What is Superfund?

The Original Mine Yard along Main Street in Uptown Butte. The site has since been transformed into a stage and amphitheater, and is a cornerstone of the annual Montana Folk Festival in Butte each July.

Superfund, officially the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), was enacted by Congress on December 11, 1980. This law created a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries and provided broad federal authority to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment. Over five years, $1.6 billion was collected and went to a trust fund for cleaning up abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for administering the Superfund law.

CERCLA:

  • Establishes prohibitions and requirements concerning closed and abandoned hazardous waste sites.
  • Provides for liability of persons responsible for releases of hazardous waste at these sites.
  • Establishes a trust fund to provide for cleanup when no responsible party can be identified.

The law authorizes two kinds of response actions:

  • Short-term removals, where actions may be taken to address releases or threatened releases requiring prompt response.
  • Long-term remedial response actions that permanently and significantly reduce the dangers associated with releases or threats of releases of hazardous substances that are serious, but not immediately life threatening. These actions can be conducted only at sites listed on EPA’s National Priorities List (NPL).

CERCLA also enables the revision of the National Contingency Plan (NCP). The NCP provides the guidelines and procedures needed to respond to releases and threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants. The NCP also establishes the NPL. CERCLA was amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) on October 17, 1986.

In the case of western Montana, most response actions have involved a long-term approach, with short-term removals used only in certain circumstances. Due to the long and complex history of industrial mining and associated pollution in Butte and western Montana, the area is also subdivided by EPA into different Operable Units.

 

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