Magazine article Insight on the News

You Can't Glow Home Again

Magazine article Insight on the News

You Can't Glow Home Again

Article excerpt

Driving past the stately old homes of Lansdowne, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb, one would hardly think oneself in the midst of a Superfund hazardous-waste site. No resting barrels of glowing God-knows-what, no men in blue moon suits scooping suspicious substances into lead-lined casks.

Here in suburbia, the telltale signs of the Environmental Protection Agency's $55 million cleanup effort are carefully camouflaged: ten beautiful new homes, expensive replicas of allegedly contaminated old ones (except for some customized extras), have been built by the U.S. taxpayer on the town's Austin Avenue Radiation Site, involving properties where residues of radium and thorium were detected from a plant that closed in 1922. The reconstruction costs -- which averaged $651,700 per home, or more than four times the appraised value of the homes demolished -- were called "excessive" in a recent report by EPA's inspector general, or IG, which blamed political pressure from Capitol Hill and lack of guidance from the agency's Washington headquarters for the costly "like-for-like" replacement of the houses, rather than a relocation of their owners to comparable dwellings elsewhere.

A 1993 letter from five members of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation "strongly urged" EPA's regional office to reconsider its preferred approach to remediation, demolition and relocation, in favor of rebuilding -- leaving it vulnerable to shakedowns from demanding homeowners. In one case, the EPA spent more than $700,000 rebuilding a house, appraised value $161,000, which wasn't occupied by its owners and was described by the project manager as "rundown" and "structurally unsound. …

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