A recent article reports that dozens of the 247 Superfund toxic waste sites in New York and New Jersey may have been disrupted by Hurricane Sandy this past fall. Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims that there is no evidence of disruption, the EPA has only done visual inspections, rather than more in-depth testing of the sites. This could pose a serious health threat to those located not far from the site, including a higher risk of birth defects.
Under the Superfund law of 1980, the EPA had the power to order cleanup of certain hazardous waste sites that posed a threat to human health. In New York and New Jersey, such sites include the Raritan Bay Slag site, which was designated in 2009. The site contains high levels of toxins such as lead, arsenic, copper, and antimony. Another site, Newtown Creek, is filled with PCBs, pesticides, metals, and volatile organic compounds. Newtown Creek has been a Superfund site since 2010. While the EPA did test these two sites, countless others have gone untested, leaving residents concerned. Many worry that the toxins could seep into ground water and are not convinced the EPA has done enough. Even politicians are expressing their concern, with New Jersey's Senator Frank Lautenberg requesting that the EPA perform an additional inspection on Hurricane Sandy's impact on the Superfund sites.
If you live near one of the Superfund sites and months after Hurricane Sandy, have a child with a birth defect, you have the option of filing a lawsuit against the EPA. You would argue that the EPA had a duty to ensure that the toxic waste sites had been contained and that the toxins had not spilled into the ground water. The EPA did not take proper steps, such as testing, to ensure that the toxic waste sites were safe, and did not inform members of the community that there could be dangers. As a result, you were exposed to the toxins while pregnant, and your child was born with a birth defect. Had you known that toxins had escaped the Superfund site, you would have taken measures to protect yourself, which could have prevented the birth defect.
The greatest challenge for such a lawsuit is proving that the toxic waste leakage is connected to the birth defect. If you were close to giving birth when the hurricane occurred, you probably would have difficulty making the case that neglected sites affected by Sandy caused your child's birth defect. However, if you were in the first trimester of your pregnancy, you might have an easier time providing evidence -- especially if other pregnant women nearby also had babies with birth defects.