Basic Information about Cleanups

EPA conducts and supervises investigation and cleanup actions at sites where oil or hazardous chemicals have been or may be released into the environment. Cleanup activities take place at active and abandoned waste sites, federal facilities and properties, and where any storage tanks have leaked. EPA, other federal agencies, states or municipalities, or the company or party responsible for the contamination may perform cleanups. Under the Brownfields initiative, cleanup can also refer to site reuse and redevelopment.

EPA's Cleanup Programs

Superfund Cleanup

Superfund cleanup starts when anyone discovers or reports a waste site or the possible release of hazardous materials. EPA puts this information into the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System (CERCLIS), a computerized list of potential hazardous substance release sites. EPA evaluates the potential for a release of hazardous substances using these Superfund cleanup process steps:

Federal Facilities Cleanup

EPA's Federal Facilities Restoration and Reuse Office works with other agencies to clean up any environmental contamination. One of the most important issues for federal facilities is cleaning up past pollution like environmental contamination, hazardous and radioactive wastes, munitions and explosives, or other toxic substances. Government facilities have to follow all necessary environmental regulations including state, tribal, and local requirements.

Brownfields Cleanup

EPA's Brownfields and Land Revitalization office balances protecting human health and the environment with redevelopment. Possible environmental contamination can affect re-use of abandoned or unused sites. Many "brownfields" were created when manufacturing plants or military bases closed or moved. EPA assesses these sites to clean them up, prevent more contamination and make plans for re-use.

Underground Storage Tank Cleanup

The federal UST program defines underground storage tank systems (USTs) as tanks and connected piping with at least 10 percent of their combined volume underground. Some leaking USTs can cause fires and explosions. The greatest hazard is UST contents seeping into the soil and contaminating groundwater, the main source of drinking water. Learn more about cleaning up UST system releases and EPA's Leaking UST cleanup enforcement.

RCRA Corrective Action

Hazardous waste can be released accidentally from storage facilities. Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), owners or operators of treatment, storage or disposal (TSD) facilities are responsible for investigating and cleaning up these accidental releases. EPA calls this kind of cleanup a "corrective action".

There are several ways to accomplish RCRA cleanup enforcement. TSD facility owners can sign a voluntary cleanup agreement. EPA can compel compliance with a permit, require an investigation or implement a cleanup action. EPA can also issue an order regarding situations that might present imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment.

Oil Spill Cleanup

EPA works to prevent oil spills. The Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) program helps prepare for, and respond to, any oil spill affecting the inland waters of the United States. The program has reduced the number of spills to less than 1% of the total volume of oil handled each year.

Oil cleanup enforcement information is available under the Oil Pollution and Clean Water Acts. Enforcement concerns parties responsible for actual or threatened oil spills. Regulatory enforcement includes administrative and judicial penalty actions for oil spills, SPCC program violations and other regulatory requirements.

Cleaning Up Air Pollution

Cleaning up commonly found air pollutants - Six common air pollutants (also known as "criteria pollutants") are found all over the United States. They are particle pollution (often referred to as particulate matter), ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead. These pollutants can harm your health and the environment, and cause property damage.