An understanding of the basic structure of the law and definitions of its key terms is a prerequisite to understanding the specific provisions of the CERCLA.
The EPA is responsible for carrying out CERCLA's mandates. Generally, the EPA can invest the superfund's monies toward cleanup whenever a hazardous substance is released or threatened to be released into the environment. The act authorizes response actions or hazardous waste cleanups which include both remedial and removal activities. However, CERCLA's structure goes beyond this general authority. To understand the details of the statute, the CERCLA can be broken down into four areas to simplify its framework:
• Reporting provisions for releases of hazardous substances
• Investigation, prioritization, and response provisions
• Liability, enforcement, and settlement provisions
• Superfund financing provisions
Definition of Key Terms
The following definitions are necessary for a basic understanding of the CERCLA.
1. A hazardous substance under the CERCLA (§101, 42 USC §9601) is defined largely on the basis of
20. Two of the most notorious sites were New York's Love Canal and Kentucky's Valley of the Drums. At the New York site, an estimated 141 pounds of dioxin were buried underground at what became a housing development. The Kentucky site involved nearly 20,000 drums of hazardous waste containing approximately 200 organic chemicals and thirty metals. Roughly one-third of the drums were rusted through and leaking their contents into the ground.
its meaning under other environmental statutes.21 The definition includes:
Any hazardous waste under the RCRA Any hazardous air pollutant under section 112 of the CAA
Any hazardous substance or toxic pollutant under sections 307 or 311 of the CWA Any hazardous chemical substances or mixtures regulated pursuant to section 7 of the Toxic Substances Control Act
Any other materials designated as hazardous under
CERCLA section 102 Petroleum products, natural gas, and synthetic gas used as fuel are excluded from regulation as hazardous substances.
2. A release is broadly defined as "any spilling, leaking, pumping, pouring, emitting, emptying, discharging, injecting, escaping, leaching, dumping, or disposing into the environment (including the abandonment or discarding of barrels, containers, and other closed receptacles containing any hazardous substance or pollutant or contaminant). ..." This list is followed by a number of exclusions (CERCLA §101 , 42 USC §9601) including releases in the workplace, which only cause exposure to that confined area, and releases of source, byproduct, or special nuclear materials relating to nuclear incidents, which are covered under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (42 USC §2011 et seq.).
3. The environment is broadly defined to include anything except the inside of a building or any other manmade enclosed areas. The environment includes all land surface and subsurface strata, ambient air, and all waters within the United States or its jurisdiction (CERCLA §101, 42 USC §9601).
4. A response is a federally funded activity which includes both removal and remedial actions and any enforcement activities related to those actions (CERCLA §101, 42 USC §9601).
5. A removal action is a cleanup action aimed at containing or minimizing a release and mitigating damage to the public health without detailed preliminary studies. Removal actions are also referred to as site stabilization actions and generally consist of short-term cleanup measures, such as the installation of fencing around a site, provisions for alternative water supplies, and temporary housing for displaced individuals (CERCLA §101, 42 USC §9601).
6. A remedial action is a long-term or permanent cleanup measure to prevent or minimize the release of a hazardous substance into the environment. A remedial action should also prevent the migration of hazardous substances which may endanger public health or wel-
21. CERCLA hazardous substances are listed in Code of Federal
Regulations, Title 40, part 302.
fare or the environment. The statute provides a nonex-haustive list of remedial actions, which includes storage, confinement, and perimeter protection of hazardous substances as well as onsite treatment and monitoring to assure that the actions are reaching their goals (CERCLA §101, 42 USC §9601).
CERCLA's notification provisions help the EPA and state agencies identify where response actions are needed. The CERCLA mandates two general reporting requirements: spill reporting and facility notification requirements.
Owners of facilities or vessels which spill hazardous substances into the environment must report those releases to the National Response Center (NRC) at the U.S. Coast Guard in Washington, DC (CERCLA §103[a], 42 USC §9603[a]). Owners must also notify the appropriate state agency because states typically have similar reporting requirements. To fall under this reporting requirement, the spill must be greater than or equal to a reportable quantity for the hazardous substance as established under CERCLA section 102(a), and it must not be a federally permitted release. Persons who fail to properly notify the NRC may be subject to sanctions and imprisonment (CERCLA §103[b], 42 USC §9603[b]).
In addition, the CERCLA (§103[c], 42 USC §9603[c]) requires facilities to notify the EPA when they treat, store, or dispose of hazardous wastes unless they are within the RCRA notification requirement. This notification requirement was due by June 9, 1981. However, the EPA recommends reports of subsequent findings if the facility does not have an RCRA permit or is without RCRA interim status. The notification should specify the type and amount of hazardous substance found at the facility, any suspected releases, and any other information which the EPA requires. Failure to comply may result in sanctions.
Investigating, Prioritizing, and Cleaning Up Hazardous Waste Sites
Investigating, prioritizing, and cleaning up hazardous waste sites is accomplished through CERCLA's provisions for the National Contingency Plan (NCP), national priorities list (NPL), investigating sites, and selecting a remedy for site cleanups.
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