An introduction to the Hazard Ranking System

The United States has thousands of contaminated areas known as Superfund sites, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). From coast to coast, the EPA deems each site exists “due to hazardous waste being dumped, left out in the open, or otherwise improperly managed.”

In fact, there are 54 Superfund sites in Ohio, including Summit National in Portage County, Copley Square Plaza in Summit County and Chemical and Minerals Reclamation in Cuyahoga County.

However, not all Superfund sites are created equal.

The EPA has a ranking system for how hazardous each site is — the Hazard Ranking System (HRS). EPA.gov defines the HRS as “the principal mechanism that the EPA uses to place uncontrolled waste sites on the National Priorities List (NPL).”

The HRS uses a numerically based screening system, which receives information from “initial, limited investigations,” like the preliminary assessment (PI) and the site inspection (SI), according to EPA.gov.

Though this system measures the threat level to human health or the environment, that does not mean the highest-rated site gets the EPA’s full attention. In fact, the EPA reports HRS scores are “not sufficient to determine either the extent of contamination or the appropriate response for a particular site.” That would require clean up and containment at other sites to stop.

The HRS uses the numerical values it gains from structured analysis to determine the health and environmental risks based on the condition of the sites. There are three categories and four pathways the sites can fall into.

Categories include the amount of toxicity, waste quantity and who will be affected by the release. The pathways scored under the HRS include the migration of contaminated groundwater, drinking water and air, as well as soil exposure.  

These sites typically have one or more contaminants. For example, Summit National in Portage County has had traces of carcinogens and neurotoxins, according to ToxicSites.us.

ToxicSites also reports the groundwater, soil and surface water at Summit National, “were contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phenols, phthalates, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals including arsenic, chromium, and cadmium.” These contaminants gave the site a 52.28 out of 100 on the HRS. A Superfund site only has to score a 28.5 to qualify for the NPL.

The Superfund law requires regular checkups of Summit National. This site just received a fifth  five-year review that concluded the cleanup is protecting the environment, according to EPA.gov.

The cleanup process has resulted in the treatment of 25 million gallons of contaminated water.

The EPA encourages the public to contact the Community Involvement Coordinator or Remedial Project Manager for any questions involving Superfund sites. To search Superfund sites where you live, click here.

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