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Cleaning Our Toxic Nation

Cleaning Our Toxic Nation

History of Superfund
Details of Superfund Act
Current State of Program

Criticisms of Program

Hudson River Case Study

Possible Solutions
References & Links


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The process of assessing and dealing with a Superfund site begins when a potentially hazardous site is discovered, either by the EPA, a state agency, or a citizen or group of citizens. The EPA then enters the discovered site into its computerized database, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System (CERCLIS). A multi-step process is then undertaken to determine the extent of the potential hazard and what steps should be taken to remedy the situation. First, the EPA begins a Preliminary Assessment/Site Inspection (PA/SI) to determine whether the site poses a threat to human health and the environment. If the PA determines that further investigation is necessary, then a SI is performed to gather the data needed to give the site a score in the Hazardous Ranking System (HRS). Scientists investigating the site will collect environmental and waste samples to determine what hazardous substances are present at a site, and to verify if these substances are being released to the environment. Once the site’s HRS score has been determined, the EPA has a better understanding of what actions will be taken. Sites with a score over 28.50 are eligible for placement on the National Priorities List (NPL). The EPA takes the step of suggesting sites for the NPL, and then holds a public comment period to help determine public 
opinion on the immediacy of the clean-up project. According to the EPA, 

The identification of a site for the NPL is intended primarily to guide EPA in determining which sites warrant further investigation to assess the nature and extent of the human health and environmental risks associated with a site; identifying what CERCLA-financed remedial actions may be appropriate; notifying the public of sites EPA believes warrant further investigation; and serving notice to potentially responsible parties that EPA may initiate CERCLA-financed remedial action (Superfund website).

After a site is listed on the NPL, the EPA begins a remedial investigation/feasibility study (RI/FS) to characterize exact site conditions and classify waste products. This is done to determine possible human health and environmental effects and potential treatment processes. The FS is a means for developing and screening various remediation methods. Once the potential remediation alternatives have been screened, the EPA releases a Record of Decision (ROD), which is a public document explaining the clean-up methods that will be used on the site. Based on what the EPA decides in the ROD, the process then enters the Remedial Design (RD) phase. This is the part of the cleanup process where the technical specifications for remedies and technologies are designed. This is the phase where much of the planning and litigation between the EPA and those responsible for clean-up occurs. The Remedial Action (RA) phase follows the remedial design phase and involves the actual construction or implementation of Superfund site cleanup.   

The next phase of Superfund clean-up as outlined by the EPA is the Construction Completion phase. A site can reach construction completion when any necessary construction is finished, whether or not clean-up goals have been met. This designation has no legal significance, but is a method for better categorizing sites and communicating to the public where certain sites are in the clean-up process. After a site has been listed on the Construction Completion list, it enters the phase of Post-Construction Completion wherein the EPA looks toward long-term protection of human health and the environment. Post-Construction Completion activities also involve optimizing remediation processes to increase effectiveness and/or reduce the project’s cost.


Steps Toward Remediation 

  • Preliminary Assessment/Site Inspection (PA/SI)
  • Hazardous Ranking System (HRS) scoring
  • Possible placement on the National Priorities List (NPL)
  • Remedial Investigation/ Feasibility Study (RI/FS)
  • Record of Decision (ROD)
  • Remedial Design/Remedial Action (RD/RA)
  • Construction Completion
  • Post-Construction Completion

Last updated:  4/30/2007


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