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U.Va. Establishes Center To Study Superfund Site Recycling With EPA Grant

Novembre 20, 2002-- Central Chemical was a vital part of the Hagerstown, Md., community for almost 50 years. But the former pesticide and fertilizer blending and storage facility closed in 1984, and it later was declared a Superfund site. Fences now separate it from the community that once embraced it.

Hagerstown is far from alone. More than 1,233 sites are on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List, and communities that want to transform them from toxic threats back into community resources face an almost overwhelming challenge fraught with complexity and the stigma of chemical contamination.

In addition to the scientific and financial issues involved in a cleanup, communities must address legal, cultural, technological and land-use matters.

A new center at the University of Virginia is helping by taking a holistic view of reclaiming these sites.

The EPA awarded U.Va. a grant to create the Center of Expertise for Superfund Site Recycling, the only one in the country. The grant is for $600,000 — $200,000 a year, renewable for three years.

The center will develop decision-making practices and models for various types of contaminated sites in both rural and urban settings. The research will help the EPA and individual communities better understand the dynamics of the process and facilitate the successful reclamation of these sites.

“This is the first time a truly interdisciplinary team is taking a look at Superfund site reuse issues,” said John Harris, national program coordinator for Superfund redevelopment at the EPA.

Jonathan Cannon, professor of law and director of the center, said, “The focus in recent years has been on putting these sites back into productive use. They represent resources that communities can use to build schools, factories, apartment buildings, commercial space or sports fields. We are going to be looking at these sites and developing information and options for how these sites can be developed and expanded.”

The interdisciplinary center, in its second year of operation, includes a team of 12 faculty members and students from the schools of Law, Architecture, Commerce, Engineering and Applied Science, and the College of Arts & Sciences.

With input from the EPA, the center identified six sites around the country that represent different contamination issues. They include sites polluted with industrial, pesticide, waste and mining contamination. The research covers land-use issues, government regulations, remedy decisions by the EPA, real estate market conditions, physical characteristics of the site, the ecosystem around the site, and cultural and social issues.

In addition to the Hagerstown, Md., site, the center will study the Barber Orchard in Waynesville, N.C.; Gilt Edge Mine in Lead, S.D.; Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Virginia Beach, Va.; Emmell Septic Landfill in Galloway Township, N.J.; and a cluster of sites — Big John’s Salvage, Sharon Steel and Ordinance Works Disposal in Marion and Monongalia counties, W.Va.

Center members will share research and resources through workshops, conferences, publications and the center’s Web site ( The work done at the center is intended to benefit those involved with other Superfund sites working through the reclamation process that are not included in the initial study.

The educational component of the center includes not only public outreach, but also the inclusion of students on the center’s team.

Julie Bargmann, associate professor of landscape architecture, organized a lecture series last spring to explain the expertise of the center’s members and introduce the issues to students and other members of the University community. She is teaching a landscape design studio that is investigating various solutions to one of the six center research sites.

Bargmann, who has been working to reclaim industrial sites with her design firm, D.I.R.T. (Design Investigating Reclaiming Terrain), believes that it is important to understand the complexity of weaving these sites back into the communities.

“Students see that what they need to become is educators — to translate, re-interpret and reveal the capacity of the landscape,” she said.

Through her participation in the center, Janet Herman, professor of environmental sciences and an expert in the geo-chemistry of groundwater, said that major challenges are not only communicating between technical and non-technical disciplines, but also influencing decisions made during the reclamation process. She emphasizes to her students that if they want their research to contribute to creating a better environment, a better life and a better world, they need to communicate the cultural side of technical questions.

One of Herman’s students, Melissa Kenney, a May environmental sciences graduate, created a computer model based on one of the sites as her distinguished major thesis. Kenney’s cost-benefit analysis places values on issues such as clean aquifers, reducing global warming, scenery and protecting drinking water. The model adds perspective on various options and helps focus thinking about the process of remediation. Kenney worked with Herman and environmental finance expert Mark White, an associate professor in the McIntire School of Commerce and a center member.

“It was great to be able to work on such an amazing study in its initial phases and work with faculty from so many different disciplines,” said Kenney. “It gave me a taste of what interdisciplinary research is like.”

E. Franklin Dukes, director of the Institute for Environmental Negotiation in the School of Architecture, is an expert in facilitating dispute resolution and public participation processes. Next spring, he will teach a class to help design guidelines to facilitate community meetings so that Superfund stakeholders can envision new opportunities for contaminated sites.

“It’s a process of education and awareness — bringing people together to look at the cultural and social aspects and to communicate and resolve issues of identity and reuse, ” Dukes said.

Dukes said people associated with Superfund sites who are not part of the center research study are beginning to seek out their expertise. “There is a growing interest in the expertise of the center.”

Harris echoed the early success of the center. “The richness of the interdisciplinary approach is already paying off. The research projects that were presented to us about a month ago show that the way you structure the reuse and cleanup has a direct effect on producing a successful outcome.”


For details or interviews, call Monique Van Landingham, at the Center of Expertise for Superfund Site Recycling, at (434) 924-3638 or visit the Web site at

Center Members

Jonathan Z. Canon
Professor and Center Chair
School of Law

Julie L. Bargmann
Associate Professor
Department of Landscape Architecture
School of Architecture

Peter Beling
Associate Professor and
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Department of Systems and Information Engineering

Daniel Bluestone
Associate Professor
Department of Architectural History
School of Architecture

Teresa B. Culver
Associate Professor
Department of Civil Engineering
School of Engineering and Applied Science

A. Bruce Dotson
Associate Professor
Department of Urban and Environmental Planning
Senior Associate
Institute for Environmental Negotiation
School of Architecture

E. Franklin Dukes
Institute for Environmental Negotiation

Janet Herman
Department of Environmental Sciences
College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

James Lambert
Assistant Research Professor
Department of Systems and Information Engineering

Roseanna M. Neupauer
Assistant Professor
Department of Civil Engineering
School of Engineering and Applied Science

George A. Overstreet Jr.
McIntire School of Commerce

Mark A. White
Associate Professor
McIntire School of Commerce

Contact: Jane Ford, (434) 924-4298

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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