Monday, December 23, 2013 by Jessica Hope

Cercla Image

CERCLA stands for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, known also as Superfund.  It was passed in 1980 in response to some alarming and decidedly unacceptable hazardous waste practices and management going on in the 1970s.  

Its purpose is to identify sites where hazardous materials threaten the environment and or public health as a result of leakage, spillage, or general mismanagement (particularly the lack of a good hazardous waste removal plan), and then to identify the responsible party.  The next (and most important) job-at-hand is clean-up (and to try to ensure the party responsible for the mess is also held responsible for the clean-up).  These sites are referred to as Superfund Sites.

CERCLA authorizes Superfund cleanup responses in two ways: short-term removal and long-term environmental remediation.  These actions can be conducted only at sites listed on EPA’s National Priorities List (NPL).  The removal actions are meant to be undertaken promptly to abate, prevent, minimize, stabilize, mitigate or ideally eliminate the threat.  These actions deal not only with listed hazardous materials and substances but also any contaminants or pollutants – with the exception of oil and gas.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) generally attempts to identify the responsible party for any contamination before taking response actions itself.  Responsible parties can be any of the following: any generators of hazardous materials on location, transporters of hazardous materials to the site, and past or present site owners.  The responsible party has the option to willingly undertake the response task – but if they’re unwilling, the EPA will order them to do it anyway.  If they’re somehow unable to do this or otherwise refuse to comply, the EPA can then initiate the response and removal actions itself.  These actions are paid for by a trust fund made possible by a tax imposed on chemical and petroleum industries when CERCLA was enacted.  

CERCLA powers and responsibilities overlap with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

CERCLA and RCRA share jurisdiction with respect to hazardous materials, and underground storage tanks containing petroleum products.  There is protocol and guidelines for these tanks contained in Subtitle I of the 1984 Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments to RCRA – however, the types of waste that are controlled are outlined by CERCLA. 

CERCLA was amended by the Superfund Amendments and Re-authorization Act (SARA) on October 17, 1986.

CERLCA is an important environmental program.  It not only ensures that these invaluable removal actions are taken, but also enforces against potentially responsible parties, and ultimately promotes strong accountability, community involvement and long-term protectiveness.  One thing CERCLA cannot ensure, however, is perfection – read our article  Trichloroethylene (TCE) Concerns for Google Employees   to see why.

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