While many continue to debate society’s responsibility for the accelerated pace of climate change the world is currently experiencing, one thing is for sure. Human beings are definitely responsible for the contamination at Superfund Sites across the United States.

Superfund Sites are uncontrolled hazardous waste sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency for clean up under its Superfund program. The fund, created under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980, resulted from the discovery of contaminated sites like Love Canal, which posed serious threats to human health and safety, as well as to the overall environment.

The process of cleaning up contaminated sites under Superfund is complex and lengthy. First, sites must be thoroughly assessed and placed, in comparison to other toxic sites, on the National Priorities List. Comprehensive clean up plans are established and then implemented. In severe cases and active emergencies, EPA has the authority to act immediately to remove contamination. The Superfund Program can also take action against responsible parties, issues fines, and seek reimbursement for clean up costs.

EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response oversees the Superfund Program, and works to include states and communities in the process, particularly in the comment and public response periods of their actions. The Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response also houses the federal brownfield program, which matches many formerly contaminated sites, including some Superfund sites, with appropriate uses, returning them to community tax rolls.

In 2005, EPA celebrated the 25th Anniversary of Superfund. Between 1980 and 2005, Superfund completed work at 966 privately and federally owned sites across the country. Work is underway on 422 more. Sites once contaminated are now airports, department stores, wild life refuges and golf courses. Yet even today, 1 in 4 Americans live within four miles of a Superfund site. There is a least one Superfund site in every one of the fifty United States.

Yet success stories continue to emerge from all corners of the country. For instance, Superfund is currently working to remediate the 27-acre rocky Mountain Arsenal Site near Denver, which will become one of largest urban national wildlife refuges in the country. EPA and Superfund are now using phytoremediation, or the use of green plants and microorganisms, to clean up contaminated soils. The process has been tested on more than 200 Superfund sites. Other former Superfund sites now house parks, a Home Depot store and a McDonald’s restaurant.

Clean up plans for Superfund sites are implemented through EPA’s 10 Regional Offices around the country. Concerned citizens can locate Superfund sites in their areas through EPA’s Web site, which offers contact information, as well as site summaries and lists of actions taken related to each site to date.