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. Cleanup can also include site reuse and redevelopment.
There are several programs under which EPA and its partners conduct cleanup-related activities. EPA's programs are described below, but the taglines in the listing should generally help you figure out which programs are appropriate for specific situations. Initially, the emergency response is used when the danger from pollutants poses an immediate threat to human health or the environment. Longer term remediation is covered under these cleanup programs.
EPA's Cleanup Programs
- Superfund Cleanup - for large, abandoned hazardous waste sites
- Federal Facilities Cleanup - for cleanups at facilities owned by the federal government (includes Superfund and RCRA sites)
- Brownfields Cleanup - for assessments and cleanups grants related to potentially usable properties
- Underground Storage Tank Cleanup - a state-delegated program for cleanups involving underground storage tanks
- RCRA Corrective Action - a state-delegated program for hazardous waste management facilities with a spill or release
- Cleaning Up Oil Spills - for spills of oil on land and in inland waters
- Cleaning Up Air Pollutants - for addressing releases of pollutants to the air
EPA's Superfund program was established in1980 to locate, investigate, and clean up hazardous waste sites throughout the United States. The Superfund program oversees long-term ("remedial") cleanups at National Priorities List (NPL) sites, short-term cleanups ("removal actions") and responses to chemical and oil spill emergencies. Superfund cleanup starts when anyone discovers or reports a waste site or the possible release of hazardous materials. EPA compiles a database of potential hazardous substance release sites. EPA evaluates the potential for a release of hazardous substances using these Superfund cleanup process steps:
- Emergency Response - responses to releases and hazardous waste site situations that pose imminent and substantial danger to human health and the environment and prompt immediate or short-term actions
- Site Assessment Process - explains the process for site assessments, including preliminary assessments, site inspections, HRS ranking and determination as to whether to place on the NPL or not.
- National Priorities List (NPL) - the most serious sites identified for possible long-term cleanup
- Hazardous Ranking System (HRS) - screening to place sites on the National Priorities List (NPL)
- Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) - to understand the nature and extent of contamination
- Remedy Decisions - Decisions on methods to be used for remedial cleanups (links to Records of Decision database)
- Remedial Design/Remedial Action (RD/RA) - planning and details for site remedies
- Post Construction Completion - response actions for long-term protection of health and the environment
- Superfund Site Reuse and Redevelopment - Deleting sites from the NPL and putting these sites into productive use
- Superfund (CERCLA) Compliance Monitoring
- Superfund Compliance and Penalties
- Superfund Enforcement – work to find the responsible parties to perform the cleanup or to pay for cleanup work already done
The mission of EPA’s Federal Facilities Cleanups Program is to facilitate faster, more effective, and less costly cleanup of environmental contamination such as hazardous and radioactive wastes, munitions and explosives, or other toxic substances, and ready Federal Facility sites for reuse across the country. At Superfund federal facilities, we provide regulatory oversight under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) to ensure protection of human health and the environment. In addition, Section 120(c) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) requires EPA to establish a Docket which contains information reported to EPA by federal facilities that manage hazardous waste or from which hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants have been or may be released. Government facilities have to follow all necessary environmental regulations including state, tribal, and local requirements. We work with the Department of Defense, Department of Energy and other federal agencies to ensure long-term protectiveness of cleanup remedies and return Federal facilities back to communities for beneficial use.
Brownfields are defined as real properties, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. EPA's Brownfields Program provides funds and technical assistance to states, communities, and other stakeholders in economic redevelopment to work together to assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields.
EPA's Brownfields program 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.
EPA’s Brownfields and Land Revitalization cleanup enforcement program provides guidance and uses site-specific enforcement tools to address available liability protections, thereby assisting parties seeking to clean up, reuse, or redevelop contaminated properties.
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 their enforcement.
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.
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.
Learn more about toxic air pollutants and air pollutants affecting our air quality.