History of SRP and WA SRP

Years ago, people were less aware of how dumping industrial and military wastes might affect public health and the environment. This was the practice on thousands of properties, resulting in landfills, warehouses and lakes filled with hazardous waste. Unfortunately, communities of color and less affluent communities have been the hardest hit by this practice.

In December 1980, on the heels of the 10th anniversary of the US Earth Day, and amid toxic waste fires in New Jersey and contamination at Love Canal, President Jimmy Carter signed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). President Carter stated that CERCLA was 'landmark in its scope and impact on preserving the environmental quality of our country' and that it 'fills a major gap in the existing laws of our country.'

CERCLA, or Superfund as it is more commonly known, was formed to primarily deal with cleaning up hazardous waste sites where owners had shirked responsibility, but also allowed injured parties to sue in Federal court for damages. The US Environmental Protection Agency administers the Superfund program, in cooperation with states and tribal governments.

A New Process

Nothing like Superfund had ever existed before. EPA was expected to immediately extinguish the fires, stop tank leaks and clean up sites. Over time, the program has evolved to creating a regulatory framework to protect human health and the environment from the dangers of hazardous waste.

EPA's Superfund program is responsible for identifying contaminated sites and quantifying risks to health and the environment from a broad range of conditions, chemicals and threats at uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.

The sites are placed on a National Priority List (NPL) to determine when they will receive further investigation and long-term clean up actions. The first NPL was announced in 1983, with 406 priority sites identified. The NPL is updated regularly based on the evaluation of both new sites and the progress of cleanup at sites already on the NPL.

Community environmental justice allies have been working with EPA and staff at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to assess sites and advocate for clean-up. ATSDR was established by CERCLA to test persons exposed to toxic chemicals, maintain long-term health records of these exposed persons, and establish a data bank of known toxic materials.

In Washington State

In Washington, developing and maintaining the NPL requires close coordination among EPA and Tribal and State agencies. Although sites on the NPL and other polluting facilities are distributed throughout Washington State, a Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) study revealed that facilities were less likely to be located and toxic releases were less likely to occur in communities categorized as nonminority and/or more affluent neighborhoods.

The DOE study assessed statewide environmental equity issues, determined the location of various facility types and toxic chemical releases relative to communities of color or low income communities. Statewide, low-income communities have a disproportionately higher percentage of polluting facilities. People of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to live in the most polluted environments and to work in the most hazardous occupations.

In 2001, the lower Duwamish River, a five-mile stretch through South Seattle, was designated as a federal Superfund site. Nearly all the fish and crab caught in the Duwamish River have industrial chemical contamination. This area has heavy subsistence fishing activities. A community coalition has come together to ensure that the cleanup is accepted by and benefits the community and protect fish, wildlife and human health. More information available at: http://www.duwamishcleanup.org/

To effectively assess sites, it is important to determine the toxicity of the more than 65,000 different contaminating chemicals. In the past, the lack of basic knowledge and information on the most efficient ways of removing the chemicals slowed down the clean up process.


Superfund: 30 years of protecting Human Health and the Environment.
Website: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/30years/

Environmental Equity Study In Washington State.
Website: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/biblio/95413.html

Department of Ecology Cleanup Site Information
Narrative information by county (fact sheets), and site listings contain legal documents, public participation notices, and related information.
Website: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/tcp/sites/sites.html


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© 2007-2014 Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington