NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Superfund Cleanup Less Than Half Way There

December 17, 1999

The pace and cost of the Superfund cleanup effort have been the subjects of long-standing congressional debate. According to a recent General Accounting Office (GAO) report, nearly 20 years after the Superfund program was established and more than $14 billion was spent for cleanups, clean-up plans have been completed at only about 42 percent of the approximately 1,400 sites on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) list of severely contaminated hazardous waste sites, the National Priorities List.

  • As of April 1999, 838 sites still required cleanup actions.
  • Of the 640 nonfederal sites on the National Priorities List, 376 were in the remedial investigation and feasibility study phase, 133 were in the remedial design phase, and 131 were in the remedial action phase.
  • Historically, remedial actions at Superfund sites have taken 10 or more years to complete and often cost millions of dollars -- and half the sites also require long-term cleanups of groundwater or surface water, which can take over 30 years.

Special industry taxes paid into the Superfund trust fund totaled about $13.5 billion from 1981 through 1998, and -- drawing on interest and penalties paid into the fund -- expenditures totaled $14.7 billion from fiscal year 1987 through fiscal year 1998.

In addition, from 1980 through 1998, responsible parties -- usually land-owners and companies -- spent an estimated total of $15.5 billion for cleanup activities at sites on the National Priorities list.

The GAO estimates that total costs will run between $8.2 billion and $11.7 billion more than already expended to clean up the 640 nonfederal sites. For EPA to finish cleaning up 85 percent of the 640 sites by the end of fiscal year 2008, its costs will average $875 million annually through 2008.

Source: "Superfund: Information on the Program's Funding and Status," GAO/RCED-00-25, October 1999, General Accounting Office, Washington, D.C.


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