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U.S. Cleans Up Its Toxic Waste

The island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands is a popular tourist resort, known throughout the world for its natural beauty. Its thriving economy also includes production of chemicals – and unfortunately, that production process, often creates hazardous waste.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, announced this month that a successful cleanup of the Island Chemical site, located in the southwest portion of St. Croix, has been successfully completed. The 3.5 acre facility was used to manufacture pharmaceutical chemicals and benzyl acetate, which is used in perfumes, flavorings, resins, lacquers, printing inks and varnish removers. As a result, contaminants including ethylbenzene, xylene, acetone and chloroform were found in the ground water and the soil at the site.

The Environmental Protection Agency dealt with ground and water contamination at the site through a process called soil vapor extraction, which involves removing the contaminates, in the form of vapors, from the soil by vacuuming them out, and air sparging, which uses air to remove harmful vapors from polluted soil and ground water. Air is pumped underground; causing contaminates to evaporate faster, which makes them easier to remove by vacuuming. The remedy also entailed monitoring chloroform levels in the ground water to ensure that the levels continued to naturally decrease. Controls that limit ground water use at the site have also been implemented.

The Island Chemical site on St. Croix has been included in the Environmental Protection Agency's "Superfund" program. Superfund is tasked with identifying hazardous waste sites throughout the United States; conducting removal actions when needed; holding accountable those responsible for the hazardous conditions; and ensuring community involvement in the process, and ensuring long-term protection for the site.

The EPA has determined that the Island Chemical site no longer presents a significant risk to public health or to the environment. It is now taking public comments on its proposal to remove the site from Superfund National Priorities List. Once the process is completed and the site is removed, as anticipated, from the list, the site will remain eligible for cleanup in the very unlikely event that changes in the condition of the property warrant such action.

The United States government is committed to protecting the natural environment of the United States and, in partnership with other nations, the environment of this planet we call earth.