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Frequent Questions about Superfund Redevelopment

Below are a wide variety of common Superfund Redevelopment, Return to Use Initiative, and performance measure questions.

Common Superfund Redevelopment Questions
Return to Use Frequent Questions

Common Superfund Redevelopment Questions

  1. What is a "Superfund site"?
  2. What do you mean by "reuse"?
  3. How is Superfund Redevelopment different from the Brownfields program?
  4. Is a Superfund site safe for reuse?
  5. Are there some Superfund sites that may not be reused?
  6. Will the goal of reuse lead to the selection of less-protective cleanups in order to facilitate reuse?
  7. Will plans for reusing a site result in longer cleanups?
  8. Will the Redevelopment Program allow polluters to profit from the sites they have polluted?
  9. Liability is often a concern at Superfund sites. How does EPA address the liability of those who are interested in reusing a site?
  10. How does the reuse of Superfund sites help communities?
  11. What will EPA do to help communities reuse Superfund sites?
  12. There are many stakeholders at Superfund sites, including other federal agencies, states, tribes, and natural resource trustees. How will these other stakeholders be involved in the Program?
  13. What reuse activities can EPA fund using Superfund money?
  14. If a site is valuable, wouldn't use occur without EPA?
  1. What is a "Superfund site"?
    Superfund is the primary federal government program to clean up the nation's uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. 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 or the environment or both. Under the Superfund program, abandoned, accidentally spilled, or illegally dumped hazardous wastes that pose a current or future threat to human health or the environment are cleaned up. To accomplish its mission, EPA works closely with communities, potentially responsible parties (PRPs), scientists, researchers, contractors, and state, local, tribal, and other federal authorities. Together with these groups, EPA identifies hazardous waste sites, tests the conditions of the sites, formulates cleanup plans, and cleans up the sites. The National Priorities List is a list of the worst hazardous waste sites that have been identified by Superfund. Sites are only put on the list after they have been scored using the Hazard Ranking System (HRS), and have been subjected to public comment. Any site on the NPL is eligible for cleanup using Superfund trust money.
  2. What do you mean by "reuse"?
    Most contaminated Superfund sites were once productive. "Reuse" means productive use of a site after cleanup. These uses can be industrial or commercial, such as factories and shopping malls; they can be used for housing, public works facilities, transportation, and other community infrastructure; they can be for recreational facilities, such as golf courses, parks and ball fields; or for ecological resources, such as wildlife preserves and wetlands. However a site is used, the community benefits, because the property is again adding economic, social, or ecological value.

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  3. How is Superfund Redevelopment different from the Brownfields program?
    Both efforts seek productive uses for environmentally impaired properties. But they address different kinds of sites and use different methods to accomplish their objectives. Superfund Redevelopment mostly focuses on sites on the NPL, the nation's worst hazardous waste sites. The sites vary widely in size and location, and in the type and severity of contamination. Under Superfund, EPA is actively engaged in the cleanup of these sites and can apply a variety of technical and financial resources related to the use of the properties during cleanup. Brownfields sites are generally abandoned or underutilized industrial or commercial facilities, and are often made up of small parcels with multiple owners. Generally, other than funding the Brownfields program, EPA is not involved in the cleanup of these properties.

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  4. Is a Superfund site safe for reuse?
    Yes. When a hazardous waste site is cleaned up under the Superfund program, the Agency must ensure the protection of human health and the environment. In doing so, EPA ensures that the contamination at a site is either completely removed, cleaned up to safe levels, or that protective measures are in place that reduce the possibility of exposure to the contamination. The Agency does not compromise the protection of human health and the environment when considering use at a site. If all contamination at a site is eliminated, then human health and the environment are fully protected and the site is available for unrestricted use. At sites where protective measures are in place for waste that remains after the cleanup, EPA evaluates whether such measures will continue to provide protection, given the use planned for the site, and whether that use might impair the protective measures. In addition, EPA places special requirements on those who use a Superfund site where contamination remains on site, to ensure that their activities do not affect the protectiveness of the cleanup. EPA does not lower its standards of protection for a site that will be reused, nor does it allow use to reduce the effectiveness of the cleanup measures taken at the site.

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  5. Are there some Superfund sites that may not be reused?
    Possibly. EPA believes that almost all Superfund sites have the potential for some form of reuse, and it supports the use of all sites where there is potential. But some sites, or portions of sites, may never be used because the controls established to ensure that the remedy remains protective are so strict they prevent reuse. It is also possible that some sites may never be reused because of factors other than the remedy, such as the location of the site or market forces.

