Current Superfund
The Current Law
How a Site is Designated and Assessed

The Current Law
        In 1986, the Superfund was amended and reauthorized with the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA).  These amendments stressed using new technologies that would permanently clean up sites.  SARA aimed to include and be consistent with the regulations and standards of other environmental laws with stronger enforcement and state and citizen involvement.  Greater emphasis placed on the human health effects including revising the hazardous waste classifying system so that it reflected human health risks.  The funding was also increased to $8.5 billion ("SARA Overview", EPA, 2001).

How a Site is Designated and Assessed
        There are three steps to designating a hazardous waste site as a Superfund site.
         First: Site Identification- Suspected sites are reported to the EPA's National Response Center by local officials, former operators, or concerned individuals.
         Second: Preliminary assessment- EPA investigators review local and state records and talk to the site owners in order to decide if an on site inspections is needed.
         Third: Site inspection- Samples from the site are taken and analyzed.  The EPA scores and determines if the results reveal that the site should be included in the National Priority List.
Only 1 of 10 reported sites actually makes it onto the National Priority List (NPL). (Wildavsky & Schleicher, 1995).

Just because a site doesn't make it to the does not mean that the site is not dangerous.  It may just mean that there other sites which are more serious and are deemed to be in need clean up more quickly.

        Assessment is conducted by choosing several of the chemicals that are determined to have the highest human health risk which are then used as the measure the risk of exposure.  These chemicals are chosen based on the "volume present, mobility (for example, as airborne gases or as leachates through the soil), persistence (to last in the environment in essential form, as opposed to biodegrading), and toxicity (Wildavsky & Schleicher, p 165, 1995).  Then the rates of release of these chemicals are measured and followed with an estimate of the pattern of migration or breakdown.  Next, who will be effected and when by these chemicals is determined and finally concentrations of exposure to the chemicals are determined in all mediums (drinking water, shower water, fish, air) (Wildavsky & Schleicher, 1995).

        Cleaning up Superfund sites is referred to as remediation.  There are several methods that toxic waste can be cleaned up.  These methods include encasing the toxic or hazardous material in concrete blocks, recycling the material, enclosed high intensity incineration, solidification and alteration of the chemicals into harmless substances (Schweitzer, 1991).  The type of remediation that is used is based on what type of hazardous material is in question.
        On the EPA website, the emphasis is placed on presumptive remediation.  Presumptive remediation is used to streamline the clean-up process so that sites contaminated similarly will be cleaned up in the same way.  Four types of sites may be cleaned up using these methods including municipal dumps, volatile organic compound (VOC) contaminated soil, wood treatment and contaminated ground water.  These types of sites comprise 60% of the sites on the NPL ("A Citizen's Guide to Understanding Presumptive Remedies", EPA, 2001).

        Below shows before and after an EPA clean-up of the Superfund site at Bowers Landfill in Pickaway County, Ohio (

BEFORE                                      AFTER


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Created on 12/01/2001
by Karen Danis