Earlier this month, the Chicago Tribune reported on the disappointing fate of the Schroud Property Superfund toxic waste site on Chicago’s South Side, which was supposed to be turned into an industrial park and sports complex that would bring hundreds of jobs to the area. Instead, Donald Schroud, the namesake and owner of the site, who promised to implement these developments, sold a chunk of the area’s less-contaminated land for a profit 84 times larger than what he originally paid for the entire property and abandoned the toxic waste on the rest of the property, just like the steel companies that polluted the land before him.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Schroud explained: “[The steel companies] declared bankruptcy. So guess what: I’m gone and so are they.”
As Schroud’s disappearing act demonstrates, relying on individuals and companies to pay to clean up their toxic messes often doesn’t work. They can go bankrupt, leave, and even tie up the clean-up process with costly litigation over who should pay. In the absence of funds from those responsible, taxpayers get hit with the bill.
It wasn’t always this way, and it shouldn’t ever be. When the Environmental Protection Agency created its Superfund toxic waste clean-up program in 1980, it was funded by a tax on the industries that produce toxic waste. That type of accountability is what we need moving forward. We need a Polluter Pays Tax to ensure that polluters are held accountable for the contamination they produce. Americans shouldn’t have to live with toxic waste sites, and we definitely shouldn’t be on the hook for millions of dollars to clean up these sites when the parties responsible for the contamination can’t or won’t pay.
The Schroud Property Superfund toxic waste site is only the latest example of a toxic mess that taxpayers have to pay to clean up. The responsible party cannot be found or fails to pay for cleanup at approximately 30 percent of Superfund toxic waste sites across the country, which means the EPA’s Superfund budget, which is currently primarily funded with taxpayer dollars, pays for the cleanup.
In Illinois alone, 45 Superfund toxic waste sites are on the EPA’s National Priorities List of sites marked for cleanup, including the Schroud Property site.These sites threaten human health and environmental safety, potentially exposing people to some of the “most hazardous chemicals known to humankind.” And, they will cost tens of millions of dollars to clean up. People are already bearing the health costs of this toxic waste; polluters should bear the cost of cleaning it up.