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  6. Will the goal of reuse lead to the selection of less-protective cleanups in order to facilitate the use?
    No. EPA's primary mission under the Superfund program is to protect human health and the environment. The recycling of Superfund sites is secondary. There is nothing in the Redevelopment Program that will result in the selection of cleanups that are less protective than required. In fact, EPA has evidence that the reuse of a site may actually provide a greater level of protection. For example, at sites where a building is constructed over contamination that has been placed under a protective cover, a still thicker cover is typically required to support the weight of the building. The thicker cover, in addition to the foundation of the building, may provide more protection than originally called for in the cleanup plan. Where use is considered for a site after the cleanup is already underway or is completed, EPA ensures that the cleanup remains safe and that the use in no way harms the protective measures that are in place.

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  7. Will plans for reusing a site result in longer cleanups?
    Usually not. In fact, EPA's experience suggests the opposite. Often, interest from property owners, communities, and local governments eager to reuse a Superfund site will actually lead to the acceleration of the cleanup. When there is an agreement among stakeholders on the cleanup and use of a site, not only is there incentive to move quickly, but there are also fewer obstacles to slow down the cleanup.

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  8. Will the Redevelopment Program allow polluters to profit from the sites they have polluted?
    No. Nothing in the Redevelopment Program relieves parties responsible for pollution of their obligation to clean up sites they have polluted, and to bear the cost. By the same token, the Redevelopment Program will not cause parties responsible for the pollution to lose any rights that they, as property owners, may have.

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  9. Liability is often a concern at Superfund sites. How does EPA address the liability of those who are interested in reusing a site?
    Purchasers or users of Superfund sites only become liable under certain circumstances. If purchasers or users of a site interfere with an existing remedy or cause new releases of contamination at the site, they may be liable for those actions. Prospective purchasers (and their tenants) are exempt from owner or operator liability under CERCLA (Superfund) so long as the purchaser (or tenant) meets the definition of a "bona fide prospective purchaser" under 40 USC 9601(40). Under this provision, a "bona fide prospective purchaser" must: purchase the property after all disposal took place; not impede the performance of a response action or natural resource restoration; make all appropriate inquiry; and exercise appropriate care with respect to any release. Current owners of a Superfund site may be protected by a statutory provision or one of EPA's policies which allow EPA to exercise its enforcement discretion and not require them to undertake or pay for a Superfund cleanup.

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  10. How does the reuse of Superfund sites help communities?
    In some cases, reuse of a site benefits the community by providing a new commercial enterprise or public facility, with associated jobs and income, greater spending at area businesses, increased public revenue, and increased property values at and around the site. In some cases a recycled site can become the catalyst that revitalizes an economically depressed area and helps to preserve a community. Use of a site may give a community greater recreational opportunities, by providing ball fields, playgrounds, historic or cultural centers, or scenic hiking trails. It may result in creation of wetlands, wildlife habitats, or green space. Elimination of an eyesore may stimulate renewed community pride. Returning a site to productive use may make unnecessary new development in areas valued as open space. Finally, use of a site may provide an added measure of assurance that human health and safety will be protected, because the user will not only be responsible for maintaining the protectiveness of the remedy, but will also have a vested interest in doing so.

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  11. What will EPA do to help communities reuse Superfund sites?
    Through Superfund Redevelopment, EPA is helping communities to reuse Superfund sites by providing technical, financial, and other forms of assistance. For example, EPA has established a recycling pilot program that provides financial and technical assistance to local governments. This assistance is designed to meet the specific needs of each local government that participates in the pilot program, regarding projecting future land use and performing cleanups consistent with the anticipated use. EPA has a technical assistance grant (TAG) program that in some cases may fund activities that can contribute to reuse efforts. For example, communities may apply to the Agency for a TAG to hire technical experts to help them better determine the use options. EPA is also exploring other opportunities to help communities reuse Superfund sites.

