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12 Photos Of Highly Toxic Places In The US On World Cleanup Day

“From wilderness to pastoral landscape to industrial site and now to wasteland.”

Posted on September 15, 2018, at 9:01 a.m. ET

Silver Bow Creek and Butte-Silver Bow and Deer Lodge counties, Montana, 1986

© 2018 David T. Hanson

“The creek ... has been contaminated with a variety of wastes ... for over 100 years. Contaminants such as heavy metals and phosphates have been detected in the creek, which is used for drinking, irrigation, and recreation.”

Each year on World Cleanup Day, volunteers across more than 100 countries participate in a united civic effort to collect and remove litter from waste-filled, neglected beaches, forests, parks, and local neighborhoods. But what becomes of the places where the waste is too hazardous for an army of volunteers to remedy? In the US, these places are called Superfund sites, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines them as “contaminated sites [that] exist nationally due to hazardous waste being dumped, left out in the open, or otherwise improperly managed.”

In 1980, Congress established the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, to grant the EPA the power and funding to oversee the safe cleanup of Superfund sites, as well as hold responsible parties liable.

In 1985 and 1986, photographer David T. Hanson, with support from a Guggenheim Fellowship, captured stunning aerial views of the human-made destruction at 67 Superfund sites across 45 states. According to his new book, over the past 30 years, his “photographs have been widely recognized for their powerful depiction of the destruction of the American landscape by our industrial and military culture,” giving viewers the opportunity to see parts of America that they’d never been able to see before, while also giving the public the chance to consider the legacy they were leaving behind for future generations: one of toxicity, carelessness, and greed.

For the very first time, Hanson’s work from all 67 sites will be published in its entirety in the book Waste Land by Taverner Press on Sept. 25, 2018. We’ve included 12 of these incredible images below with a list from the book of the lands’ contaminants. You can search any progress that has been made to these sites on the EPA’s website.

“Geologists estimate that the North American continent as we know it has existed for some sixty million years. What we have managed to do to it in a mere two hundred years, and to the American West in much less time, defies the imagination.” — David T. Hanson

Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Adams County, Colorado, 1986

© 2018 David T. Hanson

“Located about 10 miles northeast of downtown Denver ... [the Rocky Mountain Arsenal] has manufactured and demilitarized mustard gas, nerve gas, and chemical munitions.” The area has also been used by Shell Chemical “to manufacture pesticides and herbicides.”

Sharon Steel (Midvale Smelter), Midvale, Utah, 1986

© 2018 David T. Hanson

“Ground water is contaminated with arsenic, zinc cadmium, lead, and chromium.” Surface water may also be contaminated. “About 500,000 people within three miles of the site depend on ground water as a source of drinking water.”

Bridgeport Rental & Oil Services, Bridgeport, New Jersey, 1986

© 2018 David T. Hanson

“The [site’s 11.8-acre] lagoon contains an estimated 50 million gallons of oil, oil-water emulsions, contaminated water, and sludge. ... The wastes have seeped into the soil and contaminate surface waters and ground water supplying private drinking wells.”

California Gulch, Leadville, Colorado, 1986

© 2018 David T. Hanson

“The gulch has been seriously impacted by lead, silver, zinc, copper, and gold mining activities.” It also drains into the Arkansas River, creating concern that it may contaminate domestic groundwater supplies in the area and have a negative impact on fish, as well as livestock and crops irrigated by the river.

Outboard Marine Corp., Waukegan, Illinois, 1985

© 2018 David T. Hanson

“In 1976, the company was found to be discharging PCBs into the Waukegan Harbor and the North Ditch; both feed into Lake Michigan. This finding was of great concern because a number of Lake Michigan fish species contain PCBs in quantities exceeding Food and Drug Administration guidelines ... This is the top priority site in Illinois.”

Northwest 58th Street Landfill, Hialeah, Florida, 1986

© 2018 David T. Hanson

“Leachate from the landfill has contaminated ground water with metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and lead, as well as phenols and halogenated organic compounds. Two major public water supply wells are located downgradient within 3 miles of the site.”

Atlas Asbestos Mine, Fresno County, California, 1985

© 2018 David T. Hanson

“Drainage from this site is directly downslope into White Creek, then into Los Gatos Creek. Los Gatos Creek is a tributary to the Arroyo Pasajero, a flood area along the California Aqueduct ... Analysis of the water in the aqueduct ... indicates high concentrations of asbestos fibers.”

Petro-Processors of Louisiana, Scotlandville, Louisiana, 1986

© 2018 David T. Hanson

“EPA filed suit against the owners and 10 waste generators in July 1980, alleging that toxic organic compounds and heavy metals had been released into local waterways, eventually finding their way to the Mississippi River, and were posing a threat to an underground drinking water supply.”

Times Beach, Missouri, 1985

© 2018 David T. Hanson

“In the [1970s,] the city [of Times Beach] contracted with a waste oil hauler to spray oil on unpaved roads for dust control. It was later learned that the waste oil contained dioxin.” After the Meramec River flooded the city and the EPA conducted testing, “the CDC issued a health advisory on December 23, 1982, recommending that people relocated from Times Beach due to flooding should stay away, and that those remaining should leave.”

Baxter/Union Pacific Tie Treating, Laramie, Wyoming, 1986

© 2018 David T. Hanson

“The site includes unlined surface impoundments that contain approximately 1 million cubic feet of waste. Pollutants, including pentacholorphenol, benzene naphthalene, toluene, and phenol, have migrated from the ponds, contaminating the shallow ground water beneath the site and the Laramie River.”

Metamora Landfill, Metamora, Michigan, 1986

© 2018 David T. Hanson

“The generators, amounts, and types of waste buried at the site are unknown. A magnetometer survey conducted by the State indicated as many as 35,800 drums could be buried. The 100 exposed drums contain ethyl benzene, chloroform, toluene, xylene, and other organic chemicals.”

To see more of Hanson’s Work, visit his website, and head to Taverner Press on Sept. 25 to learn more about Waste Land.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.