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Superfund and Brownfield Cleanups

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

March 18, 2022

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added twelve new locations (March 17, 2022) to its Superfund National Priorities List (NPL). The Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) includes those locations (among an estimated 40K potential problem locations) where the EPA has determined that releases of contamination can pose significant human health and environmental risk.

The Superfund program has been around for more than 40 years now, so let’s take quick look at where things stand.

Status of Outcomes

The latest data of the EPA (March 18, 2022) has 1,334 sites on the NPL, with another 43 sites proposed for inclusion on the list. While the program was first established in 1980, just 447 sites have so far been “deleted” from the NPL. Another 134 sites have been partially deleted. Deletions usually occur when all response actions are completed and cleanup goals achieved, whereas partial deletions may merely mean that just portion of a property has been cleaned up. There were 27 deletions in FY 2020.

Another measure of success: as of the end of FY 2020, EPA says that 632 locations have been returned to “productive use,” which presumably includes most of the locations deleted as well as others which have been cleaned up sufficiently to permit reuse. Productive uses run the gamut from commercial uses, to recreational facilities, to energy generation, and the development of wildlife preserves, among others.

Financing and Funding

Superfund cleanup is financed through both resources recovered as part of EPA’s Superfund “enforcement program,” and through annual (and sometimes supplemental) appropriations by the Congress. The Superfund enforcement program identifies the companies/people responsible for contamination at sites and either self clean-up is negotiated or payments are agreed to for the work to be performed by other entities. Since inception, the EPA says that more than 9,500 enforcement instruments have been finalized, to address more than 3,875 Superfund sites. The estimated value of self-cleanup commitments is $38.9 billion, while cost recovery settlements for third-party cleanups total another $7.4 billion.

Cost recovery settlements are deposited into a special Federal fund, with more than $8.2 billion being made available via settlements and interest earned. Approximately $4.7 billion of the total has been spent so far. The balance, $3.5 billion, will support ongoing or future Superfund cleanup work.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, enacted this past November, included one-time supplemental funding of $3.5 billion for Superfund on top of current annual funding provided by Congress each year (about $1.2 billion.) The EPA announced (December 17, 2021) the planned use of an initial $1 billion of the $3.5 billion supplemental funding. Planned use of this funding tranche includes initiating the cleanup and clearing the backlog of 49 previously unfunded Superfund sites.

What About Brownfields?

So-called "Brownfield" sites are not a part of Superfund. Though contamination is present that may complicate future property use, the contamination is generally not dangerous to human health. There are an estimated 450,000 brownfield sites. The EPA says that more than 2,320 Brownfield locations have so far been cleaned up.

Federal funding to address Brownfields is just a fraction of the amounts provided for Superfund. Annual funding for FY 2022 totals just $116 million. Similar to Superfund, however, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided an infusion of $1.2 billion in one-time supplemental funding for Brownfields projects. Also, it is important to note that Brownfields projects often use Federal funding as "seed" resources to leverage larger packages of Federal, State, local, and/or private investment in support of reuse projects. As a result, small EPA Brownfields investments can yield exponentially larger outcomes.

The EPA’s performance target for FY 2022 is 140 Brownfields locations cleaned up and 684 locations readied for re-use.


More information on Superfund can be found here.

More information on Brownfields can be found here.

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