Superfund Law in New York City Introduction

by Jason Shaw


The complexities that arise within the environment are continuing to lead to many that are pressuring to find solutions and reverse the difficulties which are occurring.  A growing concern is from companies causing wastelands in various areas through chemicals and the dumping of toxic materials.

This has led to hazardous areas for both the environment and for the health of a variety of individuals that are surrounding the area.  Beginning to find different solutions to clean the chemicals in the regions is one of the main objectives of the Environmental Protection Agency, precisely because of the large amount of damage that is occurring from the environment.

The result is the superfund, precisely placing funding and aid to stop the toxins and chemicals from being dumped into various regions.  The approach is one that is furthered by the pressured cleanups by corporations throughout the different areas.  This paper will examine the process which is being taken by the EPA and how this is linking to the superfund. 

Superfund Law in New York City Introduction

Background of the Superfund

The superfund was established in New York City in 1980.  It consists of a program based on offering monetary support and initiatives to clean up toxic waste and chemicals that are hazardous around the area.  The project began after it was noted that over 22,000 tons of toxic waste were dumped by Niagara Falls, New York, in the known Love Canal.

The Love Canal was completed and purchased for the use of different environmental needs.  However, corporations began to pile toxic waste and chemicals into the canal.  After the inability to move the toxins, the corporations covered the canal and sold this to New York for $1.  After a particular time, an explosion resulted from many chemicals and toxins in the area.  The Love Canal continues to be hazardous for the environmental area it surrounds and directly affects the land which one is in.  The superfund was established to force companies to clean up these areas and tax those who were not complying with the law.  Today, over 1,000 sites have been cleaned with billions of dollars being spent.  Over 70% of the funds go to corporations that began to the toxic waste and chemical buildup.

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The money is combined with government initiatives and companies linked to the polluted sites (New York Times, 2011).

The initiatives which began with the funds and the need to clean up various areas have continued with specific policies and procedures offered by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The bill was initially introduced by a bipartisan leadership group of senators and passed by the Senate with limiting measures for the cleanup.  The House amended this and approved the final alternatives in 1980 through S.1341.

However, it was also noted that the final bill and law were sidetracked and moved into different departments because of the other proposals taken earlier.  In the Carter Administration, a similar bill was passed, specifically, which was based on toxic waste and oil spill cleanup.  This bill had been bypassed during the time because of other political objectives that would not provide the right cleanup.  The problem which arose then created Congress to approve the bill with limited measures from the history, specifically to take care of the problem with the Love Canal without considering the overall task of the Superfund and the additional requirements and provisions from the final bill and law, which would be passed.  This has led to various amendments and questions of responsibility, taxation, and corporate responsibility linked to the main bill (Grad, 1982). 

The approach which was taken in 1980 and the outcomes have resulted in a political economy that has become a part of the Superfund and initiatives which have been taken.  The approach which is now being taken is to develop the activities as a space for the contaminated sites that are continuing to have waste, as opposed to being active in the continuous dumping of the sites.

The specializing in wastelands is one that is complementary to other initiatives that were established from the 1970s with the recognition of environmental hazards which have been taken.

The program is designed to be a regulation program as well as one which is based on public works.  The initiative is to clean up the site and ensure that corporations and other entities don’t place waste and other toxins in the same area.

Designating the Superfund area as one which remains a part of the cleanup is then able to develop the specific initiatives of the company while creating different approaches.  The initial process was to look into 425,000 waste sites in the United States to believe that each would take $10 million to clean within 20 years.  However, a large amount of cleanup required has led to over $2 billion being spent per year on the sites.  This has come from the recognition of over 40 chemicals that are often found on each site as well as damage which has been caused to the environment and which is required for cleaning (Hird, 2000). 

Importance of the Superfund

The initiative which has been taken by the government and toward corporations is one which is now required because of the levels of hazards which are coming from toxins and chemicals distributed through each region.  There are a variety of surveys that have indicated that the long term hazards may cause more damage to both the environment and individuals than expected.

This begins with the release of the toxins into the atmosphere.  The chemicals produce polychlorinated biphenyls that are released into the atmosphere.  These chemicals can quickly move and are breathed in by those living in the vicinity, causing complexities such as cancer and other health problems.  The chemicals also cause direct damage to the environment, specifically with damage that is created to the atmosphere and the surrounding issues which are associated with this.  It has been found that the polychlorinated biphenyls also make long term complexities with both the environment and the health of individuals, precisely because of the inability for the toxins to disperse or disintegrate.

The problem then leads to ongoing issues and health hazards for individuals and the environment that are breathing the area around the toxic areas (Hermanson, Hites, 1989). 

