academic environmental studies   macalester college
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Cleaning Our Toxic Nation

Introduction
History of Superfund
Details of Superfund Act
Current State of Program

Criticisms of Program

Hudson River Case Study

Possible Solutions
References & Links

 

Comments and questions to:
cmcconnell@macalester.edu




Cleaning Our Toxic Nation

The viability of the Superfund program for remediating toxic waste sites


Introduction

In our current political climate, environmental issues hold a prominent place among policy issues being addressed. As a society, we have reached a point where our drive for progress and technological advancement is having devastating effects on our environment. At the same time, we have the knowledge and the technology to remedy many of the problems we create. In this era when we cannot even predict the effects many of the technologies we are creating will actually have, environmental remediation has become an important government mandate. Citizens have come to expect the government to monitor toxic waste and clean up any potentially dangerous pollution sites caused by industry and our ever-present movement “forward”. Throughout the past three decades, the United States has formulated a program to deal with toxic waste sites throughout the country. In 1980, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), more commonly referred to as the Superfund Act. Since that time, politicians have struggled to find the proper and most effective way to finance and enforce CERCLA.

                               A majestic river scene

In the United States, this issue has been framed by society as a problem of industrial giants carelessly polluting the environment, with community members paying the price decades down the road with extreme health effects, and a compromised living space. Since the 1980s the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has had the responsibility of keeping track of serious toxic contamination and forcing corporations to pay for their crimes against the environment. After almost three decades with the same program for cleaning up waste sites, Congress is now considering revamping Superfund legislation. Many politicians are questioning the viability of our system for dealing with industrial polluters, and with the number of toxic sites growing much faster than the budget for cleaning them up, creative solutions are needed. One in four Americans lives within four miles of a Superfund site. With any luck, and perhaps some hard work from our nation’s politicians and citizens, this statistic could change.

                      An EPA Superfund sign photo by fantail media

In this website, you will find information about the history of the Superfund program, many of the criticisms against it as well as arguments in its support, and current ideas for revamping the program. In addition, I will discuss the Hudson River Superfund site, where the General Electric Corporation (GE) has been ordered by EPA to dredge contaminants from a 40-mile stretch of the river. EPA considers this a Superfund success story, and yet to this day no contaminants have actually been removed from the river. This case study will help illuminate both the flaws and the productive aspects within the Superfund program.

 

Last updated:  4/30/2007

 




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