Valley of the Drums: 40 Years Later

Posted on 1/2/2019 by Anthony Cardno, CHMM and Trainer

2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the commencement of cleanup activities at the “Valley of the Drums” in Brooks, Kentucky. Now seems like as good a time as any to review the history, current statistics, and interesting facts about Superfund sites across the United States.

Do you work at a Superfund site or other hazardous substance cleanup site? Find convenient online HAZWOPER training courses for site workers and emergency responders at

Superfund Superhistory

In 1980, Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). 1977’s chemical waste treatment facility fire in Bridgeport, NJ; 1978’s state of emergency declaration in Love Canal, NY; and 1980’s toxic waste fire in Elizabeth, NJ were just three of the major contamination events that inspired the need for a national program that would set standards for the identification and remediation of contaminated properties, as well as establishing requirements for assessing liability for the cleanup. CERCLA is not an “enforcement” law in the sense of criminal activity—one does not have to have done anything wrong or illegal to be held liable for the clean-up of a designated Superfund site.

Superfund hazardous substance cleanup siteA hazardous substance cleanup site. 

How Do Sites Get Designated?

Once a contaminated property is discovered and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is notified (usually via the hazardous substance release reporting requirements of 40 CFR 302, but sometimes through government investigation, permit release notification requirements, or incidental observation by a concerned citizen), EPA does a preliminary assessment (PA) and site inspection (SI). If the PA and SI results warrant, the site is rated using EPA’s Hazard Ranking System. 

Identify and meet your emergency release reporting and recordkeeping responsibilities under EPCRA and CERCLA. The Superfund and Right-to-Know Act Regulations Online Course covers who must report, why, when, and to whom.

Sites that rank higher on the HRS are added to the National Priorities List (NPL). Placement on the NPL is a sliding scale, as new sites are added and older sites are successfully cleaned up. Additions to, and deletions from, the NPL are announced in the Federal Register. EPA has an interactive map of the United States showing all past and present Superfund sites.

Current Superfund Super-stats:

As of December 7, 2018, there have been:
  • 1,338 Superfund sites listed on the NPL.
    • 157 Federal sites
    • 1,181 non-Federal sites
  • 412 “deleted” sites (cleanup has been completed)
    • 17 Federal
    • 295 non-Federal
  • 53 sites currently proposed to be added to the NPL (undergoing PA, SI or hazard ranking)
    • 3 Federal
    • 50 non-Federal

Other Superfund Superfacts

Impress your friends and colleagues with the Superfund trivia below: 
  • The first site successfully cleaned up and then deleted from the NPL was the Friedman Property in Freehold, NJ, which was declared free of contamination and needing no further action in 1985 and officially deleted from the NPL in 1986.
  • Love Canal, one of the first Superfund sites added to the NPL, was officially deleted in 2004. Forty acres are covered by a synthetic liner and clay cap and surrounded by a barrier drainage system, but areas around the property have been renovated and put back into public use.
  • 18 sites were deleted from the NPL in 2018, in PA, UT, MS, WA, NY, MA, MN, TX, CT, WV, NC, ME, and FL.
  • The NPL initially included 406 sites in 1983, with the majority of sites added to the NPL between 1983 and 1990.

40 Years Later: The Valley of the Drums

The “Valley of the Drums” was used by A.L. Taylor as a waste disposal and drum recycling site from 1967 to 1977. It was placed on the NPL as one of the initial 406 sites in 1983 due to contaminated groundwater, soil, and surface water.

Despite emergency response actions commencing in 1979 and continued cleanup under CERCLA, the site remains on the NPL, subject to Five-Year Reviews to ensure remedies are still working. The Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection has been in charge of groundwater monitoring and cap maintenance since 1990. The results of the 2018 Five-Year Review have not yet been made public.

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Lion kicks off the 2019 environmental workshop tour in Charlotte, NC on January 24-25. Reserve your seat now!

Tags: CERCLA, environmental liability, hazardous substance cleanup, HAZWOPER, Valley of the Drums

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