Superfund - CERCLA - Overview, Guidance, Links & Downloads

Superfund - CERCLA - Overview, Guidance, Links & Downloads

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Superfund Overview

Superfund site from buried, abandoned drums of waste chemicals

Years ago, many wastes were dumped on the ground, in rivers, or left out in the open. As a result, thousands of uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites were created. Some common hazardous waste sites include abandoned warehouses, manufacturing facilities, processing plants, and landfills.

In response to growing concern over health and environmental risks posed by hazardous waste sites, Congress established the Superfund Program in 1980 to clean up these sites. The Superfund Program is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in cooperation with individual sites throughout the United States.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System (CERCLIS) is the official repository for site and non-site specific Superfund data in support of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). It contains information on hazardous waste site assessment and remediation from 1983 to the present.

CERCLA/Superfund links :

CERCLA - the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act

Purpose and Organization

Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA, also known as "Superfund") in response to a growing national concern about the release of hazardous substances from abandoned waste sites. Under CERCLA, Congress gave the federal government broad authority to regulate hazardous substances, to respond to hazardous substance emergencies, and to develop long-term solutions for the Nation's most serious hazardous waste problems. CERCLA also created a $1.6 billion Hazardous Substance Response Trust Fund which is supported by an excise tax on feedstock chemicals and petroleum to pay for cleanup activities at abandoned waste sites.

The 1980 law requires the parties responsible for the contamination to conduct or pay for the cleanup. If the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) efforts to take an enforcement action for the cleanup are not successful, the federal government can clean up a site using the CERCLA Trust Fund. If the Superfund program conducts the cleanup, the government can take court action against responsible parties to recover up to three times the cleanup costs.


  • established prohibitions and requirements concerning closed and abandoned hazardous waste sites;
  • provided for liability of persons responsible for releases of hazardous waste at these sites; and
  • established a trust fund to provide for cleanup when no responsible party could be identified.

The law authorizes two kinds of response actions:

  1. Short-term removals where actions may be taken to address releases or threatened releases requiring prompt response.
  2. Long-term remedial response actions that permanently and significantly reduce the dangers associated with releases or threats of releases of hazardous substances that are serious, but not immediately life threatening. These actions can be conducted only at sites listed on EPA's National Priorities List (NPL) .

CERCLA also enabled the revision of the National Contingency Plan (NCP). The NCP provided the guidelines and procedures needed to respond to releases and threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants. The NCP also provided the NPL.

CERCLA was amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) on October 17, 1986. SARA expanded the federal government's response authorities and clarified that federal facilities are subject to the same CERCLA requirements as private industry. Under Section 120 of CERCLA, each department, agency, and instrumentality of the United States is subject to, and must comply with, CERCLA in the same manner as any nongovernmental entity. Generally, funds from the Superfund do not go towards paying for the cleanup of releases from federally-owned facilities [Section 111(e)(3)]. Executive Order 12580, signed in January of 1987, further clarified that federal agencies and departments (e.g., DOE and the Department of Defense) are responsible for sites within their jurisdiction. In 1990, Congress passed a four-year extension of the response authority for CERCLA.

Response Efforts and the National Contingency Plan

The CERCLA response effort is guided by the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, commonly referred to as the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (40 CFR Part 300). The NCP describes the steps that responsible parties (including federal facilities) must follow in reporting and responding to situations in which hazardous substances are released into the environment. The NCP establishes the criteria, methods, and procedures EPA uses to determine priority releases for long-term evaluation and response. The national goal described in the NCP is to select remedies that are protective of human health and the environment, that maintain protection over time, and that minimize untreated waste.

CERCLA, as amended by SARA, and the NCP provide authority for the following types of response actions: first, CERCLA established a program to report spills of hazardous substances; second, CERCLA created an emergency response program to cleanup releases of hazardous substances; and third, CERCLA established a remedial program for the permanent cleanup of uncontrolled releases from inactive or abandoned hazardous waste disposal sites. Anyone who handles hazardous substances is subject to CERCLA spill reporting requirements [CERCLA Section 103(a)]. Any time a hazardous substance is released to the environment and that release exceeds its reportable quantity (RQ) (e.g., one pound) within a 24-hour period, the release must be reported to the National Response Center. EPA periodically publishes a list of these hazardous and extremely hazardous substances and their RQs (40 CFR Part 302).

Removal actions, conducted at either National Priorities List (NPL) or non-NPL sites, are short-term actions taken to clean up or remove released hazardous substances or substances that might pose a threat of a release. The NCP categorizes removal actions in three ways: (1) emergency removal actions, (2) time-critical removal actions, and (3) non-time-critical removal actions. These categories are based on the type of situation, the urgency of the threat of release, and the subsequent time frame in which the action must be initiated.

