About the Superfund Cleanup Process
The Superfund cleanup process begins with site discovery or notification to EPA of possible releases of hazardous substances. Sites are discovered by various parties, including citizens, State agencies, and EPA Regional offices. Once discovered, sites are entered into the Superfund Enterprise Management System (SEMS), EPA's computerized inventory of potential hazardous substance release sites (search SEMS for hazardous waste sites). Some sites may be cleaned up under other authorities. EPA then evaluates the potential for a release of hazardous substances from the site through these steps in the Superfund cleanup process. Community involvement, enforcement, and emergency response can occur at any time in the process. A wide variety of characterization, monitoring, and remediation technologies are used through the cleanup process.
On this page:
- Preliminary Assessment/Site Inspection (Site Assessment)
- National Priorities List (NPL) Site Listing Process
- Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) (Site Characterization)
- Record of Decision (ROD) (Remedy Decisions)
- Remedial Design/Remedial Action (RD/RA)
- Construction Completion
- Post-Construction Completion
- Deletion from the NPL
The preliminary assessment (PA) involves gathering historical and other available information about site conditions to evaluate whether the site poses a threat to human health and the environment and/or whether further investigation is needed. The preliminary assessment also helps identify sites that may need immediate or short-term response actions.
The site investigation (SI) tests air, water, and soil at the site to determine what hazardous substances are present and whether they are being released to the environment and are a threat to human health.
Information about the site that is collected in the PA/SI phase helps EPA to evaluate the risks posed by the site using its Hazard Ranking System (HRS). Sites that score at or above an established level qualify for cleanup under the Superfund and are proposed for listing on the National Priorities List (NPL), a list of the most serious sites identified for long-term cleanup.
During the PA/SI phase, EPA may issue a notice through the local media and/or distribute a fact sheet to let the community know they are investigating the site.
Opportunities for Community Involvement During PA/SI
- Provide any information you have about the site to EPA
The NPL is a list of the most serious sites identified for long-term cleanup. The National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP) provides three methods for placing a site on the NPL:
- Sites receiving a Hazard Ranking System (HRS) site score of 28.50 or greater are eligible for placement on the NPL
- Each state and territory may designate one site to be added to the NPL
- The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) issues a public health advisory, and other requirements are met, a site may be placed on the NPL
The HRS is the primary method used to place sites on the NPL. The HRS is a scoring system used to assess the relative risk associated with actual or potential releases of hazardous substances from a site based on the information that can be collected in a preliminary assessment (PA) and site inspection (SI). For additional information, please visit the Hazard Ranking System (HRS) website.
When EPA proposes to add a site to the NPL, the Agency publishes a public notice about its intention in the Federal Register and issues a public notice through the local media to notify the community, so interested members of the community can comment on the proposal. EPA then responds to comments received. If, after the formal comment period, the site still qualifies for cleanup under Superfund, it is formally listed on the NPL. Once it is listed, the Agency will publish a notice in the Federal Register and respond formally to comments received. In addition, EPA may issue a fact sheet or flyer to notify the community impacted by the site.
Opportunities for Community Involvement during NPL Listing Process
- Read information about the site and EPA’s proposal to list the site on the NPL.
- Contact EPA to ask question or request additional information.
- If you have concerns about the site listing, prepare and submit comments on the proposal during the Public Comment period.
The RI/FS phase of the process determines the nature and extent of contamination at the site, tests whether certain technologies are capable of treating the contamination, and evaluates the cost and performance of technologies that could be used to clean up the site.
Prior to the beginning of the RI/FS phase, EPA will begin its outreach and community involvement efforts at the site. The Agency will appoint a Community Involvement Coordinator (CIC) for the site who will work with community members throughout the cleanup process. EPA staff will interview community members, local officials, and others to gather information about the site and the community and to learn how community members want to be involved in the cleanup process. The Agency then will prepare a Community Involvement Plan that specifies the outreach activities they will use to address the concerns and expectations community members raised in the interviews. The Community Involvement Plan is readily available to the community.
EPA will establish an Information Repository at or near the site where all correspondence, reports, and documents pertaining to the site cleanup will be stored and available to community members. In addition, EPA will issue public notices and other documents to communicate important information about the cleanup, including the potential availability of a Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) or other assistance resources to help the community understand technical information about the cleanup to better participate in decisions affecting the cleanup.
EPA will establish an Administrative Record for the site as part of the Information Repository when the RI/FS begins. The Agency will issue a public notice through the local media to notify the community about the Administrative Record. As the cleanup process moves forward, EPA will add to the Administrative Record all the relevant documents used in making the eventual cleanup decision, as well as relevant documents on technologies that were considered but ultimately rejected.
To keep the community informed during this phase of the cleanup, EPA will issue public notices through the local media and conduct public meetings.
Based on results of the feasibility study portion of this phase, EPA will develop a Proposed Plan for cleaning up the site. The Agency will issue a public notice through the local media to notify the community, so interested members of the community can comment on the Proposed Plan. In addition, the Agency may hold a public meeting to discuss the Proposed Plan. EPA then will develop a Responsiveness Summary to formally respond to public comments received. If, based on public comments, the Proposed Plan is changed substantially, EPA will issue an explanation of the changes made and invite public comment on the changes.
Throughout this phase of the cleanup, EPA Community Involvement staff will be working to keep the community informed of progress by conducting public meetings, issuing regular fact sheets about progress at the site, conducting workshops for community groups, and making presentations to civic groups, schools, and local officials to help everyone better understand the cleanup process.
