Superfund is the nickname for the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the primary Federal law dealing with the identification and cleanup of hazardous substance disposal sites. Disposal site cleanup activity under Superfund is done in accordance with the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP) at 40 CFR 300. One common Superfund question is about how sites get on and/or off the Superfund list. The following provides a short summary of the listing process for Superfund cleanup sites.
Potential sites for cleanup under CERCLA are collected in a national database by the EPA. A preliminary assessment and possibly a site investigation are conducted by the Agency.
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.
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Information about the site that is collected in the PA/SI phase helps the EPA evaluate the risks posed by the site using its Hazard Ranking System (HRS). Some of these sites may be listed by the EPA on the National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL is a list of the most serious sites identified for long-term cleanup in the United States. The NPL is intended primarily to guide the EPA in determining which sites warrant further investigation and possibly cleanup (remedy) under CERCLA.
Sites may be added to the NPL if the release of the hazardous substance at the site:
- Scores sufficiently high on the HRS;
- Has been designated by a state as its highest priority; or
- Triggers the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to recommend people stay off the site, and the EPA determines the site poses a significant threat to the public.
The EPA first publishes a notice in the Federal Register
proposing the addition of the site to the NPL. If, after the formal comment period, the site still qualifies for cleanup under Superfund, it is formally listed on the NPL. The Agency announces this action in the Federal Register
as well. As of June 23, 2016, the EPA reported that there are 1,328 active sites
on the NPL list, with an additional 55 sites currently proposed by the Agency to be added to the list.
Investigation and Study
Once a final decision has been made to list the disposal site on the NPL, the Agency begins the process of determining the appropriate remedy. This Record of Decision (ROD) follows the formal Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) phase. The specific remedy must:
- Adequately protect human health and the environment;
- Attain Applicable or Relevant and Appropriate Regulations (ARARs);
- Be cost effective; and
- Utilize permanent solutions, treatment technologies, or resource recovery to the maximum extent possible.
All costs associated with the response to a Superfund site, from initial investigation through cleanup, can be assessed to any "responsible party" under CERCLA §107. These responsible parties may include the disposal site owners/operators, generators of hazardous substances disposed at the site, waste brokers, transporters, and others.
Cleanup and Deletion
After all the cleanup activity has been completed at the site and all cleanup goals have been achieved, the EPA publishes a notice of its intention to delete the site from the NPL in the Federal Register
. This opens a period for public comment. If, after the formal comment period, the EPA feels that the site still qualifies for deletion, the Agency will publish a formal deletion notice in the Federal Register
. A final deletion report is placed in the Information Repository for the site. Currently, the EPA reports that there are 391 sites
that have been delisted from the NPL list.
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