What is a “Superfund” Site?

“Superfund” is a common term for the “Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act” (the "Act"), which was a law enacted by Congress on December 11, 1980, and is enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This legislation provides funding for clean up at the worst hazardous waste Sites in the United States. Because the moneys involved in clean up are large, this federal statute was dubbed “Superfund.”

The purpose of Superfund is to clean up or mitigate hazardous materials that pose an immediate and substantial danger to the public or the environment. This could be a chemical “spill” that requires immediate response or a site that requires long-term clean-up action. The chemicals found at Superfund Sites can vary but some have included familiar contaminants such as arsenic, lead and mercury. Other lesser known contaminants include toluene, pentachlorophenol and vinyl chloride. This Act also holds polluters liable for clean-up expenses as well as forces responsible parties to take clean-up actions.

How does a site get on the Superfund list? Proposed Sites are brought to the EPA’s attention in several ways. It could come from notification by the owner, complaints by citizens, identification by a state or local jurisdiction, or by special EPA investigations. A site is then placed on the Superfund, or “National Priorities List” (NPL) once the EPA determines that it represents a long-term threat to public health or the environment. The EPA makes this determination by evaluating such things as the likelihood that a site has released or has the potential to release hazardous substances into the environment, the characteristics of the waste (e.g. toxicity and waste quantity), and the number of people affected by the release. The government believes that “Superfund” funding is warranted if the site poses a significant and immediate health concern. Even if federal funding is not provided, the site may require action under other statutes.

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