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Frequent Questions

National Information
What is Superfund

Superfund is the Federal government's program to clean up the nation's uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. Superfund was created to pay for the cleanup of the country’s worst waste disposal and hazardous substances spill sites that endangered human health and/or the environment. Years ago, hazardous materials were at times dumped onto the ground, into rivers or left out in the open. As a result, hazardous wastes accumulated in vacant lots, at factories, warehouses, landfills and dumps across the United States. Among the most pressing problems were wastes that leached down through the ground to contaminate drinking-water supplies.

Under Superfund, abandoned, accidentally spilled, or illegally dumped hazardous waste that pose a current or future threat to human health or the environment are cleaned up. Superfund is administered by EPA in cooperation with individual states and tribal governments. Superfund locates, investigates and cleans up hazardous-waste sites throughout Region 4 and the country.

How Does Superfund Work

Through its Superfund program, EPA Region 4 works closely with communities, Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs), scientists, researchers, contractors, and state, local, tribal, and Federal authorities to identify hazardous waste sites, test the conditions of the sites, formulate cleanup plans, and clean up the sites. In Region 4, there are two programs that implement Superfund activities, the emergency response program and the remedial program. Emergency response and removal actions address emergencies, such as fires, train derailments, and floods, involving the release of hazardous substances. Remedial cleanup activities address long-term cleanup of the most complex contaminated sites-generally sites listed on the National Priorities List. EPA's National Superfund website provides additional information.

How are Superfund Sites Discovered

The release of hazardous substances may be discovered by various means, including: notifications by those handling hazardous materials, investigations by state, tribal or local governments, inventory efforts by government agencies, review of state and Federal records, formal citizen petitions, and informal community observation and notification. Sites are discovered by various stakeholders including local and state agencies, businesses, the U.S. EPA, the U.S. Coast Guard, and by citizens. Citizens can report potential hazardous waste sites to your state and local authorities or to the National Response Center Hotline, 1-800-424-8802, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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What are Removals and Emergency Response Actions

Removal actions are immediate, short-term responses intended to protect people from immediate threats posed by hazardous waste sites. These emergency actions eliminate immediate risks to ensure your safety. Superfund personnel are always on call to respond to chemical accidents or releases. Superfund's number-one priority is to protect communities near hazardous sites, as well as their environment.

Typical chemical emergencies may include train derailments, truck accidents, or incidents at factories. Superfund responds or may help state and local authorities deal quickly with these emergencies. Hazardous materials are hauled away from the site for treatment and proper disposal, or they are treated on the site to remove risk to the community.

During an emergency action, you and your community will be kept informed of the situation and what is being done to protect your safety.

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What are Remedial Actions

Remedial actions are long-term cleanups designed to prevent or minimize the release of hazardous substances and to reduce the risk and danger to public health and the environment.

These long-term actions can be extensive. Some sites were caused by years of pollution and may take years to clean up. This cleanup process can encompass several phases that lead to the ultimate goal of restoring the site and making it safe. Long-term actions also may include restoring ground water or taking measures to protect wetlands, estuaries and other ecological resources.

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What is the National Priorities List

The National Priorities List is a list of the worst hazardous waste sites that have been identified by Superfund. It is a published list of U.S. hazardous waste sites that are eligible for extensive, long-term cleanup under the Superfund program.

How Sites Get onto the NPL

To evaluate the dangers posed by hazardous-waste sites, EPA has developed a scoring system called the Hazard Ranking System (HRS). EPA uses the information collected during the Preliminary Assessment and Site Inspection to score a site according to the danger it may pose. Using HRS, EPA assigns a numerical value based on three main factors:

The HRS also examines the four pathways that may carry pollution: ground (underground) water; surface water; soil; and air. It scores the site on all of these factors. Sites with high enough totals (28.5+) are eligible for the National Priorities List.

To learn more, please see EPA’s Introduction to the HRS.

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Who Pays for Superfund Cleanups

Superfund Cleanup is paid for either by the parties responsible for contamination or by money appropriated by Congress for cleanups. One of EPA's top priorities is to get those responsible for the contamination (PRPs) to clean up the site. If the PRP cannot be found or cannot perform or pay for the cleanup work, the Federal Government funds the cleanup.

Under the Superfund law, EPA is able to make those who are responsible for the contamination perform and pay for the cleanup. EPA negotiates to get them to pay for the plans and the work carried out under Agency supervision. EPA also may use Federal Government funds to pay cleanup costs, then attempt to recover the money through legal action.

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What is Superfund Enforcement

One goal of the Superfund enforcement program is to make responsible parties pay for the environmental damage attributed to their on-site activities. CERCLA provides a broad range of enforcement authorities that EPA can use to meet the goals of the Superfund program. Under these authorities EPA can:

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How Citizens Get Involved at Superfund Sites

Superfund cleanups are complex and require the skills of experts in science, engineering, public health, management, law, community relations and other fields. PRPs who contributed to the pollution are contacted and involved in the cleanup. The public also often participates formally through input at public meetings and/or hearings, or by submitting comments on plans for investigation and cleanup of a site.

The involvement of local communities and other interested stakeholders is very important. You have the opportunity and the right to be informed about and to comment on the work being done. Information is passed on through fact sheets, letters, newspaper ads, phone calls, meetings, information repositories near the site, and the Internet. During the Superfund process, EPA and/or the state develops a community relations plan to help ensure that the public's concerns and community needs are met at a site. The plan may include such activities and tools as public information meetings, personal interviews, newsletters, and special distribution to local media.

In addition, EPA supports a variety of programs to keep community members involved in Superfund cleanups.

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Redeveloping/Reusing Superfund sites

Superfund Redvelopment in Region 4 is part of EPA’s coordinated national effort to facilitate the return of the nation's most hazardous waste sites to productive use by selecting cleanup remedies that are consistent with the anticipated future use of the sites. While EPA's primary mission is to protect human health and the environment, Superfund cleanups have also been instrumental in the reuse of contaminated sites. Consequently, EPA works with communities as a part of the cleanup process to determine the future use of a particular site so that the cleanup design is protective for that particular use. This enables communities to reclaim such properties as valuable resourcess.

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