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A Citizen's Guide to the Superfund Program

Table of Contents

  1. What is Superfund?
  2. How are Superfund Sites Discovered?
  3. What happens when there is a chemical emergency?
  4. Who is involved in Superfund cleanup?
  5. Technical Assistance Program
  6. How do sites get on the National Priorities List?
  7. What happens during a long term cleanup?
  8. Who pays for Superfund cleanup?
  9. Conclusion
  10. More Site Assessment Information


Years ago, people did not understand how certain wastes might affect people's health and the environment. Many wastes were dumped on the ground, in rivers or left out in the open. As a result, thousands of uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites were created. Some common hazardous waste sites include abandoned warehouses, manufacturing facilities, processing plants and landfills.

In response to growing concern over health and environmental risks posed by hazardous waste sites, Congress established The Superfund Program in 1980 to clean up these sites. The Superfund Program is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in cooperation with individual states and tribal governments. Superfund locates, investigates and cleans up hazardous waste sites throughout the United States.

The Superfund Trust Fund was set up to pay for the cleanup of these sites. The money comes mainly from taxes on the chemical and petroleum industries. The Trust Fund is used primarily when those companies or people responsible for contamination at Superfund sites cannot be found, or cannot perform or pay for the cleanup work.

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Hazardous Waste Sites are discovered by local and state agencies, businesses, the U.S. EPA, the U.S. Coast Guard, and by people like you. You can report potential hazardous wastes sites to the National Response Center Hotline or to your state and local authorities. To report a hazardous waste site, problem, or emergency, you should call the hotline at 1-800-424-8802. This hotline is operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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A number of the sites reported to the National Response Center are emergencies and require immediate action. Emergency actions eliminate immediate risks to ensure your safety. Superfund's number one priority is to protect the people in communities near sites and their environment.

Superfund personnel are on call to respond at a moment's notice to chemical emergencies, accidents, or releases. Typical chemical emergencies may include train derailments, truck accidents, and incidents at chemical plants where there is a chemical release or threat of a release to the environment. Superfund may respond, or may help state and local authorities to deal with these emergencies quickly. The hazardous materials are hauled away from the site for treatment or proper disposal, or they are treated at the site to make them safe. The risk to the community is removed.

In an emergency situation, you and your community will be kept informed of the situation and what steps are being taken to ensure your safety. EPA then evaluates the site and determines whether additional cleanup is necessary.

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Superfund cleanups are very complex and require the efforts of many experts in science, engineering, public health, management, law, community relations, and numerous other fields. The goal of the process is to protect you and the environment you live in from the effects of hazardous substances.

Your involvement is very important. You have the opportunity and the right to be involved in and to comment on the work being done.

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Technical Assistance (TAG) Program

EPA values your input and wants to help you understand the technical information relating to the cleanup of Superfund sites in your community so that you can make informed decisions.

Under the Superfund law, EPA can award Technical Assistance Grants (TAGs) of up to $50,000 per site. TAGs allow communities to hire an independent expert to help them interpret technical data, understand site hazards, and become more knowledgeable about the different technologies that are being used to cleanup sites.

Your community group may be eligible for a TAG, if you are affected by a Superfund site that is listed or proposed for listing on the National Priorities List. More information about TAGs is available from the Region III office. You should contact the Customer Service Office at 1-800-438-2474.

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To evaluate the dangers posed by hazardous waste sites, EPA has developed a scoring system called the Hazard Ranking System (HRS). EPA uses the information collected during the assessment phase of the process to score sites according to the danger they may pose to public health and the environment. Sites that score high enough on the HRS are eligible for the NPL. Once a site is scored and meets the criteria, EPA proposes that it be put on the List. A site may also be proposed for the NPL, if the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry issues a health advisory for the site or if the site is chosen as the stat's top priority site. The proposal is published in the Federal Register and the public has an opportunity to comment in writing on whether the site should be included on the NPL. To obtain more information on a proposed site, contact your Community Relations Coordinator.

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Long-term cleanups are extensive. Built into this process are several phases that lead to the ultimate goal of cleaning up the site and providing a safe environment for the citizens living near the site. Throughout the process, there is opportunity for citizen involvement.

First, a detailed study of the site is done to identify the cause and extent of contamination at the site, the possible threats to the environment and the people nearby, and options for cleaning up the site.

EPA uses this information to develop and present a Proposed Plan for Long-Term Cleanup to citizens and to local and state officials for comment. The Proposed Plan describes the various cleanup options under consideration and identifies the option EPA prefers. The community has at least 30 days to comment on the Proposed Plan. EPA invites community members to a public meeting to express their views and discuss the Plan with EPA (and sometimes state) officials.

Once the public's concerns are addressed, EPA publishes a Record of Decision, which describes how the Agency plans to clean up the site. A notice is also placed in the local newspaper to inform the community of the cleanup decision.

Next, the cleanup method is designed to address the unique conditions at the site where it will be used. This is called the Remedial Design. The design and actual cleanup is conducted by EPA, the State, or by the parties responsible for the contamination at the site. EPA closely oversees this design phase and the development of the cleanup at the site. When the design is completed, EPA prepares and distributes a fact sheet to the community describing the design and the action that will take place at the site.

EPA can put in place equipment and manpower necessary to clean up a site, but it may take a long time to return a site to the way it was before it was contaminated. Some sites, due to the extent of contamination, will never return to the way they were prior to the pollution; however, EPA will make sure that the site will be safe for the people living around the site now and in the future. EPA regularly monitors every NPL site to make sure it remains safe. If there is any indication that a problem has arisen, immediate action will be taken to make the site safe again.

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Superfund Cleanup is either paid for by the parties responsible for contamination or by the Superfund Trust Fund. Under the Superfund law, EPA is able to make those companies and individuals responsible for contamination at a Superfund site perform, and pay for, the cleanup work at the site. EPA negotiates with the responsible parties to get them to pay for the plans and the work that has to be done to clean up the site. If an agreement cannot be reached, EPA issues orders to responsible parties to make them clean up the site under EPA supervision. EPA may also use Superfund Trust Fund money to pay for cleanup costs, then attempt to get the money back through legal action.

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EPA's Superfund Program is the most aggressive hazardous waste cleanup program in the world. Everyday, Superfund managers are involved in critical decisions that affect public health and the environment. They use the best available science to determine risks at sites. New and innovative technologies are being developed to help achieve faster and less expensive ways to cleanup sites. And, where possible, old hazardous waste sites are being restored to productive use. Millions of people have been protected by Superfund cleanup actions.

The Superfund Program has one ultimate goal: to protect the YOUR health and YOUR environment.

The EPA Community Relations staff is available to answer any questions you may have regarding a Superfund site or an area you think may be a site. The address of the Region III office is:

1650 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103-2029
(800) 533-2509

A list of the Superfund Community Relations Coordinators is provided under "National Priority List Sites" from the Superfund menu page.

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