Superfund's 30th Anniversary: 30 Years of Protecting Communities and the Environment
It′s easy to forget that there was a time in the United States when EPA lacked the legal authority to clean up hazardous waste sites like Love Canal, New York, or to respond to emergencies such as train derailments involving dangerous chemicals. Even though the EPA had been established for ten years, it was not until December 11, 1980, that President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund). This historic new statute gave EPA the authority to clean up uncontrolled hazardous waste sites and spills.(To view an interactive 30-year timeline of the Superfund program, click here.)
Scope of Activities
The Superfund law authorizes the Agency and its partners to address abandoned, accidentally spilled, and illegally dumped hazardous wastes that pose current or future threats to human health or the environment. Through the years EPA has used its Superfund authority to address national crises like the Columbia space shuttle disaster, and hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and most recently, the British Petroleum oil spill response.
Equally important, however, are the sites where EPA has used its long-term cleanup authority to remediate sites where the hazardous waste release did not occur through a sudden tragedy like the Columbia shuttle disaster or through natural causes like hurricanes, but, rather, through years of poor and sometimes illegal waste management practices. Some of these sites can involve hundreds of chemicals with tons of contaminated waste spanning hundreds of acres; often the contamination affects groundwater in addition to soil. Sometimes housing developments are in close proximity if not on the site itself. These can be highly complex sites, requiring years of cleanup activities. Nonetheless, EPA works with its partners to address these sites so that they can be returned to communities for productive use.
For the past 30 years, the Superfund program has been making substantial progress protecting thousands of communities by cleaning up the Nation′s most serious hazardous waste sites and by responding to thousands of oil and chemical spills. EPA has completed construction of cleanup remedies at 67.5 percent of final and deleted sites on the National Priorities List. The Agency has readied nearly 1.3 million acres of land for return to productive use, and more than 455,800 acres are ready for anticipated use. With passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the Superfund program has applied $600 million in ARRA funds to accelerate cleanups at 31 ongoing construction projects and to start new construction projects at 26 sites.
EPA is proud of our progress, but as the program enters its fourth decade, we believe we have the opportunity to improve Superfund′s efficiency and management, as well as that of EPA′s other cleanup programs. To that end, EPA has begun implementation of an initiative to better use the Agency′s land cleanup authorities to accelerate cleanups where possible, address a greater number of contaminated sites, and put these sites back into productive use while protecting human health and the environment. Through the Integrated Cleanup Initiative, EPA is bringing all of its resources to bear to clean up contaminated sites.