Superfund Issue There have been few environmental problems that have posed the same level of concern as that of the hazardous waste issue. Similarly, few environmental laws have caused the level of frustration as that felt towards Superfund, the main legislative tool that was designed to address the public fears in regards to hazardous waste. Superfund is a law that was passed in 1980. It is formally known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or CERCLA. It established a special fund called the Superfund Trust Fund as a pot of money, 1.6 billion over 5 years, which was originally planned to finance the clean up of some 400 sites. Today, Superfund has grown into one of the nations largest environmental projects with over 30 billion being spent on over 1200 sites.
The EPA, with the aid of state and tribal governments, is the agency charged with implementing and enforcing the Superfund Program. Since the Superfund was designed to be used for abandoned sites where the responsible parties are unknown or bankrupt, the EPA makes every effort to identify the parties responsible for the contamination so they can be held liable for the costs of the cleanup. Superfund sites are discovered by local and state agencies performing inspections, businesses, the EPA, the Coast Guard or anybody else who takes the initiative to report a potentially hazardous waste site to the National Hotline Number. When sites are identified the EPA must decide if it requires an emergency response, an early action, or a long-term action. EPA Overview/Analysis of Superfund uses a scorecard method called the Hazard Ranking System (HRS) to determine the level of danger in a hazardous waste site. If the site requires immediate action to eliminate serious risk to human health or the environment, it will be dealt with as an emergency response.
If a site poses a threat in the near future, an early action will be enacted to contain the risk. Typically, Early Action goals are to; prevent direct human contact with contaminants from the site; remove hazardous materials from the site; prevent contaminants from spreading off the site; provide water to residents whose drinking water has been contaminated by the site; or temporarily or permanently evacuate and, if necessary, relocate nearby residents. Early actions can last from a few days up to 5 years. If a site has been polluted for many years, it may take a few years to decades to cleanup. For sites such as these, Long-Term Actions are taken which include restoring ground water and taking measures to protect wetlands, estuaries, and other ecological resources.
The people responsible for contamination areas are referred to as Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs). The EPA has many ways of identifying PRPs. EPA investigators review site files kept by Federal, state and local agencies, review land deeds and titles at the local courthouse, look for names on drums or other hazardous materials at the site, and interview employees, former employees or neighbors of the site. When a responsible party is found, they can be used to find other responsible parties. Once the parties are identified, the EPA generates information request letters to get further information concerning the PRPs ability to pay for the cleanup action.
Overview/Analysis of Superfund Analysis The Superfund program is without question a necessity that, even if having met none of its intended goals, has managed to enhance the awareness of the responsible parties of hazardous waste sites. For that alone it as been of great value in reducing the occurrence of hazardous waste sites which would have previously developed as a result of environmental ignorance But, as an effective tool for cleanup, it’s not as successful as had been hoped. The two major complaints of Superfund are the enormous costs and the long delays in processing a site for cleanup. As of 1996, only about 200 of the 1200 sites listed on the National Priority List had been completely cleaned up and with a cost average of $30 million and 12 years per site. One of the chief reasons for Superfund’s exploding costs is the free-for-all pursuit of responsible parties allowed by the act.
Superfund calls for retroactive liability, meaning that corporate practices that might have been perfectly legal, fully permitted and safe under the law years ago can now be punished retroactively. Potentially Responsible Parties are defined under the law as, (1) those who own or operate a site; (2) owned or operated a site at the time of the disposal of wastes; (3) arranged for disposal, treatment, or transportation of waste; or (4) accepted waste for transport. As a result of the law, the courts have interpreted Superfund as meaning that any party that ever touched the waste, no matter how slight their involvement or minor the amount, can be held liable for the full cost of remediation. As a result, lawyers, consultants, private investigators, and administrative overhead has consumed enormous quantities Overview/Analysis of Superfund of Superfund dollars. It is estimated that these administrative costs eat up as much as 35% of the corporate Superfund expenditures, 88% of insurance company Superfund expenditures and 50% of public Superfund expenditures.
In the last 15 years attorneys who specialized in environmental litigation nationwide have grown from 2,000 to 18,000. Another problem with Superfund is the Hazard Ranking System. With preliminary assessments and associated investigations taking an average of 4 years to complete, it’s no surprise that thousands of sites are still pending determination as to health risk. In addition to the excessive lag-time involving site assessment, when sites are assessed through the HRS system, the single most hazardous substance located at a sites used to score the toxicity for all the contaminants at the entire site. For example, in South Carolina, the EPA took two surface and more than 20 subsurface soil samples of a site. The most contaminated sample of the approximately 30 which were taken was used to calculate the soil exposure pathway in the HRS. Dr.
Richard Goodwin, who is a private environmental engineer in New Jersey and who has been involved in over 20 cleanup operations was quoted as saying:”Does it make sense to spend millions of dollars cleaning up a site that only has a tenth of an ounce of contamination? I say no. All we’re doing in most cases is throwing money at a problem without improving public health or the environment. Overview/Analysis of Superfund The need for the Superfund will never go away as long as the means exists for man to create hazardous wastes. But, as important as having a program designed to enhance our health and environment, is the need to ensure its effectiveness.