What is the Superfund?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The Superfund is part of a law enacted by the US Congress in 1980 which taxes fuel and industries dealing with hazardous chemicals, and empowers the government to act when hazardous waste may be released or has been released into the environment, and needs to be cleaned up. The Superfund tends not to have super funds, as the name implies, for such clean-ups, however. Often money for cleanup for hazardous waste must be taken from other programs, or alternately the company responsible must provide the funds and the labor for a clean-up.

Superfund taxes industries working with hazardous chemicals, such as nuclear power plants.
Superfund taxes industries working with hazardous chemicals, such as nuclear power plants.

The law establishing the Superfund is the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). CERCLA was enacted in direct response to the disaster at the Love Canal. It does cut through some of the red tape in cleaning up environmentally hazardous spills, because the government is empowered to act immediately, and to be on the premises of any private company.

The initial funds raised for the Superfund were approximately one and a half billion US dollars (USD). Now funds in the Superfund are approximately eight and a half billion USD. These monies remain in a trust fund, so that money can be earned upon them, pending their need in a disastrous release of chemicals. Environmentalists, however, say that the funds are insufficient to deal with large-scale environmental disasters, and that one such disaster would probably completely deplete the funds.

Since the Superfund is relatively poor, the US government often holds companies liable and responsible financially for cleaning up hazardous materials. Non-compliant companies may be assessed heavy fines for delaying cleaning. However, if a company lacks sufficient resources to clean up a spill and declares bankruptcy, it little matters whether the government has ordered the company to clean up or not. At this point, the government must step in and take action so that the environment, and the people and animals living in it are not further exposed to toxic substances.

Ordering clean-ups and maintaining the Superfund is done at the discretion of the Environmental Protection Agency, established in 1970. The Superfund and CERCLA have certainly had some successful cleanups, but environmentalists are still concerned that the US is not prepared for a major chemical disaster such as a nuclear power plant leak, similar to what occurred in Chernobyl, Russia.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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