By: Dave Allison
It’s always challenging working as a liaison with the public on abandoned hazardous waste sites in Utah through EPA’s Superfund program. Chances are you’ve probably never heard of CERCLA or Superfund until a site is designated within your community and it’s our job to make a very complex process more understandable.
The idea of having hazardous waste in your community can be troubling and the effects of such contamination vary from site to site. Serious concerns range from health impacts, property values, traffic and noise, decision making authority, and—believe it or not—the mistrust of government and industry. This is why the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation (DERR) staff makes every effort to ensure the regulatory and public involvement processes are explained to the community.
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Utah has 26 Superfund sites in various stages of completion and keeping the community involved has played a vital role in the decision-making process to clean up hazardous waste. We can’t emphasize how important it is for us to hear from the people living here, what they have to say and how they feel the cleanup is going to affect them.
We also have to communicate our decisions based on scientific data and executing a solid cleanup plan. The Superfund Process has built-in laws requiring minimum standards for informing and involving the public in cleanup actions. Utilizing a public notice, holding public meetings, and having comment periods with a response to comments are ways we do outreach.
However, we know from experience it takes more than producing documents and taking input to involve the community. It takes building relationships with residents, property owners, elected officials, health agencies, and other stakeholders to make sure the best cleanup decisions are made. Hearing and working with the community helps us do a better job with all technical aspects of DERR’s program because:
- Information collected during public participation activities assists DERR and EPA with making better informed decisions about sites.
- Providing information to the community about the site and engaging in serious discussion can reduce the potential for delays that might arise if the community objects, or does not understand DERR’s or EPA’s action or decision.
- Providing opportunities for the community to get to know and interact with project staff helps establish and maintain DERR’s credibility within a community.
- By establishing and regularly maintaining communication with the community, local officials, and partner government agencies helps ensure critical site information is disseminated in an accurate and timely manner.
We do a lot of things to involve the public to: 1) communicate what we are doing, 2) be transparent, and 3) listen to what the communities concerns are. These efforts result in building strong relationships of trust where we can support each other in the work we are doing. To implement a solution and have the people within the community empowered to make it happen is the best reward we can have as a program.
Did you know you can utilize DERR’s Interactive Map here to find out if you live near contaminated sites? For more information on cleanup and how to become involved, feel free to contact our program team by visiting our website: www.environmentalresponse.utah.gov.
I’m a Community Involvement Coordinator in the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation (DERR), which regulates contaminated sites. A Weber State University graduate in public relations and communication, I live in Ogden, with a patient wife, Mary, and an amazing 5-year old son, Barrett. I do some of my best thinking on morning runs and am on a quest to visit every Major League Ballpark.