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01/12/15

SUPERFUND Can be a SUPER Headache

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Superfund is the name given to the environmental program established to address abandoned hazardous waste sites and is also the name of the fund established by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980. This law allows the EPA to clean up such contaminated sites and to compel responsible parties to perform cleanups or reimburse the government for the EPA-lead cleanups.

In any given year, responsible party cleanup commitments are a function of which National Priorities List sites are at the stage where remedial actions should be performed and settlements can be successfully reached with the responsible parties. The EPA ensures that where liable, viable responsible parties exist, the parties enter into an agreement to reimburse the agency for past costs spent addressing contaminated sites. Cost recovery settlements vary greatly each year due to the size and type of individual cost recovery cases.In any given year, responsible party cleanup commitments are a function of which National Priorities List sites are at the stage where remedial actions should be performed and settlements can be successfully reached with the responsible parties. The EPA ensures that where liable, viable responsible parties exist, the parties enter into an agreement to reimburse the agency for past costs spent addressing contaminated sites. Cost recovery settlements vary greatly each year due to the size and type of individual cost recovery cases.

In the 2012 fiscal year alone, the EPA was successful in obtaining $657 million in commitments from responsible parties for studying and cleaning up Superfund sites, as well as securing another $172 million as reimbursement for money it had spent in cleaning up contaminated sites. And since 1980, the totals are noteworthy: the EPA has obtained over $37 billion in commitments from the responsible parties; over $31 billion of which has been committed to study and cleanup of Superfund sites and another $6 billion for direct reimbursements to the EPA for moneys spent cleaning up these sites.

Enacted by Congress in 1976, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), has as one of its primary goals the protection of human health and the environment from the potential hazards of improperly managed and disposed wastes. Discarded materials that exhibit certain characteristics (e.g. ignitability, reactivity or corrosivity) or are specifically listed by the EPA are regulated as hazardous wastes.

Hazardous waste may be managed at the place of generation or may be transported to another location to be properly treated, stored or disposed. When waste is to be transported off site, the generator prepares a shipping document called a manifest. The manifest form assures that proper custody of the waste is maintained from the point of generation, through transportation, and on to the final destination facility, creating a “cradle-to-grave” tracking of the waste.

Compliance with the RCRA hazardous waste regulations is best achieved through the deployment of a stringent environmental management system (EMS) as a generator or producer of hazardous waste. EMS programs are critical for identifying, controlling and monitoring a company’s activities that have potential environmental impacts. The framework of an EMS provides structure and consistency for overseeing daily activities that shifts the environmental focus from reactive to proactive.
Strong EMS programs employ tools and processes to monitor waste generation; track manifested shipments; perform internal auditing and self-assessments of company waste management operations; evaluate and qualify contractors; and monitor and communicate regulatory activity. In particular, EMS programs that meet or exceed ISO14001 standards are most advantageous.

When improper handling, transportation, storage and disposal of hazardous wastes occur, it is for the most part due to negligence and a lack of compliance with the mandated RCRA regulations. In order to assure compliance with these hazardous waste management standards and thereby minimize any long-term Superfund liability, it is essential that wastes are only handled by experienced companies with the necessary permits and authorizations to properly manage wastes.

Incidents of noncompliance can be avoided; but to do so, business owners must be steadfast with regard to monitoring compliance in their approach to handling, transporting, storing and disposing of hazardous materials. When sourcing a waste management company, it is critical to review their financial stability, compliance history, safety record and industry certifications. Be wary if this information is not available or if it does not meet stringent industry standards.

For more information on the EPA’s waste, chemical and clean up enforcement, visit their website at http://1.usa.gov/1fZsSCl
 
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Tom Baker is the director of environment and transportation for Veolia North America. Send questions or comments to him at tom.baker@veolia.com
 

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