I started SuperfundResearch.org out of a need for information in my own environmental activism career. Over the course of a hundred thousand miles of travel, in the last two years, I’ve learned a lot about The EPA’s Superfund Project. Alex and I started building the foundation for this organization in 2013, but kept a lid on the project for a couple of years, in order to allow me to slowly absorb and dissect The Superfund, site by site, city by city, until I had an understanding of what needed to be done to create a better method of activism, and what could fix the Superfund.
I must admit, in the beginning of my environmental career, I was a bit of an alarmist, because I was mimicking Erin Brockovich, the woman who is the queen of everything environmental, because that is the only real sample of a successful environmental activist that I had to draw my inspiration from.
I quickly learned, however, that it’s not so easy to be Erin, that while she is celebrated and loved by millions of people, without that Julia Roberts played me in a movie aspect to my career I was simply making myself a target to every angry cyber bully on the internet, whenever I would do a release.
I’ve learned that there is a certain segment of every community that wants see an activist burn on principle alone. These people don’t really know why they are fighting someone who is trying to help them; they just are. It seems to me that the people who behave like this are screaming if I have failed in life so must you!! as they work to wreck anyone who dares talk about their town without their permission. I’ve encountered this person, over and over again, all across the country, like there is some kind of glitch in The Matrix; a deranged, hillbilly, Agent Smith character, with an eighth grade education, and a parole officer.
After a couple of public causes that had been wrecked by idiocy I tried a different manner of educating people, by trying to approach the leaders of the local environmental activism groups in communities all across the country, to speak with them about re-branding their local Superfund site as a part of a larger national health issue, rather than as isolated local incidents, as toxic waste spills are viewed in the current paradigm; making this change would allow people in Idaho to care about a spill in Ohio, and vice versa, rather than thinking of the issue as something that effects only “my town.”
I’ve often been able to obtain great information but it’s not been long before someone associated with the group starts grabbing everything around them — including the stapler — and frantically shouting, “It’s all mine, mine, mine!! I will be the next Erin Brockovich!! You will not take my fame and fortune!!”
Whenever someone would say things like this to me I would look around at the crusty motel room I was staying in, and think, This is fame and fortune?
As I have met the leaders of these activism groups, most of which did not attack me, one statement has been made over and over again, about the ongoing EPA document paper chase that every activist has to embark upon in order to form to true understanding of the toxics in their area. There are researchers out there that have spent upwards of ten years chasing down one piece of paper. I’ve often noted that when the EPA has someone in the grips of Superfund record Grail searches they seem to have them right where they want them, distracted from educating people, and focused directly on the war to obtain page 46 of a Record of Decision.
Outside of smaller battles for individual documents I was related stories of people spending years of their lives obtaining the full set of records for their local Superfund site. To me, the whole process of locating all of the information seemed archaic and out of date. The only real way for me to investigate a Superfund site is to get on a plane, fly to the area, and personally sit in the local library reading the tens of thousands of pages of documentation in one of the federally required document repositories, without the ability to make photo copies, because of the bitter lack of funding that is afforded to public libraries.
In mid 2015, because of the all of the road blocks I’ve faced, Alex and I began work on the development of an API, which would allow us to use software based data mining techniques to extract information via the National Priorities list, listed on on the EPA’s home page, when the US EPA announced a massive redesign of their website, with the statement, “Some URL’s have changed.” With the new EPA changes in place we started to notice that the URL’s that had changed were specifically related to the Superfund record.
One of the links The US EPA changed was the hyperlink to the National Priorities List — the online list of of links to information for over 1,700 current and former Superfund sites — that has been referenced, and linked to, in just about every article that had ever been written about Superfund sites in the last twenty years. I noted that an article in The Los Angeles times, about TCE vapor intrusion in San Fernando Valley, was hit by the change. When one would follow the links to the EPA website, embedded in the article, there before their eyes would be the full list to the current 1,323 active sites. After the change, the link now leads to a static page, which contains only a blurb about the Superfund project.
We saw that these modifications amounted to nothing more than the continued burial of The Superfund project, by The US EPA. After this change occurred we did our best to scramble to recover but the loss of the original link structure of the Superfund record caused us to have to scrap our entire API project and start over from the beginning. While that was a huge blow to my activism campaigns, and to publications about the Superfund, it was actually a smaller incident that finally moved me to create this organization.
Once Upon A Time
In my own childhood neighborhood of Castle Homes, in Akron, Ohio, the site from my original short film Poison in the Grapes, about Summit Equipment and Supplies, a metal reclaiming facility near my elementary school that was filled with TCE, Chromium-6, Lead, Mercury, Dioxin, Cadmium, and unexploded tank and mortar shells placed there by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the issues are complex, and seemingly unsolvable, because The City of Akron, The Ohio EPA, The Region 5 EPA, the Akron Beacon Journal, refuse to address the local resident’s concerns, no matter how much noise has been made.
Since I have investigated so many sites, finding it impossible to be able to recall every piece of exact data to the finest detail, I rely on the public access of Superfund records to help refresh me on the alleged facts for any given toxic waste site. While doing some work to update myself on the subject matter I went to the EPA site for Summit Equipment and Supplies and found that since I’d started the project, over two years ago, several of the PDF’s required to prove my case had disappeared from the EPA’s website, now replaced with the statement, “Some URL’s have changed,” and that aforementioned blurb about the Superfund.
I quickly understood that I, myself, was now being led down the path to the EPA document paper chase. In order for me to fight for the Superfund site in my neighborhood, now it’s going to take hundreds of dollars, and months of time to recover those missing records, i.e. first five-year review, second five-year review, etc. It was then that I said, “No more.”
I decided that the only way to solve the problem was to extract the entire Superfund record, an estimated one-hundred million pages of information, from the US EPA, and create an external database, which presents the Superfund record at the click of a button, and stops Superfund record paper chases dead in their tracks.
This is no small project. We estimate that it’s going to take at least ten years to catalog the current National Priorities List. We plan to do this by creating web scrapers, submitting Freedom of Information Act requests, and by using good old fashioned on-the-ground data collectors who will be used to personally obtain entire twenty thousand to one million page Superfund records at each document repository.
We’re developing a team of programmers, journalists, medical experts, ethical hackers, attorneys, and anyone else who is qualified to help us reach our goal, to embark upon this massive data mining, and environmental activism project, and finally break the cycle of EPA corruption.
On Through The Night
We have a long journey ahead of us and it’s going to take a village to make all of this happen. The most frequent question I have been is asking about this project, “Is this project illegal?” My only response is, “While skateboarding is a crime, data mining is not.” We are committed to our goals, and we are here to make The United States a better and cleaner place to live, by educating and empowering independent researchers and activists. We hope that you’ll join us, follow our progress, learn from our failures, and become enlightened to the complex reality that is the US EPA Superfund project.