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EPA proposes new Superfund site in northeastern Oklahoma

A sign hangs on a chainlink fence. It says "EPA Superfund Site. WARNING: Hazardous materials are present at this site. No trespassing. For further information call the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (800) 346-5009." The EPA's logo is in the top left corner. It uses simple graphics of waves, a field, the sky, and the sun to make the shape of a flower.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA announced a proposed new Superfund site at Oklahoma’s Fansteel Metals, Inc. Covering 105 acres in Muskogee on Cherokee Nation land, the facility contains radioactive and toxic materials that could threaten the health and safety of people living nearby if not properly contained.

From 1956 to 1989, Fansteel processed uranium ore into metals for electrical circuits. The radioactive and toxic leftovers from that process were stored in two waste pits and four acidic ponds. That waste has already seeped into the site’s groundwater and poses a threat to the nearby Arkansas River.

In January, Gov. Kevin Stitt wrote a letter to EPA Regional Administrator Earthea Nance requesting the Fansteel site be added to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites0.

Superfund sites are industrial areas that pose particularly dangerous environmental threats. These sites receive long-term federal funding and support to ensure the health and safety of people living near them.

The EPA normally designates Superfund sites for the NPL, but each state has a one-time authority to propose a site it considers to be of high importance. In his letter, Stitt invoked that ability and requested Fansteel be added to the NPL.

When Fansteel went bankrupt in 2002, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission created a $4.5 million trust to help contain the site’s hazardous materials. Stitt said those funds would run out sometime in the next two years, leaving no resources to contain the waste and protect people living nearby from contaminated water.

“With no intervention,” Stitt wrote. “The site is at risk of becoming completely abandoned when the funds remaining in the NRC decommissioning fund are exhausted.”

The EPA announced it was proposing the Fansteel facility be added to the NPL, along with four sites in other states. All five sites are in communities with environmental justice concerns, according to the announcement.

“By adding the Fansteel Metals site to the NPL, we are enforcing environmental justice and taking action to remove a threat that impacts the environment and public health,” Nance said in an EPA press release.

Nance thanked the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and the Biden Administration for making the listing possible. The Biden Administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included a $3.5 billion investment in the Superfund program, which the EPA credits for the expansion of the NPL.

“Thanks to President Biden’s investments in America, EPA is making sure complex hazardous waste sites get the long-term federal financial assistance and cleanup support they need to safeguard critical resources families rely on, like clean drinking water,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a press release.

Fansteel would be Oklahoma’s 18th Superfund site on the National Priorities List. Of the existing Superfunds in the state, 13 are still on the list and four have received enough cleanup to be deprioritized.

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Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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