Remedial actions, the major part of the CERCLA response program, include the discovery, selection, study, design, and construction of longer-term actions aimed at a permanent remedy. The Superfund remedial process includes the following steps:

  • Preliminary assessment - EPA performs a preliminary assessment (PA) of a site (often a review of data without an actual site visit) to determine if further study is necessary.
  • Site inspection - A site inspection (SI) is an on-site investigation conducted to find out whether there is a release or potential release and to determine the nature of the associated threats.
  • Hazard Ranking System - Under the HRS pertinent data about a site are evaluated and "scored." The score is based on items such as waste volume, waste toxicity, proximity to population, and distance to underground drinking water. Sites receiving an HRS score of 28.5 or higher are considered for listing on the NPL. As HRS studies are performed, releases and waste sites may be removed or added to the list.
  • National Priorities List - The NPL is compiled by EPA and lists those sites, including federally owned facilities, that appear to pose the most serious threats to public health or the environment. The EPA determines whether or not to place a site on the NPL by using the hazard ranking system (HRS). According to a rule published in the Federal Register on June 17, 1996 ( 61 FR 30510 , effective July 17, 1996), the NPL includes 1,227 final sites (154 in the federal section).
  • Remedial investigation - A remedial investigation (RI), conducted by the lead agency, determines the nature and extent of the problem presented by the release.
  • Feasibility study - The lead agency undertakes a feasibility study (FS) to develop and evaluate options for remedial action. The remedial investigation and feasibility study are collectively referred to as the "RI/FS."
  • Record of decision - After completing the RI/FS, EPA selects the appropriate cleanup option and publishes it in a public document known as the Record of Decision (ROD).
  • Remedial design - The remedial design includes the technical analysis and procedures that follow the selection of a remedy for a site.
  • Remedial action - The remedial action involves the actual construction or implementation of a cleanup. If a hazardous substance will remain at the site, a review of the remedial action is required five years after implementation of the remedy. This review evaluates the protectiveness of the remedial action and, for long-term remedial actions, the technology effectiveness and specific performance levels.

Site Completion and Deletion from the NPL

When all cleanup levels documented in the ROD have been achieved and cleanup actions have been successfully implemented and documented in a close out report, EPA considers the site for deletion from the NPL. EPA must prepare a notice of intent to delete the site from the NPL, compile the deletion docket of key materials, obtain comments from the public, and obtain the state's concurrence before finally deleting the site from the NPL.

Natural Resource Damage Assessment

Under CERCLA, and implemented by the NCP, federal or state officials or Indian tribes appointed as trustees for the natural resources can assess damages ". . . for injury to, destruction of, or loss of natural resources. . ." following a release of hazardous substances. Assessments are made on the basis of "residual" injury that was not or could not be addressed by the selected remedy. As a Natural Resource Trustee (NR Trustee) for land that DOE manages, DOE has a broad responsibility for natural resources under its jurisdiction. To assist DOE Program and Field Organizations in understanding and meeting their NR Trustee responsibilities, the RCRA/CERCLA Division of the Office of Environmental Policy and Guidance (EH-413) has prepared guidance on this topic, Natural Resource Trusteeship and Ecological Evaluation for Environmental Restoration at Department of Energy Facilities .

Community Environmental Response Facilitation Act of 1992

The Community Environmental Response Facilitation Act of 1992 (CERFA) (Pub. L. 102-426, October 19, 1992) amended CERCLA provisions dealing with federal activities on any real property owned by the government. It requires the federal government to identify those parts of that real property where no hazardous substance had been stored, released, or disposed of. This identification expedites the sale of excess property, allowing uncontaminated property to be sold before cleanup of the whole facility is completed. The prompt identification of property that will not require environmental remediation is intended to facilitate the transfer of such property for economic redevelopment purposes.

Section 4 of CERFA amends Section 120(h)(3) of CERCLA to clarify the extent of remedial action necessary to protect human health and the environment on property where hazardous substances were stored, disposed of, or released. Remedial action necessary to protect human health and the environment is deemed to have been taken if the construction and installation of an approved remedial design has been completed and the remedy has been demonstrated to EPA to be operating properly and successfully. Long-term pumping and treating of groundwater and continued operation and maintenance of remediation projects, therefore, does not preclude the sale or transfer of DOE property.

Hall Amendment

The Hall Amendment , section 3154 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1994, amends section 646 of the DOE Organization Act. The Hall Amendment allows DOE to lease property (for up to ten years) if it is temporarily not needed or excess at DOE facilities to be closed or reconfigured. A lease can include an option to renew for more than ten years if the Secretary determines that a renewal promotes national security or is in the public interest.

