from their shelves. And just last year, we convinced cosmetic industry giants Unilever and Procter & Gamble to commit to disclosing fragrance ingredients.