Superfund

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WARNING! Sewage sludge is toxic. Food should not be grown in "biosolids." Join the Food Rights Network.

Superfund is a federal government program administered through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The aim of the legislation, known as CERCLA is ... "to clean up the nation's uncontrolled hazardous waste sites."[1]

Superfund sites exist all throughout the country, according to the EPA Superfund website. The website defines a Superfund site as "an uncontrolled or abandoned place where hazardous waste is located, possibly affecting local ecosystems or people."

The ATSDR was initially with the Department of Health and Human Services:

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is charged under the Superfund Act to assess the presence and nature of health hazards at specific Superfund sites, to help prevent or reduce further exposure and the illnesses that result from such exposures, and to expand the knowledge base about health effects from exposure to hazardous substances.

RELATED ENTRIES
  CERCLA the main Superfund law.
  Superfund the clean-up projects
  Love Canal   -   Times Beach   -   Bhopal
 EPA's Glossary of Terms
COMPOSTED TOXIC SLUDGE
Superfund sites often encourage composting of toxic sludge, the byproduct of hazardous waste and sewage sludge waste and wastewater treatment plants in the United States. The EPA calls composted sewage sludge by its devised PR euphemism "biosolids", and often uses so-called "nutrient rich," "organic biosolids compost" to remedy contaminated soils at Superfund sites.[2]

Documents & Timeline

1962 Sep 27Rachel Carson's book, "Silent Spring" was published and immediately raised concerns about pesticides such as DDT. She also took a critical look at pollution in the United States which jump-started the environmental movement, worldwide.

Carson was a dedicated birdwatcher, and she had come to the conclusion that over-use of pesticides was killing off birds and making the forests 'silent.' She also wrote about harmful chemicals (Agent Orange and Agent Blue) used for defoliation in the Vietnam War. This eventually brought the term 'dioxin' into more widespread use in the community; until then it has been treated as relatively benign.


1969 June 29 The Cuyahoga River in Ohio became so polluted that it caught fire. This initiated an avalanche of water pollution control activities in the USA, such as the Clean Water Act and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. By bringing national attention to water pollution issues, the Cuyahoga River fire was one of the events that led to the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


1970 Apr 22 The fact that environmental protection had now become a significant force in American politics was demonstrated when 20 million Americans participated in the First Earth Day. This was one of the largest grassroots community service movements in history, and Earth Day is now celebrated every year by almost 1 billion people worldwide.



1970 Dec 2The EPA was established in the first term of the Nixon Administration following public concerns about environmental pollution. The EPA was ..."to consolidate in one agency a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection. Since its inception, EPA has been working for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people."

The NEPA bill also formed the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to advise the President on the environment and review federal agencies' Environmental Impact Statements (EISs), required for projects that would affect the environment.

William D. Ruckelshaus serves as the first head of the EPA under Nixon. During his early tenure he oversaw a seven-month hearing on DDT, a carcinogenic pesticide, which was featured in Rachel Carson's 1962 book 'Silent Spring' as a threat to wildlife, and perhaps to humans. Ruckelshaus instituted a ban of DDT (June 1972).


1970 Dec 31 The EPA was authorized by Congress to set national air quality, auto emission, and anti-pollution standards. As a direct result of this standard, catalytic converter were developed in 1973 by New Jersey's Engelhard Corporation with little notable increase in cost of vehicles. In its first 20 years, the Clean Air Act prevented more than 200,000 premature deaths by significantly reducing the presence of lead, sulfur dioxide and other harmful pollutants in the air.


1971 Jan 13 Congress restricts use of lead-based paint in homes and on cribs and toys in the Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act, to protect children from developmental challenges.


1972 June 14 The EPA under Ruckelshaus banned DDT. It now requires extensive reviews of all pesticides.


1973 Apr 29Ruckelshaus left the EPA. No replacement until Sep 12.


1973 June 4EPA sets regulations on car manufacturing and testing for compliance with Clean Air Act standards. Car manufacturers are required to install malfunction warning systems in cars made later than 1974. Car manufacturers were now required to undergo 50,000-mile test for meeting emissions standards.


1973 Oct 15EPA creates new transportation controls in Los Angeles, Boston, Dallas, and other large cities to shift the US economy to lower use of cars by commuters. Measures included exclusive bus lanes, bypass lanes for carpools and buses, parking garages and restrictions, and a mass transit incentive plan for California employers.


