Superfund Support Progams
Thousands of contaminated sites exist across the nation due to the improper management of hazardous wastes. In response, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) in 1980. CERCLA established what has commonly become known as Superfund to clean up the nation’s most contaminated sites.
Investigation and remediation efforts at Superfund sites are led by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) provides technical assistance to EPA Superfund efforts across two programs: the Superfund Site Assessment Program and the Superfund Management Assistance Program.
Through the Superfund Site Assessment Program, NDEE assists the EPA in reviewing existing information about a known or suspected release, collecting environmental samples, and recommending future actions. The majority of sites investigated in Nebraska consist of areas where groundwater contamination has been detected in municipal and private drinking water supply wells or where there is a significant potential for groundwater contamination. It is also becoming more common to investigate sites for potential vapor intrusion from contaminated soil or groundwater.
When evaluating a potential Superfund site, the EPA’s primary consideration is the presence of hazardous substances and whether those hazardous substances have impacted human health and the environment. EPA utilizes existing environmental laws to define a hazardous substance, which include hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, toxic pollutants subject to pretreatment under the Clean Water Act, and wastes regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Ac. Wastes characterized as solid wastes are typically not designated as hazardous.
The most common contaminants at Superfund sites are metals such as lead, arsenic, and chromium; volatile organic compounds such as tetrachloroethene, trichloroethylene, benzene, and toluene; and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons such as naphthalene.
If the EPA formally identifies a site as a Superfund site, it is placed on the National Priorities List. At that point, NDEE’s technical assistance to EPA is provided through the Superfund Management Assistance Program. This assistance includes reviewing documents, identifying state requirements, and participating in the Superfund remedy selection process. NDEE also participates in public meetings with citizens and local officials in the development of cleanup plans.
Nebraska has 17 active Superfund sites. Thirteen sites are currently in the cleanup phase, and four sites are in the site study phase.
Under the Superfund program, EPA has the authority to mandate responsible parties to perform cleanup or provide reimbursement for EPA-led cleanup. CERCLA broadly defines potentially responsible parties as current and past owners and operators, generators of the waste, and those who arrange for transportation or disposal of hazardous waste. If the potentially responsible parties are no longer in business or cannot be identified, EPA has the authority to finance and perform the cleanup itself.
If a Superfund cleanup in Nebraska is financed by the EPA, NDEE generally assumes a cost share of 10 percent of the costs for construction of the remedy and cleanup for the first ten years and then 100 percent of the costs for operation and maintenance responsibilities thereafter.
Of the 17 Superfund sites in Nebraska, seven are being addressed by the potentially responsible party. The remaining ten sites either are or will be partially or fully financed by the EPA, making them subject to cost share assurances by the state.
Nationally, EPA estimates that recently listed sites will take an average of eight years to complete cleanup. Some cleanups take much longer. Approximately 25 percent of the nation’s Superfund sites have been remediated since CERCLA was enacted.
Sites with known or suspected releases of hazardous substances that are not identified as Superfund sites may receive cleanup assistance under NDEE’s Brownfields Assistance Program or be enrolled for cleanup in the Nebraska Voluntary Cleanup Program.