Following widely-publicized discovery of extensive toxic waste dumps such as Love Canal in the 1970s, Congress created the Superfund by enacting the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). The name Superfund refers both to the program itself and to the fund established to pay for cleaning up hazardous waste sites.
This legislation enabled the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to identify what is a Superfund site, establish plans for cleanup and force responsible parties to pay for or reimburse costs of the work.
What is a Superfund site? The EPA uses a sometimes-lengthy process to determine whether a particular hazardous waste site fits Superfund criteria. The steps are:
Potential Superfund sites can be identified through:
CERCLA regulations allow the EPA go beyond determining what is a Superfund site, by:
The EPA makes every effort to discover potential responsible parties (PRP) for each Superfund site, to make them pay for cleanup work. But sometimes they cannot find the PRP, the PRP isn’t a viable source of funds or other assistance or the PRP refuses cooperate. In those cases, the EPA or state or tribal government will pay to remove the hazardous waste, but the EPA can use legal means to try to recover the costs from the PRP.
Photo Credit: Massachusetts Dept. of Environment Protection