“EPA currently oversees the cleanup of 1,342 Superfund sites in the United States. Many of these

sites are located near residential neighborhoods.”


Superfund Stigma The Site Assessment Section (SAS) of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) investigates whether Superfund sites affect the health of those who live near them. SAS talks to many residents and homeowners. Besides concerns about their health, the department often hears about fears of declining property values. A home’s proximity to a Superfund site will foster fear that the home is contaminated and living there poses health risks. These fears are persistent, even in communities where a site is cleaned or doesn’t pose health risks. This is Superfund stigma. Merriam-Webster defines stigma as a “ mark of shame or discredit ”. The stigma related to Superfund sites is due to the perception of risk. If a Superfund site poses risk, it is vital for communities to understand the sources of that risk. For example, it may not be OK to walk on the site or site contaminants could have moved into the neighborhood

causing health risks. To ensure these risks are understood SAS reaches out into communities to inform residents what steps will minimize their risk. The department also provides EPA professionals with recommendations to reduce health risk. Often occurrences unrelated to a Superfund site, such as an unusual odor, dust in the air, or a change of color/taste in the drinking water can create a false perception of risk; even if the site is not the cause of the occurrence or data are available to show the site is not posing a health risk. Sometimes cleaning activities can heighten the perception of risk, such as workers in strange protective clothes collecting samples or the coming and going of large trucks. Media attention focused on a site can also falsely amplify the perception of risk. Homeowners whose homes devalue due to Superfund stigma can experience prolonged feelings of

stress. Enduring long periods of stress can negatively affect health. Feeling tired, nervous, angry, and anxious are common symptoms of stress. Stress can also cause stomachaches, headaches, and make it very difficult to relax or sleep. Stress can also spur people to increase their use of alcohol or drugs or to adopt unhealthy coping methods such as smoking or overeating. Over time, the constant strain of stress can contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Coping with Stress that Environmental Contamination Can Cause, 2017 ). What Can We Do? How can we address Superfund stigma, even after a site is clean? SAS posed this question to health professionals, researchers, community leaders, and government agencies. First, they pointed out that this issue is not isolated to communities near Superfund sites. Many neighborhoods are near



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