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  12. There are many stakeholders at Superfund sites, including other federal agencies, states, tribes, and natural resource trustees. How will these other stakeholders be involved in the Program?
    Many of these stakeholders play a role in supporting reuse of sites. EPA will coordinate with other federal departments and agencies that have programs and resources that could be used to support use and the communities where sites are located. For example, the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Treasury, Commerce, and Interior may provide grants, loan guarantees, and tax incentives to encourage the development of formerly contaminated properties and their surrounding areas. The Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers may provide technical assistance at a Superfund site during the design of a cleanup that supports ecological use. States are key partners in Superfund site cleanups and will be important contributors in site specification efforts. State agencies also provide grants and loans that may foster use of sites. On properties over which Indian tribes have jurisdiction, EPA will coordinate with the tribes to ensure that cleanups are consistent with reasonably anticipated future land use. In some cases, a Superfund site may adversely affect natural resources belonging to, managed by, or held in trust by federal, state, and tribal governments. Under the Program, EPA will cooperate with the federal agencies that are natural resource trustees to restore the damaged resources, and will explore options for returning other portions of the site to ecological use. Partnerships with these other Superfund stakeholders are critical to realizing the goal of returning sites to productive use.

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  13. What reuse activities can EPA fund using Superfund money?
    Under the Superfund program, EPA can fund activities that facilitate reuse, as long as those activities are designed to project the future land use. Anticipating the probable future use of a Superfund site after it has been cleaned up is of key importance in selecting and designing a remedy that will be consistent with that use. Activities that are appropriate for funding under Superfund include the following:
    • Community needs assessments that identify major issues, needs and desires of the local officials and the community related to the anticipated future use;
    • Analyses that identify area market conditions and trends to provide a realistic understanding of the uses and activities that could occur on-site;
    • Physical site evaluation to determine assets and constraints of the site and available infrastructure (e.g., transportation, utilities);
    • Stakeholder and community outreach on reuse options; and
    • Preparation of reports documenting the results of the analyses and describing anticipated future uses, and coordination of the reuse planning activities with the Superfund response process.

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  14. If a site is valuable, wouldn't use occur without EPA?
    In some cases, yes. Some sites are desireable because of their location or other economic factors. But in many instances, use is not inevitable. Developers often look elsewhere before even considering a Superfund site. Those responsible for the contamination may not be able, or may not wish, to use the site they have contaminated. Developers may not readily step forward to support recreational or ecological projects that communities identify. Regardless of a site's value, EPA's involvement can help local governments and communities realize it's potential for use. EPA can communicate a site's availability for use, address liability or other legal and technical concerns, and factor use into the cleanup design. Even at sites where the use seems inevitable, future owners or developers must coordinate their use activities with EPA to ensure that the cleanup remains intact and protective.

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Return to Use Frequent Questions

  1. What is the Return to Use initiative?
  2. What are the main components of the Initiative?
  3. Which Superfund sites will be included in the Initiative?
  4. How can EPA inform the public about which specific reuses of a Superfund site are appropriate?
  5. What are the benefits of this Initiative to communities?
  6. How can communities contribute to the reuse process?
  7. What is the role of states?
  8. Who are the local stakeholders and what is their role in making the Initiative work?
  9. Won't taking down fences around sites endanger the public?
  10. If the fences aren't necessary, why were they put up in the first place?
  11. With lots of sites still needing cleanup, why is EPA using resources revisiting sites already cleaned up?
  12. What is EPA's authority to consider reuse as part of the remedial process?
  13. Where is the money for removing barriers coming from? Is EPA asking PRPs to pay more at sites where they had already met their commitment?
  14. Is EPA reopening decision documents, such as Records of Decision (RODs) and consent decrees, in carrying out this Initiative?
  15. How were the demonstration projects selected and how do they meet the goal of the Initiative?
  16. Where can I get more information about this Initiative and the reuse of Superfund sites?
  1. What is the Return to Use initiative?
    The Return to Use initiative (RTU, or "the Initiative") is the latest phase for Superfund Redevelopment. It shares Superfund Redevelopment's mission to support community efforts to reuse Superfund sites. It does this by removing barriers that are not needed to protect human health, the environment, or the remedy. These barriers may be overly restrictive fences or other requirements that are no longer needed, but they can take many other forms as well. The Initiative focuses on sites that were cleaned up early in the life of the Superfund program, before EPA's current emphasis on considering the anticipated future use of the land while cleanups are in progress. At many of these sites, the construction is complete and the property is considered to be ready for reuse. Yet the sites remain vacant, in some cases due to unnecessary barriers. Such barriers can often be removed or modified with the cooperation of property owners and federal, state, and local partners. These sites may then be reclaimed for valuable green space, recreational amenities, or commercial facilities without danger to human health, the environment, or the integrity of the remedy.
  2. What are the main components of the Initiative?
    The Initiative has four main components: demonstration projects, partnerships, policy, and communications. EPA is establishing a number of demonstration projects, sites where EPA is working with communities to remove barriers in order to accommodate reuse. EPA is forming partnerships with local stakeholders, who may be local government officials, local civic or athletic organizations, property owners, or potentially responsible parties (PRPs) to move local Superfund sites back into productive use. EPA is committed to examining remedies at these sites to determine whether there are ways to encourage reuse, for example, by altering fences, issuing Ready for Reuse Determinations, reducing site safety concerns, or implementing appropriate and effective institutional controls. Establishing good communication among stakeholders is a vital part of the Return to Use initiative. Often, barriers to reuse exist merely because the parties involved have incomplete or incorrect information about a Superfund site and the possibilities for its future use. Through the Initiative, EPA will work to remove misconceptions and improve communication with all stakeholders. EPA will use the experience at the demonstration projects to re-evaluate existing policies and determine the need for new ones.