In order to qualify for leasing under the Hall Amendment, the property must be located on acquired land. Acquired property and related personal property are described as those properties which:

  • are located at a facility of the Department of Energy to be closed or reconfigured;
  • at the time the lease is entered into, are not needed by the Department of Energy; and
  • are under the control of the Department of Energy.
This transfer mechanism provides greater certainty to tenants interested in longer-term leases. Details regarding this topic are discussed in Section 6 of a DOE guidance document entitled Resourceful Reuse: A Guide to Planning Future Uses of Department of Energy Sites (DOE/EM-0285), Selecting a Suitable Transfer Mechanism: Benefits and Limitations .

As modified by the Hall Amendment, section 646(e)(1) of the DOE Organization Act now states:

Before entering into a lease under subsection (c), the Secretary shall consult with the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (with respect to property located on a site on the National Priorities List) or the appropriate State official (with respect to property located on a site that is not listed on the National Priorities List) to determine whether the environmental conditions of the property are such that leasing the property, and the terms and conditions of the lease agreement, are consistent with safety and the protection of public health and the environment.

EPA's policy on transfers for properties on the NPL is presented in the June 13, 1997, memorandum discussed below.

An example of the application of the Hall Amendment is taking place on the Oak Ridge reservation, where DOE is leasing approximately 1,000 acres to the Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee. That organization will make the land available to the private sector for industrial development.

At the present time, DOE is collaborating with EPA in drafting Guidance for Leasing of Real Property at CERCLA National Priority Listed DOE Sites Using the Hall Amendment [42 U.S.C. 7256(c)] ;as of December 1997, this draft was still being reviewed. The draft proposes, among other things, that a Phase I standard environmental assessment (also known as an environmental baseline survey) be conducted. For more information on topics such as environmental baseline surveys, transfer of environmental permits, and other environmental requirements, DOE field elements are urged to refer to Cross-Cut Guidance on Environmental Requirements for DOE Real Property Transfers [DOE/EH-413/9712 (October 1997)].

Policy Towards Landowners and Transferees of Federal Facilities

On June 13, 1997, EPA issued a memorandum entitled Transmittal of the Policy Towards Landowners and Transferees of Federal Facilities [pertaining mainly to CERCLA section 120(h), "Property transferred by Federal agencies"]. The policy addresses potential liability concerns of landowners and transferees (e.g., lessees) who acquire federal property. The policy was developed in cooperation with a number of federal agencies, including the Department of Defense and DOE. In this policy, EPA explicitly takes the position that it will not take enforcement action against landowners and transferees who acquire contaminated property from a federal agency unless they (1) contributed to or exacerbate the contamination existing at the time of the acquisition or (2) cause new contamination. It is necessary to make this policy statement because the Superfund statute generally assigns liability to parties who acquire property with knowledge of contamination, unless other provisions are made. Furthermore, because the Superfund statute imposes the responsibility on federal agencies to take all remedial action concerning the contamination (including that found necessary after the property transfer), EPA has determined that a prospective purchase agreement for property transferred from federal agencies to private landowners and transferees is not necessary. As the result of these specific dispensations, this policy promotes the expeditious transfer of property (such as brownfields), facilitates reuse and redevelopment, and reduces transaction costs.

The policy applies only to the transfer of property at federally-owned facilities. EPA's existing "Guidance on Agreements with Prospective Purchasers of Contaminated Property," 60 FR 34792 (July 3, 1995), addresses property transfer between private parties where an EPA action has been taken, is anticipated, or is currently underway.

Superfund Reform and Reauthorization

Legislation to reauthorize and revise CERCLA is pending in the Senate and the House. To determine the current status of pending legislation that may affect CERCLA or to obtain more detailed information regarding their content, please go to Thomas, Legislative Information on the Internet .

Regulations implementing CERCLA may be found in Title 40 of the CFR, Chapter I, Subchapter J.

Hazardous Substance Release Reporting Regulations ( 40 CFR Part 302 ) direct the person in charge of a facility to report to the National Response Center (NRC) any environmental release of a hazardous substance which exceeds a reportable quantity. Reportable quantities are defined and listed in 40 CFR Section 302.4. A release report may trigger a response by EPA, or by one or more federal or state emergency response authorities.

Hazardous Substance Responses
EPA implements hazardous substance responses according to procedures outlined in the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP) ( 40 CFR Part 300 ). The NCP includes provisions for permanent cleanups, known as remedial actions, and other cleanups referred to as "removals." EPA generally takes remedial actions only at sites on the National Priorities List (NPL), which currently includes approximately 1,300 sites. Both EPA and states can act at other sites; however, EPA gives responsible parties the opportunity to conduct removal and remedial actions and encourages community involvement throughout the Superfund response process.

Click here to go to the US EPA's Superfund web site .

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