Superfund sites riddle state as funding crunch tightens

Somewhere under the layers of grit and contaminated soil that mar land around northeast Wilmington, Christopher Osinaga saw a business opportunity.

He planned to build a factory that would produce banana chips, but the half-acre site came with a hefty cleanup bill. The land, once used for forklift repairs, contained high levels of iron, arsenic and other hazardous chemicals.

Osinaga turned to a little-known state “brownfield” grant program for $225,000 to defray the cleanup cost.

This year, about $10 mlllion from that fund has been earmarked for just two projects that will help recover contaminated land for use in Wilmington’s Riverfront development effort — where tanneries, shipbuilding and commerce left the water and land polluted.

The projects are two success stories on an otherwise overwhelming list of polluted sites scattered throughout the state — a product of the state’s legacy of industrial development.

Statewide, more than 700 properties and 350 leaking underground storage tanks are, or have been, under investigation or cleanup supervision in recent years. The abandoned Metachem Products plant is now expected to cost taxpayers more than $100 million and is among a few dozen federal Superfund cleanup “Megasites” nationwide.

The problem is particularly acute in New Castle County, which ranks fourth nationwide in the number of active, federally supervised Superfund sites. Only counties in New Jersey had denser concentrations of hazardous-waste sites per square mile in 2000, according to a check of records compiled by the Environmental Law Institute, a nonprofit consultant to the EPA.

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