1973 Sep 12 Russell E Train becomes the second EPA Administrator during the administration of Nixon and Ford. His achievements were:

  • the approval of the catalytic converter to achieve Clean Air Act automobile emission reductions,
  • the implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act and
  • the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

1973 Dec 28 On November 28, 1973 EPA released a study confirming that lead from automobile exhaust posed a direct threat to public health. On December 8 of that same year EPA issues regulations gradually reducing lead in gasoline.


1974 Dec 16 Congress passes the Safe Drinking Water Act, allowing EPA to regulate the quality of public drinking water.


1976 In response to public concern over 'midnight dumping' of toxic wastes, Congress established the EPA as the authority for controls over hazardous waste from generation to disposal under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

Congress also enacted in the same year the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which gave the EPA the necessary authority to protect public health and the environment through controls on toxic chemicals that pose an unreasonable risk of injury.


1975 June 30 Administrator Train orders the suspension of heptachlor and chlordane, two lawn and garden pesticides. The chemicals had been found to cause cancer in mice and rats. Other studies also revealed that about 75% of dairy and meat products in the United States contained the chemicals and that virtually every person in the U.S. had trace residue of the chemicals in their bodies, including unborn babies.


1976 Oct 11The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) curtailed environmental and health risks posed by the growing number of synthetic and organic chemicals in consumer products and the environment.


1977 Mar 6 The new President Jimmy Carter replaces Administrator Train at the EPA with Douglas M Costle. He chaired the U.S. Regulatory Council and was Carter's representative to NATO's Committee on the Challenges to a Modern Society and the United States Chair of the U.S./U.S.S.R. Joint Committee on Cooperation in the Field of Environmental Protection. He also served as Chair of the U.S./People's Republic of China Environmental Protection Protocol. (until Jan 19 1981)


1977 June 25National drinking water standards went into effect. All public water suppliers were required to test their public water routinely and notify their customers if water was not up to EPA standards.


1977 A series of major chemical incidences occurred. One was a chemical reaction that set fire to a large chemical waste treatment facility in New Jersey. A spark fom a welder's torch touched off a series of chemical reactions that ignited this large Bridgeport, New Jersey,chemical-waste treatment facility. It left six dead and thity-five hospitalized. The contemporary reports were that, 'the raging fire propels waste drums through the air and blankets the city in a funnel of black smoke that reaches hundreds of feet into the sky.' The readers were now aware that potentially dangerous chemicals were being dumped in waste-sites.


1977 Aug 8 President Carter signs amendments to the Clean Air Act. This further strengthened air quality standards, and these stronger protections spurred the development of scrubber technology which now removes air pollution from coal-fired power plants.


1978 President Carter declared a State of Emergency at Love Canal, a new housing site near Niagra Falls, in New York. This old canal development had been used as a dump site, and in 1978 an investigative reporter began looking into the startling increase in skin rashes, miscarriages, and birth defects. Love Canal heightens public awareness of the grave and imminent perils of unregulated hazardous waste dumping in communities.


1978 Oct 15This was the beginning of the mandated EPA phaseout of fluorocarbon gases. These destroy the ozone layer. These gases were used in aerosol products like hair spray, deodorant, and household cleaners. Companies now switched to safer propellant gas options (often CO2) or mechanical pumps.


1978 Aug 2Residents of Love Canal, NY, discover that their town is contaminated by buried leaking chemical containers. The pollution is linked to serious health threats such as cancer and birth defects. President Carter declares an emergency, authorizing EPA to help temporariliy relocate about 700 families. In 1980 Congress passed CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act), also called the Superfund Act, which authorized EPA to identify parties responsible for contamination of sites and compel the parties to clean up the sites.

The EPA report said later:

"EPA scientists found 82 toxic chemicals in air, water, and soil samples near the dumps," Blum said. "The numerous toxic chemicals -- a dozen of which are carcinogenic -- discarded at Love Canal over the past 30 years have triggered several health problems, including miscarriages, among the area's residents, and have transformed whole sections of this once pleasant community into a ghost town."[1]


1978 Sep 29 The EPA announced its final atmospheric air quality standard. this was designed to protect the public from exposure to airborne lead, which, even at low levels of exposure, harmed human nervous and blood-forming systems.


1979 House and Senate committees held extensive hearings on the dangers posed by toxic waste dumps and major bills were introduced to create a 'Superfund' for dealing with these dangers in both houses of Congress.


1979 Mar 28 A meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, raises awareness about the potential dangers of nuclear power. This incident provokes discussion about nuclear safety and the EPA and other agencies begin monitoring radioactive fallout. The White House chose the EPA to officially monitor radiation levels around Three Mile Island (rather than nuclear or energy authorities).


1979 Dec 20 The American Government sued the Hooker Chemical Company and Occidental Petroleum Corp. for over $125 million in cleanup costs for the company's four dangerous dump sites in New York, including Love Canal. [2]


1980 While the debates continued, a pile of physical toxic waste materials burst into flames at a storage facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey. This sent a thick black plume of smoke and ash over a 15-mile area and raised fears of widespread chemical contamination. The fire burnt for 10 hours. State officials issued an environmental advisory which closed schools and urged residents to close all doors and windows and remain indoors.


1980 Dec 10 In the last days of his lame-duck period, President Carter managed to get the Superfund Act of 1980 passed with a $1 billion available for cleanup efforts. This is actually known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) -- the Superfund Act. It required companies to clean up their toxic waste dumps, and it was also designed to address the dangers of abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste dumps by creating a nationwide program for:

  • emergency response;
  • information gathering and analysis;
  • liability for responsible parties; and
  • site cleanup.
    CERCLA created the Trust Fund (or 'Superfund') to finance emergency responses and cleanups.

1981 Jan 19 The highly active Carter EPA Administrator Douglas Costle was replace by the do-nothing Reagan nominee Anne M Gorsuch (Burford) from May 20 1981.


1981 The importance of the Superfund Act was demonstrated by the successful response to the 'Valley of the Drums' site in Kentucky. This drew national attention and the EPA was seen as acting on behalf of public safety by removing over 4,000 drums and installing protective measures. 1981 Sep 18 The EPA announced a $400K plan to remove drums full of chemical waste and to detoxify runoff water from a 23-acre site in Bullitt County, Kentucky. This location contained potentially flammable chemicals and was one of the nation's worst ever abandoned waste sites.


1982 Jan 1President Reagan signed The Nuclear Waste Policy Act, allowing for the storage and disposal of radioactive waste. The Act establishes procedures to evaluate and select sites for geologic repositories and encourages the interaction of state and federal governments.


1982 May 24 The EPA anounces a rule requiring all elementary and secondary schools to test for asbestos in their buildings. School districts were to consult with EPA if they found friable asbestos or dust.


1982 The EPA issued its first national guidelines for implementing CERCLA in its revised National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP). The NCP sets forth the procedures that must be followed by EPA and private parties in emergency responses and cleanups.

Not long after, a landfill protest in Warren County, North Carolina, raised new concerns about the unequal distribution of environmental threats. They inevitably rested most on disadvantaged and minority communities. This fostered the birth of the environmental justice movement.

CERCLA also had its first major success for the EPA. This was a CERCLA settlement involving multiple toxic dumpers, where the parties involved were forced to implement the cleanup. The settlement involved the South Carolina Recycling and Disposal, Inc., site (aka. 'Bluff Road').


1982 Sep 15 The beginning of the Environmental Justice movement.A PCB landfill protest in Warren County, North Carolina - a predominantly poor, African-American area - launches the environmental justice movement. Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and involvement of all people, regardless of race or income, in decisions on development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental policies.


1982 Dec 23 The EPA detected dioxin contamination after a flood in Times Beach, Missouri. The residents were evacuated and the government and some polluters shared the cleanup costs with the EPA commiting $22.1 million from the Superfund to relocate residents. More than 500 residents of Times Beach were relocated because of the widespread dioxin contamination.


1983 May 17 The Reagan Administration, now under fire from all directions, recalls William D Ruckelshaus to a second term as EPA Administrator (until Jan 3 1985). He immediately commits the EPA to a 'fishbowl policy' --communicating as openly as possible. Guidance letters were sent to all employees instructing them to keep the public in the loop on decision-making and the making of more specific rules.


1983 Apr 21 The Olin Corporation had contaminated a facility site with DDT. The company agreed to pay for the cleanup and fund healthcare for residents of nearby Triana, Alabama. This was the first time that EPA enforcement led to a company providing health care.


1983 The EPA had now created the first National Priorities List (NPL), which classified 406 sites, creating a list of the nation's priorities for cleanup under Superfund. Only sites on the NPL would qualify for long-term remedial actions financed by the Superfund. The NPL is updated on a regular basis.


1983 Sep 30 Ruckleshaus orders the emergency suspension of ethylene dibromide (EDB) as a soil fumigant. The EPA took action after new test results showed that EDB, a carcinogen and mutagen, was contaminating groundwater. EPA also ordered the phase-out of other pesticide uses of EDB, which amounted to 20 million pounds of the chemical produced per year in the U.S.