The problems associated with the toxins and chemicals produced in the region continue with toxins that spread into the soil and other areas from the contaminants.  Metal – contaminated soil is the most problematic that is arising.  This causes the soil and plants surrounding the area to lose the natural properties and nutrients specific to the ground.  Different forms of acids and concentrations are known to stay in the ground from toxic waste and other chemicals.  Even if there is cleanup of the main dumping areas, the contaminants remain in the soil and stay hazardous both in the soil and by creating toxins released into the atmosphere.  Even with extractions of the acids from the soil, there is the inability to develop the regulatory needs of the soil with most of the acid staying in the soil and not being extracted during the cleanup.  The only way this could be retrieved is through repeated extractions, most of which were not wholly able to get the contaminants out.  The complexity is one which is noted from the weathering of the soil and the more extended buildup that has not allowed the toxins and chemicals to be altered through the metals that have been created (Steele, Pichtel, 1998). 

The importance of the Superfund has been furthered with other applications that are currently causing the funds and the wastelands to be looked into.  As the political policies and agendas have been altered, more complexities and problems have been found with the environmental waste and hazards which are occurring.  This includes more chemicals being found in the soil and air, which are continuing to cause hazards.  Many believe that there is not a way to alter or change the way in which this is being managed and what is occurring.  This is furthered with the recognition that the projects are requiring more cleanup than initially expected because of the number of hazards that are at each site and the toxins that are moving into the environment and to individuals who are living in developments close to the toxins.  The funds and the implementation of new bills are significant in showing that the original beliefs about the chemicals and toxins have led to even more complexities within the environmental concerns and are leading to problems in being able to implement the correct initiatives and cleanup strategies because of the amount of waste and hazards which are in each of the sites (Hird, 2000). 

Complexities of the Superfund

The initiatives that have been created by the government, Environmental Protection Agency, and the corporations are one which, while taking initiatives to clean the toxins, has also led to complexities with the cleanup.  The first is coming from a stigma that is being seen from the continuous chemicals and toxin hazards in different areas.  Even though most see the initiative as one who can help develop the other areas and stop contamination, there is also a question of which initiatives should be put into place.  The Superfund is noted to be reserved for emergencies and for the areas which are contaminated worse than others.  It is also noted that the Superfund might move into areas that are developing, causing a loss in value through both trying to clean the contamination and with further developments that are occurring.  For instance, the listing of the Superfund is currently causing over $500 million to be jeopardized because of a waterfront project involving 1200 homes.  This is specifically because of the misperceptions of the Superfund, specifically because it develops a stigma that there is a large amount of contamination and toxins in the area.

In contrast, others feel demoralized or frightened over the toxins which may be in their area.  The problem is being furthered with cleaning up the toxins, specifically, which doesn’t offer a fast solution from the EPA. Still, it is creating a clash in how the toxins are being eliminated. The results are not often seen in the area, but rather only change the conditions of the developed areas to become devalued (Navarro, 2009). 

Questions arising with the Superfund initiatives are furthered by the political and corporate agendas and controversies.  The Supreme Court has recently looked at a controversy concerning who should be paying for the Superfund and what sources should be responsible for the funding occurring with the cleanups.  The question that is now being asked is who should be responsible for the cleanups and the toxins which have been placed into a given region.  The sellers and minor contributors are both being questioned, as well as other corporate areas that may be partially responsible for the toxins.  The question arose when Shell Oil Company was held responsible for selling pesticides in California.  The complexity came when it was noted that this was where the toxins routinely leaked and spilled.  If it is arranged for disposal, there is not the ability to stop or alter what is occurring, meaning that the corporations can’t be held liable for the toxins that are falling into a specific region.  The concept has led to the court deciding that the corporations can only be responsible for 6-9% of the damage, specifically because there is not an established system to stop the chemical dumps and waste and the mistakes which are often made with the leaks and spills that take place (Liptak, 2009). 

The third problem which is being noted is with the toxins and wastes that are left behind after a cleanup.  Even though the Superfund is making the initiative to clean and clear the sites, there is not always a positive outcome with the toxins that are retrieved.  The interference is coming from various powers that are not allowing for the complete cleanup to be initialized.

Political forces often interfere with budgeting and the decision not to examine a site because of this.  Many of the sites that were considered hazardous for toxins and chemicals have been abandoned because the project was considered too time-consuming to look into by the federal government.  If the inspection and investigation are complete, then many times an approval is not given, either because of a lack of funds or because other development initiatives which contradict what is occurring from the Superfund.  At the same time, there is no prediction to how many hazardous sites are located throughout the United States, with the initiatives of the first 1200 being only the beginning to cleaning up the state of New York, leaving a variety of sites to continue to be contaminated because of a lack of resources from the government and problems with contributions that are occurring (Holmberg, 2008). 

