Legislative at hazardous waste sites are evaluated by performing

Legislative
History

The
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensations, and Liability Act (CERCLA),
also known as “Superfund,” came about in 1980. 
Leading up to the passage of this act in the 1970s, the public learned
about the health risks to humans and the environment from toxic waste dumps
when Love Canal and Valley of the Drums received national attention.  In response to this event, Congress to established
CERCLA, which forces the
parties responsible for pollution to either perform cleanups or pay the
government for EPA-led cleanups at the contaminated sites.  In 1983,
the EPA created the first National Priorities List (NPL), which listed 406
sites in the US as priorities for cleanup under Superfund.  CERLA was amended by the Superfund Amendments
and Reauthorization Act (SARA) on October 17, 1986. This major amendment “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” (4).  One of the
major amendments under SARA was the Emergency Planning and Right-to-know Act.  Over the years, EPA has taken initiatives to try to accelerate the
rate of cleanups and improve how the risks at hazardous waste sites are
evaluated by performing studies.  Recently,
CERCLA has been updated to prevent and prepare for domestic chemical,
biological, and nuclear terrorist acts, and has implemented Green Remediation
Strategy Principles for Greener Cleanup. 
 Funding
for Superfund and liability for the parties who have been required to pay for
cleanup actions have been sources of great controversy throughout Superfund’s
history (12).

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Major Provisions                                                                                                      

The main objective of CERCLA is to address waste dumps
that are abandoned or hazardous by developing a nationwide program for four
areas which include emergency response, information gathering and analysis,
liability for responsible parties, and site cleanup (4).  CERCLA is able
to address emergency response with a Trust Fund (or
‘Superfund’) to finance emergency responses and cleanups (4).   The Superfund site information gathering and
analysis is accomplished by evaluating potential or confirmed releases of
hazardous substances that may pose a threat to human health or the environment.
Hazard Ranking System (HRS) criteria guide the process, which is carried out by
EPA, state, tribal or other federal agency environmental programs. After identification
of a site, a series of assessments evaluate the potential need for remedial
cleanup. Liability for responsible parties is accomplished by the EPA conducts
a search to find all of the potentially responsible parties (PRPs). EPA looks
for evidence to determine liability by matching wastes found at the site with
parties that may have contributed wastes to the site. EPA uses many approaches to
do this research, including reviewing documents, site investigation and
sampling, and interviews, research on the internet and at libraries, courthouses,
and state offices.  Under EPA’s
Enforcement First for Remedial Actions at Superfund Sites (“Enforcement
First” policy), EPA will usually ask PRPs to conduct the investigation and
to perform the cleanup before using Superfund money. (7) The EPA sends out a
special notice letter when it is ready to negotiate with PRPs to clean up a
site. A special notice letter gives PRPs information on why EPA thinks they are
liable and EPA’s plans for the cleanup of the site.  The letter also invites parties to
participate in negotiations with EPA to conduct future cleanup work and pay EPA
for any site-related costs already incurred. 
The cleanup process is accomplished through a complex and multi-phase
process.  The process begins with a Preliminary
Assessment/Site Investigation and later a Record of Decision or (ROD) which
explains the cleanup alternatives that will be used at NPL sites.  The cleanup process and ends with National
Priorities List Deletion and eventually Site Reuse/Redevelopment. (9)

Case
History

One area that became a Superfund site as a result of CERCLA is Onondaga
Lake, located northwest of Syracuse in Central New York.  I am from the Syracuse area and grew up
twenty minutes from Onondaga Lake. Throughout my life I enjoyed going to parks
next to the lake and I rowed on the lake for the varsity crew team in high
school.  I was aware of the lake’s
pollution; however, did not know Onondaga Lake is a Superfund site and the
cleanup efforts are a result of CERCLA.

Onondaga Lake has been the dumping grounds of municipal and industrial
sewage discharges for over 100 years.  The
site has a score of 50.00 on the national Priorities List and has been listed
since 1994 (6).  The companies Honeywell
International and Allied Chemical Corp. are two of the major companies who
contributed to the contamination of the lake. 
Beginning in 1946, Allied Chemical began discharging waste streams
containing mercury and heavy metals from performing a mercury cell process. Honeywell
has contributed pollution from their Semet Residue Ponds.  As a result of CERCLA, Honeywell is one of
the Superfund site’s primary potentially responsible parties (PRP).

In efforts to clean up the site, Interim
Remedial Measures (IRMs) and long-term measures have been taken.  Some of the IRMs implemented include “removing
chlorobenzene from existing wells; altering existing on-site sewers; on-site
demolition, removal, and decontamination and recycling of former mercury cell processing
buildings and building materials.”(3)  On
January 4, 2007, Honeywell International, a PRP of the site, entered a Consent Decree to implement
the Onondaga Lake remediation plan which was developed
in cooperation with DEC, EPA, and federal, state, county, town, and village
leaders. The plan was designed to “protect human health and the environment, meet
performance criteria established by DEC and EPA, improve the habitat for fish
and wildlife, improve recreational opportunities and expand public access to
the lake, create the conditions allowing, over time, for the lake’s natural
recovery” (10).

This work includes investigations, dredging, related capping and habitat
restoration work.  Starting in 2012
through 2014, dredging was performed in Onondaga Lake which removed
approximately 2.2 million cubic yards of contaminated material. From 2012
through 2016, Isolation and thin-layer capping of contaminated lake sediment
was performed.  Cleanup
activities are currently ongoing at the subsites and are being performed through
various means by the potentially responsible parties (PRPs) of the subsites under
the enforcement agreements between the PRPs and the State of New York.
(3).

Discussion
and Conclusions

CERCLA of 1980, which
has been amended by SARA of 1986, has provided measures for identification,
investigation, and cleanup of hazardous waste and also has enforced responsible
parties to take action by performing cleanups or paying the EPA to clean up the
contamination. CERCLA has been successful in aiding the cleanup of the Onondaga
Lake Superfund Site thus far.  The site
has experienced notable achievements, such as 2.2 million cubic yards of contaminated material
removed from the lake, 2.5 billion gallons
of water have been treated, water quality in northern two-thirds of Onondaga Lake has achieved public
health criteria for swimming, Methylmercury in deep-water portions decreased 98
percent since 2009, and 65 species of fish have been documented, up from nine
to 12 counted in 1970s (11).  CERCLA has successfully
forced Honeywell International, the PRP of the site, to participate in the
cleanup of the lake.  Onondaga Lake has
been on the NPL list since 1994, and major cleanup work began nearly 20 years
later in 2012 and is ongoing today. A way CERCLA could be improved would be to accelerate the rate of cleanups with more enforcement. 

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