EDB, a persistent halogenated hydrocarbon, has been registered as a pesticide since 1948. Over 300 million pounds (150,000 tons) of EDB are produced annually in this country. Over 20 million pounds of that are used as a pesticide.

The remainder is used as an additive in leaded gasoline. Of the 20 million pounds of EDB used for agricultural purposes, over 90 percent is used as a soil fumigant. The use of EDB as a soil fumigant was suspended. The remaining EDB is used to fumigate stored grain, on grain milling machinery, as a fumigant to quarantine citrus and other tropical fruits and for a number of minor uses.

The use of EDB in gasoline is not a part of today's decision. Used in gasoline, EDB keeps lead from collecting on an engine's cylinder walls. Concentrations in gasoline are less than 0.5 percent. Preliminary analysis of exposure to EDB from gasoline vapors shows that exposures are much lower than those resulting from agricultural uses. [3]

1984 It became important to extend control over gasoline and hazardous chemicals seeping from storage tanks and landfills into underground drinking water supplies. This prompt Congress to enact the 'Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments to RCRA under which EPA makes efforts to prevent such contamination and requires the treatment of hazardous waste prior to land disposal.

A toxic gas release in Bhopal, India, killed 3,800 people this year. This also raised US public concerns about explosions and leaks of toxic chemicals. This incident led to the passage of the first community right-to-know law under the 1986 Superfund Amendments.


1984 Nov 9 Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) established requirements governing generators, transporters, and disposers of small quantities of hazardous wastes who have generally not been subject to full regulation under RCRA. This amendment mandated that land disposal of a hazardous waste must be banned unless EPA determines that the prohibition of such disposal is not necessary to protect human health and the environment.


1984 Dec 4Bhopal Disaster: A Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, releases 40 tons of poisonous methyl isocyanate gas, killing (??3,400?) or injuring over 170,000 people living nearby. In the aftermath, Congress enacts right-to-know laws to inform U.S. communities of chemicals stored nearby and aid in emergency planning, and EPA launches the Toxics Release Inventory.


1985 Feb 7 After Ronald Reagan' landslide victory in Nov 84, the EPA was headed by Administrator Lee M. Thomas. He serves as EPA Administrator until Jan 19 1989 when the Presidency changed to George HW Bush. Under his leadership, the U.S. signed the Montreal Protocol, pledging to phase out the use of CFCs and passing rules for phasing out lead additives from gasoline. Administrator Thomas was also the head of a government-wide task force to coordinate the federal response to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.


1985 Mar 4 The EPA sets the final lead standard in gasoline to .10 grams per leaded gallon, which was to begin January 1, 1986. An interim standard of .50 grams per leaded gallon took effect July 1, 1985.


1985 May 16 The announcement that a British Antarctic Survey team had discovers a 7.3 million square mile ozone hole over Antarctica. This was the first sound evidence marking stratospheric ozone depletion. Scientific research reveals the widening ozone hole could have adverse environmental and health effects, including high exposure to ultraviolet light.


1985 Nov 14 FIRST USE OF GENETICALLY ALTERED BACTERIA.
THE EPA gives Advanced Genetic Sciences a permit to conduct small-scale tests of two genetically altered bacteria strains. The Oakland, California company hoped to prevent frost damage to plants, and used strawberry plants as test subjects.


1986Certain specific provisions needed to be added to CERCLA to ensure that the Act was applicable to the cleanup of contaminated sites at federal facilities. This supplementary material became known as SARA. CERCLA had required federal agencies to comply with CERCLA in the same manner and to the same extent as non-governmental entities. But now it required federal agencies to

  • identify contamination affecting contiguous or adjacent property,
  • compile information about contaminated sites at federal facilities and
  • enter the information into the Federal Agency Hazardous Waste Compliance Docket, and
  • promptly conduct preliminary assessments, remedial investigations, and feasibility studies at federal facilities.

The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), strengthened CERCLA's enforcement provisions; encouraged voluntary settlements instead of litigation; stressed the importance of permanent remedies and innovative treatment technologies; increased state involvement in every phase of the Superfund program; increased the focus on human-health problems posed by hazardous waste sites; and encouraged greater citizen participation in how sites are cleaned up.

SARA also contained the first community right-to-know law, and it required public access to records of chemicals managed at a facility. This amendment also provided the EPA with the authority to work with states and localities to prevent accidents and develop emergency plans in case of dangerous releases of chemicals.


1986 Apr 26:

The Chernobyl Accident

At 12:00 AM a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine explodeed and burned, emitting large quantities of radioactive material into the atmosphere. EPA's monitoring shows no threat to the US and reassured the public. The EPA later constructs a mobile radiation laboratory for Ukraine.


