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Toxic Waste Sites Threaten Our Health

In thousands of communities across the U.S., polluters have dumped millions of gallons of highly toxic chemicals, including lead, arsenic and mercury, in the midst of unsuspecting neighborhoods.

These sites poison the land, contaminate groundwater and drinking water, and may cause cancer, birth defects, nerve and liver damage, and other health effects. Consider:

  • There are 85,000 known or suspected hazardous waste sites scattered across the nation. More than 1,300 of the worst sites have been identified by the federal government as serious threats to human health and are listed as "Superfund" sites. The EPA estimates that 1,200 additional sites should be added to this priority cleanup list.
  • One in four Americans?65 million altogether?lives within four miles of a Superfund site.
  • 50% of the U.S. population relies on groundwater for its drinking water. Groundwater contamination is a problem at more than 85% of Superfund sites.
  • A California study found that children born to mothers living within a quarter-mile of a Superfund site had a higher risk of birth defects such as heart defects and neurological problems.

Health Effects of Common Toxins


Health effects: Lead causes health effects even at low exposures. It can cause brain damage, kidney damage, and damage to the reproductive system. For infants or young children, lead has been shown to decrease IQ scores, slow growth, and cause hearing problems.


Health effects: Long-term exposure can cause cancer, severe anemia and internal bleeding. It can also be harmful to the immune system and cause genetic changes in both humans and animals.


Health effects: Long-term exposure at various levels can cause permanent damage to the brain and kidneys. It also poses a risk of brain damage to developing fetuses.


Health effects: High levels of arsenic can be fatal. Low-level exposure can cause decreased production of red and white blood cells and abnormal heart rhythms. Arsenic is a known carcinogen that increases the risk of lung, kidney, liver and skin cancers.

Polluters Want You To Pay

Superfund, one of the few laws designed to clean up toxic waste sites and protect public health, is currently under attack. In 1980, in response to disasters like the toxic contamination of neighborhoods at Love Canal, N.Y., Congress passed the Superfund law. The central principle of the law is that polluters?those responsible for creating the waste sites?should pay to clean up the sites.

Polluters and their insurance companies have successfully slowed the cleanup process at sites across the country by fighting to shift the cost of cleaning up the toxic messes they've made from themselves to taxpayers.

Now polluters are lobbying Congress to weaken the entire Superfund program by rolling back the "polluter pays" principle and weakening cleanup standards for toxic waste sites.

Make Polluters Pay To Clean Up Toxics

In order to protect public health, Congress should support legislation that would:

  • Clean up hazardous sites completely, safely and permanently.
  • Continue to make polluters, not taxpayers, pay to clean up toxic waste sites.
  • Prevent future pollution by expanding public reporting of toxic chemical emissions and requiring reporting on toxic chemical use.
  • Allow citizens more input in the cleanup of their neighborhoods.
  • Repeal oil companies' current exemption from liability.

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