Superfund 25th Anniversary: Transcripts of Oral History Interviews

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On December 11, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (also known as “CERCLA” or “Superfund”), creating a federal program to clean up the nation's uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. Through Superfund, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its partners are authorized to address abandoned, accidentally spilled, and illegally dumped hazardous wastes that pose current or future threats to human health or the environment.

While Congress passed the law, it was up to EPA to create the Superfund program. Over the first 25 years, EPA developed new and innovative ways to conduct cleanups. Important research examined how contamination migrated into groundwater, and new technologies provided improved methods to treat, store, and dispose of wastes. EPA took steps to ensure that communities near hazardous waste sites had a strong, meaningful voice in cleanup decisions, including determining how to reuse land after a cleanup. The Superfund program also pioneered methods to ensure that the parties responsible for contamination were held responsible for the cleanup.

Over time, Superfund evolved into a strong and effective program. By Superfund’s 25th Anniversary, construction work had been completed at 966 or 62% of Superfund private and federal sites, and work had begun at an additional 422 sites. Strong partnerships ensured that federal properties were addressed and that communities were part of the process. Superfund's emergency response program had taken action at thousands of sites to reduce immediate threats to human health. These actions included a substantial role in addressing the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the 2001 anthrax attacks, the Columbia space shuttle disaster, and hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Through Superfund's Redevelopment Initiative, former Superfund sites were developed into model airplane fields, airports, major retail stores, soccer fields, golf courses, wildlife refuges and many more productive uses.

However, work remains and the Superfund program continues to evolve to address new challenges. Each year, during the course of assessing potentially hazardous waste sites, Superfund finds previously unknown chemicals and wastes. Through research and the development of new technologies, the program finds ways to properly address potential threats to human health and the environment.

EPA commemorated the Superfund's 25th Anniversary through completion of a photo history project and an oral history project.

  • The Photo Project visually captures the people and places of Superfund, the human and environmental impacts of Superfund sites, and the changes in communities resulting from site cleanups. Two photos from each EPA region, selected from 300 submissions, were displayed at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.
  • The Oral History Project serves as a permanent record of the recollections of 40 people who played an instrumental role in shaping the Superfund program. The project captures interviews with legislators, community members affected by hazardous waste sites, government officials who implemented the program, and industry representatives. View transcripts of these interviews.

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EPA would like to acknowledge the important contributions of many people, without whom this oral history project could not have been completed.

Jennifer Browne of EPA’s Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation (OSRTI) planned the overall oral history project. EPA staff who conducted the interviews included Jennifer Browne, Susan Sladek, Janet Weiner, and Alan Youkeles from OSRTI, Helen Keplinger from the Office of Site Remediation Enforcement (OSRE), Janetta Coats from EPA Region 6, Jennifer Chergo from EPA Region 8, and Fred Stroud from the Environmental Response Team-West. Paul Walker and John Lonnquest from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Office of History provided advice to the overall project on the use of oral histories, and conducted a training session for EPA staff on how to conduct oral history interviews. Some of the oral history interviews were conducted at EPA’s offices in Washington, D.C., while in other cases, interviewers traveled to meet the person being interviewed. Anne Hodge, a former National Older Worker Career Center (NOWCC) employee at EPA, and staff at Environmental Management Support, Inc. transcribed the oral history interviews.

EPA also appreciates the time the forty people who were interviewed for the Oral History spent in sharing their personal experiences and perspectives. Their words provide a valuable historical record for the Superfund program.

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EPA presents these oral history interviews as an historical document reflecting the recollections and opinions of people involved with the development and implementation of the Superfund over its first 25 years. Only minor edits have been made to delete false starts, correct grammar, or provide context or clarification of facts. Every effort has been made to present the interviewee’s own words. These oral histories represent the recollections and opinions of the people interviewed, and are not the official position of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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Oral History Transcripts

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