Superfund or Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation Liability Act (CERCLA; US).


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


CERCLA is a hazardous waste site remediation regulation designed to discover parties responsible for creating hazardous waste sites, investigating the health and environmental threats poses by waste sites, and cleaning up (remediating) hazardous waste sites. The hazardous substances to which CERCLA applies are defined in other statues related to the control of environmental hazards including: the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act; and the Toxic Substances Control Act.

CERCLA was created in 1980 (Public Law 96-510; 42 U.S.C. Section 9601) and amended in 1986 as part of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 and through the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-know Act of 1986. The purview of CERCLA does not extend to nuclear waste, workplace hazards or federally permitted pesticides.

CERCLA authorizes the EPA to undertake both short-term (removal actions) and long term (remedial actions) to clean up a toxic hazard. Removal actions can include emergency responses, and other typically short-term responses that address immediate harms to public or environmental health. Long term or remedial responses target the most serious toxic site hazards, which include sites that qualify for listing on the National Priorities List (NPL; EPA NPL Site). NPL sites are eligible for clean-up with federal funds. Hazardous waste sites are investigated by EPA through a remedial investigation using the Hazard Ranking System (HRS) and receive a score indicating the seriousness of the threat the site poses to the public and the environment. Sites that score more than 28.5 in the HRS are eligible for NPL inclusion. Data from the NPL program such as site location can be obtained from TOXMAP ( TOXMAP Link) and CERLIS – the CERCLA Information System ( CERCLA Sites).

The EPA’s investigation of a Superfund site includes an effort to identify the Potentially Responsible Party (PRP). The EPA can then employ civil litigation to recover clean-up costs from PRPs. When the PRP cannot be identified, the EPA must (since 2004) seek funding from Congress for site remediation costs. Prior to 2004, Superfund clean-ups were paid through the Superfund program via a tax on petroleum and chemical products.

CERCLA regulations also created the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry ( ATSRD).

CERCLA regulations contain rules for administering civil and criminal penalties that apply in various cases that better enable the EPA to enforce CERCLA and carry out its remediation and clean-up responsibilities. For example, under 42 U.S.C. 9606, the EPA may fine a PRP for violating an injunction ($25,000 per day), and apply punitive damage costs to PRPs up to three times the government’s remediation costs. Criminal and civil penalties may be applied to violations related to notification requirements (42 U.S.C. 9603(a)(b)); destruction of records (42 U.S.C. 9603(d)(2)); avoidance of financial responsibility (42 U.S.C. 9608) and for violations of order and settlements (42 U.S.C. 9620 and 9622).

Further Reading


Comments are closed

Copyright ©2012. All Rights Reserved. Site Version 1.04.