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  3. Which Superfund sites will be included in the Initiative?
    The Initiative primarily affects cleaned-up current and former National Priorities List sites, many of which were completed prior to EPA's recent emphasis on ensuring that cleanups fully consider the reasonably anticipated future uses of sites. Most of these sites are construction-complete or deleted and may still be vacant due to the presence of barriers to reuse that are not necessary for protection of human health or the environment.
  4. How can EPA inform the public about which specific reuses of a Superfund site are appropriate?
    EPA can issue a Ready for Reuse (RfR) Determination to help the marketplace and prospective site users understand site conditions and the uses for which the remedy is protective. RfR Determinations are environmental status reports written in non-technical language which specify uses that are appropriate based on the cleanup, and list conditions that must be met in order for the remedy to remain protective. RfR Determinations are being prepared for many of the demonstration projects in this Initiative.

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  5. What are the benefits of this Initiative to communities?
    Returning sites to beneficial use provides communities with valuable amenities such as green space, recreational facilities, and commercial property. Removing the stigma associated with fenced and vacant Superfund sites may also increase property values and the tax base.
  6. How can communities contribute to the reuse process?
    In many cases, the community must work closely with the property owner to support site reuse. In others, the local government may own or be able to take ownership (e.g., through tax default) of the site. The most important contribution communities make is their commitment to the reuse of the Superfund site. Other contributions will depend on the site's needs and the community's resources. For example, some sites may be ready for use as parks, but need pedestrian gates cut in existing fences; a local government or potential user group may volunteer to put in the gates or cut the grass. Other sites have been proposed for extensions of hiking or biking trails. While EPA may not build the trail, EPA will work with a city contractor or a volunteer group to make sure that the trail they put in does not jeopardize the remedy.

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  7. What is the role of states?
    States have been invited to participate in each of the demonstration projects. They can ensure for themselves that the remedy at the site will remain protective under the intended use. It is anticipated that states with operation and maintenance responsibilities for these sites may benefit as some of those responsibilities, such as grass cutting and fence maintenance, are often taken on by site users.
  8. Who are the local stakeholders and what is their role in making the Initiative work?

    Local stakeholders include site owners, local government officials, athletic organizations, other community groups, property owners, and potentially responsible parties (PRPs). In some cases, EPA has signed letters of intent with these partners to capture the good faith efforts EPA and the local partners will make to further the reuse of the site. Partnerships formed with local stakeholders are cornerstones of the Initiative and are unique to every project.

    At some demonstration projects, EPA has also put local stakeholders in contact with the U.S. Soccer Foundation which offers a variety of services, including:

    • site assessment and professional field-building expertise from Clark Companies or Clough Harbour and Associates. Clark Companies is one of the premier field-building companies in the U.S. and Clough Harbour and Associates is a sports field design, engineering, and landscaping firm;
    • survey work;
    • conceptual drawings; and
    • engineering designs.

    These services support the U.S. Soccer Foundation's national partnership with EPA and their mutual goal to develop suitable cleaned-up hazardous waste sites as safe and productive recreational and ecological parks.