1986 June 19: Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Amendments required the EPA to regulate over 100 contaminants by 1991 and expanded EPA enforcement power. The legislation also banned the use of lead materials in water systems and called for tighter regulation of drinking water wells.


1986 Oct 17: The 'Right to Know' Laws for Chemical Safety. Congress declares the public has a right to know when toxic chemicals that are released into the air, land, and water. President Reagan signs the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).


1987 Sep 16: The Montreal Protocol was signed by US which had threatened to be a major obstacle to the actions.

President Reagan signed, joining international partners in the first efforts to protect the ozone layer. Since that time, the Montreal Protocol has been repeatedly strengthened by both controlling additional ozone-depleting substances and moving up the dates on which controlled substances must be phased out.


1988 Oct 5: Launch of EPA's Radon Program following the passage of The Indoor Radon Abatement Act of 1988. The EPA began to encourage homeowners to test for radon, a gas that can cause lung cancer. (and which the tobacco industry used as a smoking/cancer scapegoat)


1989 Feb A CBS 60 Minutes program featured a report by the the Natural Resources Defense Council on potential problems with Alar (daminozide), following five years of background work. According to Environmental Working Group, prior to this broadcast, five separate, peer-reviewed studies of Alar (and its chemical breakdown product, unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH)), had found a correlation with cancerous tumors in lab animals. In 1984 and again in 1987, the EPA classified Alar as a probable human carcinogen, but it was still being used, however the American Academy of Pediatrics urged the EPA to ban it.

Public concern had already led six national grocery chains and nine major food processors to stop selling Alar treated apples. and Washington State growers had pledged to voluntarily stop using it. Maine and Massachusetts had banned it outright.


1989 Mar 24The Exxon Valdez spilt 11-million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound, raising public consciousness for both Superfund and oil-spill planning and response.March 24, 1989. The company was fined $1 billion, and the spill spurs the adoption of the Pollution Prevention Act.


1989 Nov 7: A chemical known as Alar (Daminozide) was a plant growth regulator, a chemical sprayed on fruit to regulate their growth, make their harvest easier, and keep apples from falling off the trees before they are ripe. It was banned for use on foods based on evidence that it causes tumors in laboratory animals and that lifetime dietary exposure to this product may result in an unacceptable risk to public health. The EPA ordered an immediate prohibition on all sales, distribution and use of daminozide on all food crops. However it is still used on ornamental plants (grown for flowers)

Alar was first approved for use in the U.S. in 1963, primarily used on apples until 1989 and produced in the U.S. by the Uniroyal Chemical Company, Inc. Wikipedia says it was voluntarily withdrawn by the manufacturer after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed banning it based on concerns about cancer risks to consumers. [4]

It has been


1990 The EPA revised the Hazard Ranking System (HRS) associated with SARA to help ensure that it accurately reflected the relative risk to human health and the environment posed by uncontrolled hazardous waste sites that may be added to the NPL.

It also expanded the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan to provide for broader responses, increased state and public involvement, and stronger enforcement.

Congress also passed the Pollution Prevention Act which established prevention as national policy (rather than just reaction) and encouraged industries and academics to devise novel technologies and processes that avoid the formation and/or use of hazardous substances.


1993 Jan 21Carol M. Browner begins the longest term of any EPA Administrator, eight years, under President Bill Clinton (ended Jan 18 2001). Under Browner's leadership, EPA created the first-ever comprehensive restoration plan for the Florida Everglades and implemented Clinton's Clean Water Action Plan. Browner also set new standards for pesticides used in food production and supported the public's right to a transparent government.


1993 June 30 EPA ETS Risk Assessment the potential health effects of passive smoking.

EPA completes its risk assessment on The Respiratory Health Effects of Passsive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders. The report concludes that exposure to environmental, or secondhand, tobacco smoke is responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in nonsmoking adults and also impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of children.


1996 Jan 29 Leaded Gasoline Phased Out. The EPA completes a 25-year mission to completely remove lead from gasoline. Administrator Browner called it one of the great environmental achievements of all time.


Related SourceWatch articles

See the EPA's own Superfund history site (note the absence of political information} [5]

References

See the EPA's history line: [6]

  1. Superfund: Cleaning up the Nation's Hazardous Wastes Sites| US EPA, March 15, 2011. EPA Superfund Website Accessed April 11, 2011.
  2. Mid-Atlantic Superfund: Sharon Steel Current Site Information, February 2011. EPA Superfund Website Accessed April 11, 2011.

External resources

External articles

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