Changing Levels of Environmental Risk

Despite the concerns with the Superfund, there is a larger problem that is continuing to show with the toxins and chemicals that are a part of the Superfund.  The cleanup standards which have been implemented are based on finding the trade-offs which have come in terms of the environmental hazards that are a part of each region.  The Superfund and the way in which the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards are currently working are causing more levels of questions, specifically in terms of what is inclusive of environmental risk.  According to a recent assessment (Hamilton, Viscuski, 1999), there is a low amount of trade-off from the amount of money and time being spent to clean the hazardous materials.  The sites are still showing a large number of individuals who are susceptible to the toxins and environmental waste, specifically, which is showing in complexities such as cancer, which has exceeded over $100 million in the areas that have the toxins and waste after the cleanup.  The question is then not only based on the ability to clean the environmental materials but also is based on what the benefit to cost is with the environment and the initiatives which are being taken (Hamilton, Viscuski, 1999). 

A part of the issue that is being raised is based not only on the lack of cost benefits associated with environmental risks.  It is also noted that there are a number of homes and regions that are unable to extract the finished toxins from the environment with no place for the various toxins and chemicals to be stored. More than $30 billion was spent on the superfund in a new report (Greenstone, Gallagher, 2005) to clean up the 1200 listed sites that were deemed hazardous and unsafe. However, restoration was undertaken by just half of the Superfund sites via the amount of cash available. This included 400 hazardous waste sites and 290 sites that were surrounding the areas which were not cleaned because of policies, political difficulties, and opposition from those living in the developed areas.  These numbers are creating even more questions of whether the Superfund costs are going to clean the hazardous materials, specifically because less than 50% of the sites have had initiatives for cleanup 20 years after the project began.  The opposition, policies that are in place, and the difficulties with funding all show that the Superfund is not working effectively in changing the environmental hazards and complexities, which are currently a part of the toxins and chemicals located in various regions (Greenstone, Gallagher, 2005). 


The need to begin looking at environmental toxins and waste while building cleanup programs is required for the elimination of environmental hazards and disease among humans.

The Superfund is looking at the chemicals and toxins dumped by corporations and building into wastelands.  These areas are known for creating hazards with the soil, air, and the human health of those living around the area.  Over 42 toxins have been identified, most of which are not able to leave the environment or be extracted.  The work which was initially supposed to be done with the Superfund is now reaching a large number of debates.  The amount of time and the cost is leading to several who want to change or stop the project.  This is being furthered with the inability to completely change the environmental hazards that are in the area.  More debates are arising with many that are questioning the amount of money going into the toxic areas with the little effects that are coming out of the area.

While the Superfund highlights a problem among toxic areas around the United States, the solution is one that questions the ability to completely clean the toxins and chemicals, leaving poor health for the environment and the community living in the area. 


  • Grad, Frank. (1982). “A Legislative History of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980.”  Columbia Journal of Environmental Law (1). 
  • Greenstone, Michael, Justin Gallagher. (2005). “Does Hazardous Waste Matter? Evidence from the Housing Market and the Superfund Program.”  The National Bureau of Economic Research (11790). 
  • Hamilton, James, Kip Viscusi. (1999). “How Costly is Clean?  An Analysis of the Benefits and Costs of Superfund Site Remediations.”  Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 18 (1). 
  • Hermason, Mark, Ronald Hites. (1989). “Long Term Measurements of Atmospheric Polychlorinated Biphenyls in the Vicinity of Superfund Dumps.” Environmental Science and Technology 23 (10). 
  • Hird, John. (2000). Superfund: The Political Economy of Environmental Risk.  New York: JHU Press. 
  • Holmberg, David. (2008). “At Some Superfund Sites, Toxic Legacies Linger.”  The New York Times.  Retrieved December 18, 2011 from:
  • Liptak, Adam. (2009). “Justice Hears Cases on Paying for Superfund Cleanups.” The New York Times.  Retrieved December 18, 2011 from:
  • New York Times. (2011). “Superfund.” Retrieved December 18, 2011 from: 
  • Navarro, Mireya. (2009). “On the Gowanus Canal, Fear of Superfund Stigma.” The New York Times.  Retrieved December 18, 2011 from: 
  • Steele, Mark, John Pichtel. (1998). “Ex – Situ Remediation of a Metal – Contaminated Superfund Soil Using Selective Extractants.”  Journal of Environmental Engineering 124 (639).  


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