Curt Spalding, EPA Region 1 Administrator, Presents Webinar: “Innovation & Collaboration”

Curt Spalding Webinar

Akram Alshawabkeh (PROTECT Co-Director), Curt Spalding (EPA Region 1 Administrator), Phil Brown (Core B Leader), and Meghan Cassidy (EPA Section Chief)

On Monday, May 9th, EPA Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding visited Northeastern’s campus and presented a talk as part of PROTECT’s “Collaboration for Innovation” Webinar series. Curt’s talk focused on innovation and collaboration within the EPA Region 1 Superfund program, especially as it pertains to working with local governments and communities.

One of the issues he highlighted are contaminants of emerging concern (CECs). Recent science has suggested some can be toxic to humans or the environment, but the complete toxicity is often unclear. This lack of clarity can present challenges for engaging with the communities, who are frustrated and looking for solutions, not uncertainties.

The EPA has answered this challenge with a focus on connecting with the local communities, particularly local Departments of Public Health. Rather than approaching from the standpoint of a Federal agency enforcing Federal law, EPA Region 1 engages community partners in the cleanup process and fosters a sense of teamwork. Sometimes this means intensive community engagement work to educate the community and help them to understand what are the best options for cleanup. Also important is maintaining transparency in order to build trust with local communities. And it is vital to stress that if scientific knowledge about a contaminant advances and there is reason for greater concern, the EPA will return to the community to provide further support.

CEC’s of particular concern in New England are perfluorinated compounds such as PFOA and PFOS, which have contaminated several areas in Vermont and New Hampshire. PFCs have been used in cookware, textiles, firefighting foam, and other goods for many years. To address this issue, EPA Region 1 is working with states and water suppliers to ensure community members receive access to safe drinking water, and has coordinated to begin analysis for PFCs in a regional lab. The Superfund program is providing support to state and local governments as they address this issue.

Solar panels on a capped landfill

Solar panels on a capped landfill

The innovation aspect of the EPA’s recent work in New England lies in green remediation. Curt stressed the EPA’s new sustainability goal for the region, which has been a focus in the last five years. A primary example is the placement of solar panels in capped landfill areas following cleanup, which is becoming easier as solar equipment becomes lighter in weight and less likely to penetrate the cap. Developers and municipalities are generally open to green remediation techniques, as these can cut costs or even generate income.

Transportation of materials is another concern for sustainability. The community often wants to see the contaminant removed from the local area, but this is costly and not sustainable. The EPA must maintain a strict budget and all costs must be justified. An example is the Raymark Industries Superfund site in Stratford, CT, which has been shut down, capped, and redeveloped into a shopping center—but it took fifteen years and extensive engagement work to bring the community around to the merits of this solution.

Curt finished the discussion with a question and answer period, when he addressed some of the struggles pertaining to community engagement and regional cleanup. The webinar was attended by thirty people on campus, in addition to many participants from several universities viewing online. Prior to the presentation, Curt met with Northeastern’s PROTECT researchers and core leaders, for a discussion about regional and Superfund-related issues. PROTECT would like to thank Curt for his visit and his informative talk.