A Superfund site is any land in the United States that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment. EPA's Superfund program either funds the cleanup of the site, works with the state to clean up the site, or oversees cleanup by those responsible for the contamination.
Superfund sites can include properties on the National Priorities List as well as emergency response sites that are potentially contaminated from the unexpected release of hazardous substances or oil. Some Superfund sites are old waste disposal facilities, while others are comprised of various types of industrial production facilities where unauthorized dumping and inadvertent spills occurred.
- Superfund Program Background
- Redevelopment of Superfund Sites
- Legal Issues at Superfund Sites
- Superfund Tools & Resources
- Superfund Redevelopment Partnerships
- Superfund Program Activities and Initiatives
- Superfund Sites in Region 4
- Superfund Redevelopment Contacts
Years ago, people were less aware of how dumping chemical wastes might affect public health and the environment. On thousands of properties where such practices were intensive or continuous, the result was uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites, such as abandoned warehouses and landfills. Citizen concern over the extent of this problem led Congress to establish the Superfund Program in 1980 to locate, investigate, and clean up the worst sites nationwide.
The Superfund Program was created by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA). The acts established authority for the government to respond to the release/threat of release of hazardous wastes, including cleanup and enforcement actions.
Since 1980, the Superfund program has been cleaning up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites across the nation. Long term cleanups at National Priorities List (NPL) sites last more than a year, while short term /emergency cleanups are usually completed in less than a year. More Superfund Information.
While EPA's primary mission is to protect human health and the environment, Superfund cleanups have also been instrumental in returning contaminated sites to productive use. Region 4 has a Superfund Redevelopment Program whose goal is to help local communities and other interested stakeholders (developers, state and local governments) return some of the nation's worst hazardous waste sites to safe and productive uses.While cleaning up these Superfund sites and making them protective of human health and the environment, EPA and Region 4 are working with communities and other partners to consider future use opportunities and integrate appropriate reuse options into the cleanup process. This is helping local communities realize that the productive reuse of their formerly contaminated properties can have significant positive economic, environmental, and social impacts. The Superfund Redevelopment Initiative has developed frequently asked questions (FAQs) that may provide useful information about redeveloping Superfund sites.
Legal issues are important when buying or reusing Superfund sites. The Brownfield Amendments to the Superfund law provide important protections from Superfund liability to landowners who meet certain statutory criteria. Landowners who qualify as bona fide prospective purchasers, contiguous property owners, or innocent landowners are not liable under Superfund. Whether you are interested in purchasing, leasing, or selling a Superfund site, there are important factors to consider. It is always important to make sure that your use of the site does not interfere with the ongoing cleanup or engineered controls at the site, and that you do not cause a release of hazardous substances into the environment; otherwise you could become responsible for those actions.
Superfund imposes liability on parties responsible for, in whole or in part, the presence of hazardous substances at a site. A number of environmental laws govern the cleanup and reuse of Superfund sites:
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)
- Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA)
- Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act (Brownfields Law) - By establishing that landowners who qualify as bona fide prospective purchasers, contiguous property owners, or innocent landowners are not liable under Superfund, this amendment to CERCLA has the effect of facilitating reuse and revitalization of Superfund properties.
- The All Appropriate Inquiries Rule - establishes specific regulatory requirements for conducting all appropriate inquiries into the previous ownership, uses, and environmental conditions of a property for the purposes of qualifying for certain landowner liability protections under CERCLA. All appropriate inquiries must be conducted in compliance with the final rule in order to obtain protection from potential liability under CERCLA as an innocent landowner, a contiguous property owner, or a bona fide prospective purchaser.
- Windfall Liens - A windfall lien is authorized by Section 107(r) of the Superfund law. A windfall lien can be perfected on a Superfund site for the increase in the fair market value of that property attributable to EPA's cleanup efforts. A windfall lien can only arise on sites where the United States spends money cleaning up the property and is not reimbursed by a responsible party. The purpose of the windfall lien is to prevent a developer from profiting unfairly from a taxpayer-funded cleanup. The windfall lien is limited to the lesser of EPA's unrecovered response costs or the increase in fair market value attributable to EPA's cleanup. Windfall liens may be present at some Superfund sites, but not necessarily at all of them.
Additional information on Superfund liability is available on EPA's Cleanup Enforcement web page.
EPA and Region 4 have developed many tools and resources that can help implement redevelopment activities at contaminated sites and properties. The links below provide Superfund-specific tools, resources, and information from a number of sources.
- Informational Tools
- Commonly Used Tools
- Policy on the Issuance of Comfort/Status Letters (18 pp, 61 K, about PDF)
- Ready for Reuse Determination Guidance
- General Information
- Policy and Guidance - This link takes you to the Superfund Redevelopment Initiative's listing of policies and guidance documents that address the special liability and technical issues associated with reusing Superfund sites. The Land Revitalization Initiative also offers Superfund Redevelopment policy and guidance.
- Program Information - The Superfund Redevelopment Initiative has developed a number of reports to help stakeholders plan for Superfund site reuse.
- A list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) also provides useful information about redevelopment of Superfund sites.
- Technical Tools
- Commonly Used Tools
Superfund - The Superfund Redevelopment Initiative's Web page provides a listing of tools and resources that can help you implement reuse projects and programs. Some of these include:
- Superfund Redevelopment Frequently Asked Questions
- Return to Use Frequently Asked Questions
- How Can EPA Help Communities?
- Recreational Reuse Reports
- Reuse Assessment Reports
- Commercial Reuse Reports
- General Information
The national Land Revitalization Initiative has also compiled a list of Superfund Redevelopment tools and technical information.
EPA has formed partnerships with states, tribes, other federal agencies, local governments, communities, landowners, lenders, developers, and parties potentially responsible for contamination to help make Superfund sites ready for reuse. More information on Superfund Redevelopment Partnerships.
Through its Return to Use (RTU) Initiative, EPA’s Superfund Redevelopment program works with stakeholders at Superfund sites across the country that have been cleaned up yet remain vacant due to real or perceived barriers to their reuse. The Superfund Redevelopment Initiative web site provides more information about the Return to Use Initiative, including a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) that offers general information about redeveloping Superfund sites.
Region 4 maintains a catalogue of Superfund sites where pollution is being or has been cleaned up throughout the Region. Sites are organized by state, and allow you to find site summaries, site profiles, contacts, and fact sheets.
- For Superfund sites on the National Priorities List (NPL), click here.
- For Superfund sites that are emergency response and removal sites, click here.
An appropriate Region 4 contact for reusing a Superfund site can be found on the Revitalization Contacts page.