Turning Superfund Sites Into Soccer Fields

WASHINGTON, DC, November 12, 2004 (ENS) - Do you want your kids playing soccer on a field that used to be a contaminated Superfund site? If you live in Pownal, Vermont; Merrimack, New Hampshire; or Waukegan, Illinois, maybe you do.

Soccer fields are among the uses being considered for former Superfund sites that have been cleaned up, and these communities have said they want to work with the U.S. Soccer Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to turn sites that were once contaminated into playing fields.

On Wednesday, the EPA announced a "return to use" initiative to remove barriers to reuse of more than 500 Superfund sites where construction and cleanup are complete as far as the EPA is concerned, but the properties are still idle or underutilized.

Most of these properties were remediated before 1999. After that date, the remediation of Superfund sites included planning for how they would be used after cleanup was complete.

The agency says barriers to reuse on these older cleanup sites will only be removed if there is no reason to restrict use for the protection of human health or the environment.

The EPA has identified 50 properties in communities across the country that, once cleaned, could be made ready for recreational reuse. The U.S. Soccer Foundation is one of the EPAís national reuse partners.


Soccer game between South Maine High School of Waukegan, Illinois and Fenwick High School of Oak Park. (Photo courtesy South Maine High School)
The soccer option is alive and well in Waukegan. The city's Parks Department (WPD) is eager to build a $13 million recreational complex with a 5,000-seat soccer stadium, 16 soccer fields and five baseball diamonds next to a Superfund site that contains asbestos waste from an old Johns-Manville manufacturing facility.

The site is bordered by Lake Michigan and the Illinois Beach State Park, both of which are used for recreation. Studies conducted at the site show that airborne asbestos presents the greatest potential risk. But the environmental watchdog group the Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society filed a lawsuit in September challenging a WPD decision to stop the group from posting leaflets warning about the asbestos problems at the park.

Plans call for the entire 115 acre site to be covered with three feet of clean dirt to bury the asbestos.

Currently, soccer games are scattered at makeshift fields all over Waukegan and parents have to hustle to get kids to all their games. When the environmental problems are resolved, they too are eager for the new sports complex.

The Waukegan site is still not remediated, but hundreds of other Superfund sites are, the EPA says. If a site is considered ready for return to use, the agency will perform risk and remedy analyses to support decisions that accommodate reuse of sites and issue Ready for Reuse Determinations.


From 1958, hazardous chemical and industrial wastes containing volatile organic compounds and heavy metals were dumped at New Jersey's Lipari Landfill for 12 years. Contaminants seeped into the underlying aquifer and migrated to nearby marshes, streams, and Alcyon Lake. (Photo courtesy EPA)
Then the agency will point communities to tools and resources, such as comfort letters and involuntary acquisition fact sheets, that can resolve liability issues. Comfort letters are written by the EPA that clarify for a site owner or lending institution the likelihood of EPA listing a site again on the Superfund List.

The need for a comfort letter usually arises when an owner of one of these remediated sites attempts to sell or refinance the property. The fact that the site is on the Superfund list and the potential liability associated with that listing can become an obstacle to sales or refinancing transactions.

The EPA says it might modify fences surrounding sites considered ready for reuse. "Some fences may no longer be needed because the remedies have succeeded and risk decreased over time; in other cases, gates may be added to allow appropriate activities, like jogging, while still precluding activities that might damage the remedies," the agency says.

The agency will remove "Keep Out" signs it says are no longer needed if sites are already cleaned to remove the stigma of the Superfund designation.


Six playing fields, a nature trail, a paved and lighted parking lot, a recreational building, streams, marshes, and Alcyon Lake after cleanup of the Superfund Lipari Landfill. (Photo courtesy EPA)
The EPA has established 11 demonstration projects across the country to show how the return to use concept works in practice. One demonstration site is the Fulbright Landfill Superfund.

The Fulbright site consists of two landfills: the 98 acre Fulbright Landfill and the 114 acre Sac River Landfill. The landfills accepted industrial and domestic wastes in the City of Springfield, Missouri from 1962 to 1974. They also took industrial wastes containing cyanides, acids, plating and paint sludges, solvents, and pesticides. In 1967, a hauler died there from inhaling toxic fumes after he inadvertently dumped a drum containing acid into a pit containing cyanide.

The Fulbright Landfill was placed on the Superfund List in 1983. Cleanup activities at the site removed volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and cyanide contamination in ground water. All construction at the site is complete and ground water monitoring continues to show that the contaminated plume is contained on site.

The Fulbright Landfill may never be a soccer field, but the siteís location on the Little Sac and South Dry Sac Rivers makes recreational reuse there possible. Springfield residents have created a plan for a greenway that would place a trail along the Little Sac River.

Reuse of the Fulbright Landfill Superfund site will require cooperation among a large group of stakeholders, including the EPA, the City of Springfield, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

EPA will begin the five year review process for the site in March 2005, assessing any obstacles to reuse.

The City of Springfield will provide soil sampling data to confirm that the siteís soils are fully remediated and to determine the soilís suitability for future plantings at the site.

During the review process, the EPA will investigate the remedy, the types of reuses this remedy can support, and the steps necessary for the remedy to remain protective and allow for reuse at the site.

Then the agency will consider the possibility of issuing a Ready for Reuse Determination for the site, a technical determination that the site is ready for a specified type of reuse. It might become a soccer field.