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CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980) was the basic law which established the Superfund toxic chemical projects designed by the US federal government to fund the cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous substances and pollutants.

  CERCLA the main Superfund law.
  Superfund the clean-up projects
  Love Canal   -   Times Beach   -   Bhopal
 EPA's Glossary of Terms

Love Canal

1976 Love Canal at Niagra Falls was an unfinished canal which had become an industrial waste site. It leaked chemicals whenever it rained, and it had been given to the New York Education Department, which had then sold various parts of it as housing estates. After 30 years of indiscriminate dumping and regular reports of seepages and odours, a local reporter began an investigation of possible links between the contamination and resident illnesses. In 1976 toxicology consultants (Calspan Corp. -- an ex-Defence-related general lab group associated with Cornell University) reported serious contamination by dioxins,

1977 Nov: A fired up local Congressman LaFalce, turned up at the site with the Environmenal Protection Agency in tow. The EPA tested air in basements, and the New York State Health and Environmental personnel sampled sump pumps and storm sewers. Love Canal citizens organised themselves into three large resident's organisations, and began to lobby for remedial action or relocation. [833 families were eventually relocated]

1978 Mar The New York health authorities ordered human testing of blood, and a committee of physicians recommended drastic measures. The Governor declaring a State health emergency, closed the school, etc. Over the next years the EPA and New York health authorities expanded their area of concern to 36 residential blocks, and the Congress became involved in Joint Hearings when chromasomal damage was reported.

1980 Dec This landmark case led, in the last days of the Carter Administration (Dec 11 1980), to passage of the Superfund Act (CERCLA) laws which required polluting industries to jointly pay to clean up their own mess, and they also set aside government funds for sites where it was impossible to identify the culprits.

The responsibility for the Superfund Act lay with the ATSDR (Agency For Toxic Substances And Disease Registry) which was part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, however it also requires input from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Administration is done through subsidiary bills:

  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976 (note earlier) gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to control hazardous waste from "cradle-to-grave."
  • Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act, (SARA) (Oct 17 1986) is an amendment and reauthorization of CERCLA which extended its life but also made important changes to enforcement, funding and both state and federal input. This introduced:
  • Hazard Ranking System (of the EPA) to assess the degree of hazard to humans and the environment.
  • Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA))1986), also known as the Community Right-To-Know Law. it required industries to report on the storage, use and release of hazardous substances. [2]

CERCLA required the ATSDR and the EPA to prepare a list, in order of priority, of substances that are most commonly found at facilities on the National Priorities List (NPL). They must identify those which are determined to pose the most significant potential threat to human health due to their known or suspected toxicity and potential for human exposure at these NPL sites.

CERCLA was originally funded by a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries and provided broad Federal authority to respond directly to releases (or threatened releases) of hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment. However it took five years of lax Reagan-Republican administration before the ATSDR (the agency charged with enforcing these rules) to be funded.

[Love Canal land was later remediated as a new suburb with a new name] [3]

2002 The George W Bush administration decided to shift the burden from industry to the taxpayers, and, as a result, the fund, which once had a balance of $6 billion, was depleted within two years, this slowing the cleanup at the remaining Superfund sites, and leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for subsequent cleanups.

2009 Dec 30: Under the Obama Administration, the US EPA issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning Superfund financial responsibility which would require that classes of facilities maintain financial responsibility consistent with the degree and duration of risk associated with the production, transportation, treatment, storage or disposal of hazardous substances.