As you might have guessed, many, many things could go wrong with that. At the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, signs are posted warning residents of the 109-building complex to stay the hell out of the dirt. Contaminated with arsenic and lead from a defunct factory, the EPA is racing to remediate the site and make it safe. In Brooklyn, homes lining the industrial waterfront are experiencing "vapor intrusion" -- fumes rising from contaminated soil and groundwater carrying airborne pollution inside homes. Also in New York, a Halloween night rave -- a legal one -- was shut down by the fire department. The problem? Nobody realized the warehouse used for the rave was a toxic site that was flooding party-goers' bodies with harmful chemical substances (of the non-recreational variety).
What are the effects of living on or near a seething pool of toxic sludge? That's not an easy answer to give, and not just because the EPA isn't super eager to divulge just how deeply into s**t we've waded. There are a lot of variables at play, like the concentration of the contaminants, the type and length of exposure, and whether or not people are eating handfuls of corrupted earth. Another complication is that the people most likely to live on these sites are in a lower socioeconomic bracket and are statistically predisposed toward certain ailments and health conditions that might be blamed on toxic waste. But the threat sure isn't zero; numerous studies on animals have shown that. Dolphins near a Georgia Superfund site have high levels of PCBs and endocrine abnormalities. In Michigan, songbirds near a remediation site are dropping dead with the highest levels of DDT ever recorded in wild birds, presumably from eating earthworms out of contaminated soil (or possibly encountering an atomic Jake "The Snake" Roberts).