NM Superfund site to get $19M for cleanup

By:  Cathy Cook

SOCORRO – After years of community advocacy, the Eagle Picher Battery Superfund site is set to receive $19 million in federal funds to clean it up, with the money split into $3 million for soil excavation and building demolition, and $16 million for a pump-and-treat remedy for the contaminated groundwater.

The New Mexico Environment Department will be contracting the cleanup work and using some local labor.

Earthea Nance, regional administrator for the Environment Protection Agency, visited Socorro this week to announce the appropriation. She praised the collaboration between local, state and federal government, and the bipartisan support for funding the project. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., in a letter read aloud, and Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., in a video message, praised the funding.

“I know this community has been waiting a long time, 14 years,” Nance said. “Thanks to President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law and the work of Congress, Eagle Picher is one of the previously unfunded Superfund sites that will receive infrastructure money to jump-start the cleanup.”

A total of $3.5 billion is being invested in remediation efforts for Superfund sites across the country and the law reinstates chemical excise taxes to help pay for it. The Socorro site is one of 49 previously unfunded high-priority sites that will receive money. The McGaffey and Main Street Groundwater Plume in Roswell is another of the sites that will benefit.

“This funding will make a dramatic difference in the EPA’s ability to clean up Superfund sites faster and more efficiently,” Nance said.

Approximately 60% of the sites getting new funding are located in historically underserved communities.

“More than one in four Black and Hispanic Americans live within three miles of a Superfund site,” she said. “This is unacceptable and we are working to correct this inequity.”

The Eagle Picher site was formerly the location of a battery factory and, much earlier, home to a tuberculosis sanatorium. Eagle Picher made printed circuit boards from 1964 to 1976, dumping industrial waste in unlined lagoons at the site. From 1980 to 1989, the company made lead-acid batteries and dumped more industrial waste into the lagoons. In 2007, it became a Superfund site and was listed on the National Priorities List.

In a bankruptcy settlement, the Eagle Picher company paid $4 million to the EPA, which the agency and the state Environmental Department used for feasibility studies and to design a remediation plan. It was not nearly enough to clean up the pollutants, which include TRC (trichloroethylene), lead and asbestos.

The soil excavation can begin quickly and may be complete within two to three years, said Supervisory Environmental Engineer Blake Atkins. Spots in the soil with elevated levels of lead and other metals will be excavated and backfilled with other soil. Remediation for asbestos and lead paint will also be done on existing structures.

Treating the groundwater contamination will take much longer. The EPA already has a design to pump, treat and reinject water, which it may pursue. However, that approach requires a lot of expense and maintenance, so they are examining other options to make sure they choose the best treatment for the water.

“We want to have a really good characterization of the site so that the design of the remedy, everyone can feel confident in that,” Nance said.