The federal government yesterday released a list of the 418 hazardous waste dumps across the nation that it considers most dangerous to public health, making them eligible for federal cleanup assistance under the Superfund program.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Anne M. Gorsuch portrayed the completion of the list as a sign of environmental progress, but critics charged that she had excluded hundreds of dumps that pose similar or more severe threats to drinking water and the air.
The list includes abandoned dumps from Maine to American Samoa, mostly in the industrialized Northeast and Midwest, dramatizing the widespread health threats that have resulted from decades of unregulated dumping of industrial wastes.
Poisons leaking from 347 of the dumps pose direct threats to city drinking water supplies, and could cause birth defects, cancer and other diseases, officials said.
Gorsuch unveiled the list at a packed news conference before 17 television cameras and more than 100 reporters, a sign of the heightened interest in the issue since the EPA chief was held in contempt of Congress over her refusal to turn over subpoenaed documents on hazardous dumps.
The announcement is unrelated to the contempt charge. Federal law required that EPA compile a list of the 400 most dangerous sites by July, 1981, but it was delayed until now.
The sites on the list will become top priorities for the $1.6 billion set aside by Congress for cleaning up the nation's hazardous waste dumps and prosecuting companies responsible for them, Gorsuch said.
At the top of the list is a leaky landfill in the small town of Fridley, Minn., where for 20 years the FMC Corp. dumped solvents, paint sludges and other chemical wastes, according to EPA documents.
The chemicals have contaminated the drinking water supplies of Fridley and nearby Brooklyn Center, and have leaked into the Mississippi River, which serves as the water supply for Minneapolis, the documents say.
Also included are the infamous Love Canal chemical dump in New York and a subdivision in Imperial, Mo., where until recently children played near sand piles and creeks containing the highly toxic substance, dioxin, dumped there in the 1970s.
Gorsuch said EPA had excluded from consideration the 650 federally owned hazardous waste sites, contending that federal law bars them from the list. This removed the Fort Lincoln Park subdivision in Northeast Washington, a federal housing project where 500 drums of chemical waste were dumped.
However, Rep. James J. Florio (D-N.J.), an author of the Superfund law and a critic of EPA's handling of it, said the program was intended to cover federal, state and private sites.
"The key to the program is not making a list, but cleaning up," Florio said. "And there, the record is abysmal." Gorsuch said her agency has cleaned up five of the nation's estimated 14,000 hazardous dump sites.
Gorsuch also came under fire from EPA official Hugh Kaufman, a persistent foe, who said the list had excluded thousands of sites where wastes are still being dumped in favor of those that have been abandoned.