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Founded December 11, 1980
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The Superfund program, officially known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), is a United States federal government program administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Established by Congress on December 11, 1980, the program is designed to investigate and clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances and pollutants. Superfund allows the EPA to clean up such sites and compels responsible parties to perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanups.[1][2]


The impetus for the Superfund program arose in the late 1970s following the discovery of toxic waste dumps such as Love Canal in New York and Valley of the Drums in Kentucky, which highlighted the severe environmental and health risks posed by improperly managed waste sites. These incidents garnered national attention and underscored the need for a federal program to address the cleanup of hazardous waste sites.[3]

Key Provisions[edit]

Cleanup Process[edit]

The Superfund cleanup process involves several steps:

  1. Preliminary Assessment and Site Inspection: Determines if a site poses a threat to human health and the environment.
  2. National Priorities List (NPL): Sites that score above a certain threshold on the Hazard Ranking System can be placed on the NPL, making them eligible for long-term remedial action funded by the Superfund.
  3. Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study: Assesses the nature and extent of the contamination and evaluates cleanup options.
  4. Record of Decision (ROD): Specifies the cleanup plan.
  5. Remedial Design/Remedial Action: Implements the cleanup plan.
  6. Construction Completion: Achieved when physical construction of the cleanup is completed.
  7. Post-Construction Monitoring: Ensures that the cleanup continues to protect human health and the environment.
  8. NPL Deletion: Occurs when all remedial action objectives have been met and no further cleanup is required.


Originally, the program was funded by a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries, but this tax expired in 1995. Since then, funding has primarily come from general revenues. In recent years, funding challenges have affected the pace and initiation of new cleanup projects. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 reauthorized an excise tax on chemical manufacturers to help fund the program.[4]

Community Involvement[edit]

Superfund emphasizes involving communities in the cleanup process, providing opportunities for public participation and keeping residents informed and engaged in decisions that affect their health and environment.

Achievements and Challenges[edit]

Superfund has facilitated the cleanup of hundreds of hazardous waste sites, which has reduced health risks and led to the redevelopment of formerly unusable lands. However, the program has faced criticism over its pace, costs, and effectiveness, with some sites taking decades to clean up.

Environmental and Economic Impact[edit]

Cleanups have led to significant environmental improvements, including the restoration of ecosystems and reduction in health risks. Economically, cleaned-up sites have been repurposed for various uses such as parks, business developments, and housing, contributing to community revitalization and economic growth.[5]

Future Directions[edit]

The EPA continues to adapt the Superfund program to address emerging contaminants like PFAS and to integrate considerations of climate change into cleanup projects. Ongoing reforms aim to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness, and equitable impact of Superfund cleanups across the nation.[6]

See Also[edit]


  1. Superfund. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  2. Supporting U.S. EPA's Superfund Program. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  3. Superfund History. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  4. US EPA directs $1 billion to 25 Superfund hazardous waste cleanups. Reuters\date=May 11, 2024.
  5. Success Stories. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  6. Superfund:EPA Should Take Additional Actions to Manage Risks from Climate Change. U.S. General Accountability Office.