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How to obtain Superfund records

Region 5 Superfund
Records Center

Room 711
77 West Jackson Boulevard
Chicago, IL 60604
Monday - Friday 8am-4pm Central

The Region 5 Records Center is a centralized facility for the secure storage, maintenance, retrieval, and circulation of Superfund documents. Records are stored at this facility to provide consistency in the way Agency records are managed, greater efficiency in the filing and retrieving of documents, increased security for Confidential Business Information (CBI) and improved utilization of space. Public dockets, as listed in the Federal Register, and Administrative Records (ARs) are available to the public upon request. Non-public documents are requested through the FOIA process and may result in a file review. Many documents are now available through the Superfund Division Reading Room, not only in paper, but also electronically through the Superfund Document Management System (SDMS).

Superfund Document Management System (SDMS)

SDMS stores images in an Oracle database, offering EPA employees access to Superfund documents on their desk top, as well as the ability to redact, annotate, and create collections. One of the best features of the system is the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) capability.

Superfund Division Reading Room

The Reading Room lets the public access releasable documents and public dockets generated by the Superfund program. The Reading Room was established to comply with the Electronic Freedom of Information Act (E-FOIA) Amendments of 1996. It is designated as a public viewing area, equipped with a computer workstation. The Reading Room maintains both paper and electronic records. Electronic records are available through SDMS and may be transferred to a CD-ROM.

Confidential Business Information (CBI)

The Superfund Records Center houses CBI for several Region 5 Divisions. Information is protected by several exemptions under FOIA. This exemption from the FOIA law protects two types of information from public disclosure: trade secrets and confidential business information. A trade secret is a commercially valuable plan, formula, process, or device. This is a narrow category of information. An example of a trade secret would be the secret recipe for a commercial food product, such as Coca-Cola.

The second type of protected data is commercial or financial information obtained from a person (privileged or confidential). The courts have held that data qualifies for withholding if disclosure by the government would be likely to harm the competitive position of the person who submitted the information. Detailed information on a company's marketing plans, profits, or costs can qualify as confidential business information. Information may also be withheld if disclosure would be likely to impair the government's ability to obtain similar information in the future.

Only information obtained from a person other than a government agency qualifies under the fourth exemption. A person is an individual, a partnership, or a corporation. Information that an agency created on its own cannot normally be withheld under exemption four.

Although there is no formal requirement under the FOIA, many agencies will notify a submitter of business information that disclosure of the information is being considered. The submitter then has an opportunity to convince the agency that the information qualifies for withholding. A submitter can also file suit to block disclosure under the FOIA. Such lawsuits are generally referred to as "reverse" FOIA lawsuits because the FOIA is being used in an attempt to prevent rather than to require the disclosure of information. A reverse FOIA lawsuit may be filed when the submitter of documents and the government disagree on whether the information is exempt.

EPA is required to protect CBI obtained under the Superfund Program from public disclosure. EPA employees are prohibited from knowingly or willfully causing or allowing the unauthorized release or disclosure of such information. EPA is permitted to authorize Federal employees’ access to Superfund CBI when access is necessary to perform work in connection with the employees’ official duties. EPA has issued regulations which outline confidentiality provisions.

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