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EPA at 50: Transforming Communities: Cleaning Up America’s Most Hazardous Land Contamination

07/27/2020
Contact Information: 
EPA Press Office (press@epa.gov)

WASHINGTON (July 27, 2020) — This week, as part of its 50th anniversary commemoration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Land and Emergency Management is highlighting how work under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) have transformed communities across America by cleaning up some of the country’s most hazardous and uncontrolled waste sites and spills. This year not only marks EPA’s 50th anniversary, but also the 40th anniversary of CERCLA, commonly known as Superfund, which was enacted on December 11, 1980 and is America’s signature land contamination cleanup program.

“For the past 50 years, the EPA has worked to fulfill its mission of protecting human health and the environment” said Assistant Administrator Peter Wright “We are proud to continue building on this important work by cleaning up the nation's most hazardous and contaminated sites to revitalize and return to communities previously hazardous, abandoned and written-off land."

During the Trump Administration, EPA has fully or partially deleted 58 sites from the National Priorities List (NPL). In Fiscal Year 2019 alone, the agency deleted all or part of 27 Superfund sites from the NPL – the largest number of deletions in a single fiscal year since 2001. Created in 2017, the Administrator’s Emphasis List has proven to be a very effective tool for facilitating more timely, effective cleanups, having achieved significant milestones at 19 sites, to date.

Many contaminated sites today are the result of historical handling and disposal of hazardous materials, stretching as far back as the early days of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. In the late 1970s, the discovery that homes had been built on top of an industrial dumpsite at Love Canal, New York helped bring national attention to the need for modern waste management standards and the legal authority to compel the cleanup of historic waste disposal sites. This national attention led to the enactment of CERCLA and the National Contingency Plan, creating the Superfund program.

Today, Superfund cleanups include cleaning up spills from train car derailments that occurred within the last hour, to removing abandoned drums from long closed and abandoned warehouses, to addressing contamination that may be more widespread or complex such as area-wide contaminated groundwater and sediments caused by decades of industrial activities surrounding rivers and lakes.

EPA, along with authorized state environmental programs, also works to prevent future contamination by regulating the over 35 million tons of hazardous waste that is generated, transported, treated, and/or disposed of each year under RCRA, originally passed in 1976. EPA and the authorized states through the use of permits and orders require the cleanup of historical contamination at RCRA regulated facilities that treat, store or dispose of hazardous waste. These cleanups help revitalize communities and spur economic development by supporting the safe operation of active facilities and enabling reuse of former industrial sites for housing, industrial or commercial projects. Since the 1970s, over 18 million acres of contaminated lands, nearly equal to the size of South Carolina, have been cleaned up and restored for productive reuse.

Collectively, EPA’s Superfund and RCRA programs, working with states, tribes and responsible parties, have cleaned up thousands of contaminated sites, breathing new life into once abandoned areas. This week, EPA will recognize the history, accomplishments, and benefits of the Superfund and RCRA cleanup programs by posting a variety of content on Twitter @EPALand.

EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management provides policy, guidance and direction for the agency's emergency response and waste programs.

For more on EPA’s 50th Anniversary and how the agency is protecting America’s waters, land and air, visit: https://www.epa.gov/50, or follow the agency on social media using #EPAat50.