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Superfund's 30th Anniversary: 30 Years of Protecting Communities and the Environment

Photo of 68th Street Dump

Too familiar. The 68th Street Dump is typical of the condition EPA finds at many Superfund sites.

Waste drums

Waste drums. Over ten thousand drums were found at this site and await proper disposal.

Superfund site in upstate New York

Close to home. Robert Toedter set out to photograph all the Superfund sites in upstate New York. This photo shows just how close some sites are to where people live.

An abandoned copper smelter poses dangers to organisms that form the basis of the food chain at this lake.

Scenic, but hazardous. An abandoned copper smelter poses dangers to organisms that form the basis of the food chain at this lake.

A lone worker samples the pond for contaminants coming from the refinery in the background.

Hidden dangers. A lone worker samples the pond for contaminants coming from the refinery in the background.

Workers in protective gear sample the contents of drums

Looking for trouble. Sampling the contents of drums is dangerous and made all the more difficult by the bulky, protective gear workers wear.

Fish with a tumor

Fishing for trouble. Toxins affect the environment, too - like this fish with a tumor.

The cleanup of this former woolen mill symbolized the end of an industrial era for this New England town.

Timber! The cleanup of this former woolen mill symbolized the end of an industrial era for this New England town.

Workers are decontaminated

Safety first. Workers are decontaminated while drums are carefully moved at this site.

Keep on trucking. Constructing a safe space for storing hazardous waste requires many types of trucks and earth movers.

Remains of uranium mining

Midnite Mine. An otherwise scenic view is scarred by the remains of uranium mining.

Acid mine drainage I

Acid mine drainage I. A basin collects bluish acid mine runoff to prevent contamination into local streams.

Acid mine drainage II

Acid mine drainage II. The water treatment plant constructed at this site has treated over 1.3 billion gallons of acid mine drainage.

This man voices his opinion about an incinerator at Times Beach, Missouri, in 1996

At times controversial. Many communities have protested Superfund cleanup decisions. This man voices his opinion about an incinerator at Times Beach, Missouri, in 1996.

Superfund workers collect hazardous materials left in the wake of Hurricane Ivan

After the storm. Hard work and determination show as Superfund workers collect hazardous materials left in the wake of Hurricane Ivan.

These workers clean a residential vacuum contaminated with mercury.

Residential cleanups. Superfund responds to mercury spills in homes and schools. These workers clean a residential vacuum contaminated with mercury.

This train wreck near San Antonio, Texas, spilled 60 tons of poisonous chlorine liquid from the tank cars.

Toxic spills. This train wreck near San Antonio, Texas, spilled 60 tons of poisonous chlorine liquid from the tank cars.

Extinguishing this tire fire took three days while toxic smoke loomed overhead.

Dangerous work. Extinguishing this tire fire took three days while toxic smoke loomed overhead.

When the owners of this small refinery walked away, creating an emergency situation in the community, Superfund was called to remove the wastes that were left behind.

Before. When the owners of this small refinery walked away, creating an emergency situation in the community, Superfund was called to remove the wastes that were left behind.

After. Now that the cleanup of the abandoned refinery is complete, the community will soon begin construction of a Native American Cultural Center.

After. Now that the cleanup of the abandoned refinery is complete, the community will soon begin construction of a Native American Cultural Center.

A new beginning. Superfund cleaned up a former tannery, providing space for a future soccer field and community wastewater treatment plant.

A new beginning. Superfund cleaned up a former tannery, providing space for a future soccer field and community wastewater treatment plant.

Photo History Project

History
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.

Progress
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.

Looking Forward
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.

 

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