Superfund Sites: Understanding Their Role and Importance

When corporations contaminate our planet, justice is right around the corner ready to make change. Over the last several decades, the United States has passed a number of environmental regulations, including the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) designed to protect and rehabilitate lands impacted by industrial waste, hazardous chemicals, and any harmful contamination to the environment.

When were Superfund Sites Created?

In the late 1970s, public concern was on the rise after a number of environmental disasters. Among these environmental emergencies was the Love Canal tragedy that occurred in 1978.

The Love Canal was located in an area in Niagara Falls once planned to be a beautiful community. Unfortunately, the nearby Hooker Chemical Company had used the unfinished canal as a dumping ground for a plethora of toxic chemicals that later leaked into the groundwater and spread to the surrounding area. Following the discovery of this contamination, the state of New York began reporting a number of birth defects, miscarriages, and various types of cancers that led President Carter to declare a public health emergency.

In 1980, the United States Congress passed CERCLA, which both established the Superfund program and laid the foundation for regulated environmental cleanup that continues to play a crucial role in protecting and rehabilitating our environment today.

What are Superfund Sites?

Superfund sites are areas in the United States that have been deemed to be so contaminated with waste and hazardous material that they pose a risk to human health or the environment.

This includes a wide range of sites including manufacturing facilities, processing plants, landfills, and other areas where hazardous waste may have been unlawfully dumped.

Contaminants at these sites vary amongst a wide variety of harmful substances. These can include heavy metals such as lead and mercury, persistent organic pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which have been shown to cause adverse health effects, radioactive waste, and a multitude of other hazardous materials depending on the events that led each location to become contaminated.

What is the Purpose of Superfund Sites?

The primary objective of the Superfund program is to identify, manage, and clean up areas in the United States that have been contaminated by hazardous substances. The program aims to safeguard public health, protect and restore the environment, and ensure that those responsible are held accountable for the cost of cleanup.

Once the cleanup process is complete, many Superfund sites are transformed into areas allocated for the betterment of the community and the planet. This includes community parks, wildlife habitats, commercial developments, and renewable energy projects. It’s locations like these that showcase the importance of protecting and respecting the world around us for a better, cleaner tomorrow.

Management of Superfund Sites

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is primarily responsible for the management and oversight of Superfund sites. This duty was bestowed upon the EPA when the Superfund program, outlined in CERCLA, was established by Congress in 1980.

The EPA’s role in the Superfund program is multi-faceted. It involves identifying potential Superfund sites, testing these sites for hazardous substances, determining the level of cleanup required, executing the remediation process, and monitoring the sites after the completion of the cleanup activities. All these steps are geared towards one goal: restoring these areas to a condition where they no longer pose a threat to human health or the environment.

Additionally, the EPA is also tasked with the crucial role of identifying and pursuing Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs). These are entities or individuals who may have contributed to the contamination at a Superfund site. The EPA seeks to hold these parties accountable for the cleanup costs, aligning with the “polluter pays” principle that underpins the Superfund program.

Funding of Superfund Sites

The Superfund program is funded through several mechanisms, including appropriations from Congress, cost recovery from the Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs), and the Superfund Trust Fund.

Originally, the Superfund Trust Fund was funded by taxes on crude oil and certain chemicals, as well as an environmental tax on corporations, but these taxes expired in 1995. Since then, the fund has mostly been funded through appropriations from general revenues and cost recoveries from PRPs. The Trust Fund is used to finance cleanup activities when PRPs cannot be identified or are unable or unwilling to perform the cleanup.

Additionally, the Superfund program operates under the principle of “the polluter pays.” This means that the parties responsible for the contamination are held financially accountable for any cleanup. The EPA identifies PRPs (which may include individuals, businesses, or other entities) and seeks to recover the costs of cleanup from them, sometimes through legal action.

What To Do If You Live Near A Superfund Site

In areas surrounding these sites, residents should be aware of the types of chemicals polluting their land and the potential health effects those chemicals may have. For those who have experienced abnormal medical conditions while living near Superfund sites, a lawsuit may be filed against the corporations responsible for the contamination. OnderLaw is dedicated to helping citizens hold reckless corporations accountable for the waste they carelessly spread at the expense of the consumer and the land of which they reside.