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  9. Won't taking down fences around sites endanger the public?
    At some sites, fences play an important role in protecting human health, the environment, and the remedy. However, there are many instances where they can be safely removed. For example, EPA and others doing site cleanup may have erected a fence while the remedy was being constructed to keep people away from contaminants and heavy machinery. After cleanup, if the fence is not a part of the remedy, it may be removed. In some cases, property owners and new users of sites will want to keep the fences to protect the property and their activities from trespassers. In such cases, adding or modifying gates in fences will allow for appropriate uses, such as soccer fields, but will still protect remedies from activities that might damage them. Fences that surround entire sites may also be altered so that they surround only the portions of the sites needing protection, such as waste containment areas or wells.
  10. If the fences aren't necessary, why were they put up in the first place?
    EPA frequently erects fences to prevent trespassers from entering a site while it is being cleaned up. In some cases, those fences are left in place at the request of local communities, property owners, or potentially responsible parties (PRPs), even when they are not part of the long-term remedy for protecting human health and the environment. In other cases, even though there was no request to retain the fence, it was simply never removed. Where fences were put in place to protect monitoring wells or portions of sites where waste was left in place, EPA may later re-evaluate the site and determine that it is safe to remove them.

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  11. With lots of sites still needing cleanup, why is EPA using resources revisiting sites already cleaned up?

    EPA has a commitment to protect human health and the environment at Superfund sites, now and in the future. Actions taken at sites already cleaned up are often necessary to make sure that the remedy in place is maintaining its long-term protectiveness. Actions that accommodate the return of cleaned-up sites to productive use can often make an important contribution to maintaining the integrity of the remedy, because if a site is in use the presence of the user helps to prevent or discourage prohibited and destructive activities such as midnight dumping, vandalism, or ATV racing that can damage remedial components and undermine cleanup objectives. Returning sites to productive use also can produce benefits for communities, outcomes that EPA welcomes as a matter of good public policy.

    The very small amount of resources EPA will expend on the sites under this Initiative are a necessary part of ensuring the long-term protectiveness of the remedies. Resources for minor changes to remedies, such as new gates in fences, are expected to be provided by the beneficiaries of future site reuse.

  12. What is EPA's authority to consider reuse as part of the remedial process?

    Consideration of reasonably anticipated future land use is an activity that is an important and integral part of the remedial process, not only during remedy selection, but also at many other points in the Superfund decision pipeline, including long-term stewardship. It is a vital consideration because it helps to ensure the long-term integrity and protectiveness of the remedy under future use. In pursuing this long-term goal, EPA is committed to (1) working with stakeholders to take into account the reasonably anticipated future land uses; and (2) selecting, designing, and implementing response actions that accommodate the future uses of Superfund sites without compromising the protection of human health and the environment.

    Considering future land use in the selection and implementation of remedies has its roots in the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP). The NCP preamble specifically discusses use of land use assumptions for the baseline risk assessment, which provides the basis for taking a remedial action at a Superfund site and supports the development of remedial action objectives.
    Since the publication of the NCP, EPA has issued additional guidance aimed at integrating reuse considerations into the remedial process, including the Land Use Directive (1995) and Reuse Assessments: A Tool to Implement the Land Use Directive (2001). These documents reflect EPA's continuing efforts to incorporate reuse considerations into its daily operations based on new experiences and lessons learned.

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  13. Where is the money for removing barriers coming from? Is EPA asking PRPs to pay more at sites where they had already met their commitment?
    EPA is not giving out money and will not require financial contributions by PRPs for the RTU initiative. At a number of demonstration projects PRPs have volunteered to undertake activities that support the Initiative. Local stakeholders and partners on the local and national level will provide both financial and in-kind services to implement changes (e.g., fence removal or gate cutting) that allow for appropriate uses at the site. EPA and the local stakeholders will identify potential partner organizations and resources on a site-by-site basis.
  14. Is EPA reopening decision documents, such as Records of Decision (RODs) and consent decrees, in carrying out this Initiative?
    No. This Initiative focuses on making simple changes to the remedy that do not require major changes to decision documents. For instance, EPA may work with state or local governments to ensure the implementation of institutional controls that are appropriate and effective and do not impede reuse. EPA may also institute a change that can be carried out simply by an Explanation of Significant Differences, such as allowing pedestrian access gates where the ROD required fencing only to prevent vehicular access that could damage the remedy.

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  15. How are the demonstration projects selected and how do they meet the goal of the Initiative?
    The Return to Use initiative has as its major goal removing barriers to reuse that are not necessary for the protection of human health, the environment, or the remedy itself. At the request of EPA Headquarters, Regional staff proposed sites with such barriers. EPA screened candidate sites by assessing the nature of the barriers, the interest level of the property owners and other local stakeholders, and the feasibility of reuse plans for the site. Stakeholders at each selected site then collaborated to:
    • analyze the existing barriers to reuse;
    • assess the task of removing the barriers to allow for reuse;
    • identify the necessary resources and who will pay for the activities required to remove the barriers; and
    • make the reuse of the site a reality.

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