Opportunities for Community Involvement during the RI/FS
- Ask the CIC or the Remedial Project Manager (RPM) questions about the site.
- Read EPA’s Proposed Plan for cleaning up the site.
- Consider whether to form a Community Advisory Group (CAG).
- Consider whether your community group should apply for a Technical Assistance Grant (TAG).
- Consider whether your community should request help through the EPA’s Technical Assistance Services for Communities (TASC) contract.
- Participate in any public meetings or other EPA events on the Proposed Plan; ask questions; and provide comments on plans for cleanup and on the reuse options being considered for the site.
- If you can’t attend public meetings or other events, visit the Information Repository and read the Proposed Plan and other documents. Prepare and send any comments you have to EPA.
- Read EPA’s Responsiveness Summary to find out how the Agency plans to address major concerns raised in community members’ comments.
- Invite EPA to attend community events to discuss the site and the Proposed Plan.
The ROD explains which cleanup alternatives will be used at NPL sites. It contains information on site history, site description, site characteristics, community participation, enforcement activities, past and present activities, contaminated media, the contaminants present, description of the response actions to be taken, and the remedy selected for cleanup. The development of the ROD also includes consideration of how the site could be used in the future.
EPA will issue a public notice through the local media to notify the community that the ROD is available for inspection. If changing the ROD is necessary, EPA will develop a proposed ROD amendment, issue a public notice through the local media to notify the community, and hold a public meeting to discuss the proposed changes and to take comments. EPA then develops a Responsiveness Summary to formally respond to public comments received.
After the ROD has been completed, the Community Involvement Coordinator (CIC) will revise the Community Involvement Plan for the site to ensure that it is consistent with the final ROD.
Opportunities for Community Involvement related to the ROD
- Inform EPA about how the community wants the site to be used in the future.
- Read the ROD for cleaning up the site.
- Participate in any public events on the ROD.
- If you can’t attend public events, visit the Information Repository and read the ROD and supporting documentation.
- Contact the CIC or Remedial Project Manager (RPM) to ask questions or request more information.
This phase of the process includes preparing for and doing the bulk of the cleanup at the site. EPA develops the final design for the cleanup. Throughout this phase, EPA community involvement staff will keep community members advised about the progress of the cleanup though periodic public events, newsletters, fact sheets, and presentations to civic groups, schools, and local leaders.
Opportunities for Community Involvement during RD/RA
- Learn about the final design for the cleanup by attending public events or reading the information EPA distributes.
- Work through your Community Advisory Group (CAG), Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) recipient, or Technical Assistance Services for Communities (TASC) provider to stay informed about the progress of the cleanup.
- Attend periodic public events about progress at the site. If you can’t attend, visit the Information Repository and read site information.
- Contact the Community Involvement Coordinator (CIC) with questions or comments.
- Visit the site to observe cleanup activities.
This milestone indicates all physical construction required for the cleanup of the entire site has been completed (even though final cleanup levels may not have been achieved). For example, a groundwater treatment system has been constructed though it may need to operate for a number of years in order for all contaminants to be removed from the groundwater.
This phase of the process ensures that Superfund cleanups provide for the long-term protection of human health and the environment. EPA’s activities during this phase will include operating and maintaining long-term cleanup technologies in working order, regularly reviewing the site to be sure that the cleanup continues to be effective, and enforcing any necessary restrictions to minimize the potential for human exposure to contamination.
Opportunities for Community Involvement related to the Post-Construction Completion
- Work through your Community Advisory Group (CAG) or Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) to participate in and review the results of regular site reviews.
- Visit the site or arrange a site tour through EPA.
- Invite the EPA Community Involvement Coordinator (CIC) for the site to your community events to discuss results of the five-year review.
- Plan an event to celebrate major milestones in the cleanup of the site.
When all site cleanup has been completed and all cleanup goals have been achieved, EPA publishes a notice of its intention to delete the site from the NPL in the Federal Register and notifies the community of its availability for comment. EPA then accepts comments from the public on the information presented in the notice and issues a Responsiveness Summary to formally respond to public comments received. If, after the formal comment period, the site still qualifies for deletion, EPA publishes a formal deletion notice in the Federal Register and places a final deletion report in the Information Repository for the site.
Opportunities for Community Involvement related to NPL Deletion
- Read EPA’s proposal to delete the site from the NPL and submit your comments to EPA.
- Read EPA’s Responsiveness Summary to find out how the Agency is addressing the public comments received.
- Read the final deletion report, which is available at the Information Repository.
- Plan a community event to celebrate deletion of the site from the NPL.
Once sites have been cleaned up, EPA works with communities through an array of tools, partnerships, and activities to help to return these sites to productive uses. These uses can be industrial or commercial, such as factories and shopping malls. Some sites can be used for housing, public works facilities, transportation, and other community infrastructure. Some sites can be for recreational facilities, such as golf courses, parks and ball fields; or for ecological resources, such as wildlife preserves and wetlands. No matter what use is appropriate for a site, the community benefits from restoring the site to productivity, because the property can once again add to the economic, social, and ecological value of the community.
Opportunities for Community Involvement related to Reuse of the Site
- Work with EPA, your local government, and your neighbors to plan the redevelopment of the site.
- Explore the redevelopment tools and resources provided by EPA.
- Be supportive of redevelopment plans once they have been agreed upon.