NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Superfund's Toxic Shock

December 8, 1995

It is estimated that there are more than 400,000 "brownfields" in the United States. These are industrial and commercial facilities that are abandoned, idled or underused because owners or developers fear they may be liable for the cost of cleaning up contamination under Superfund, the federal program created in 1980 to clean up toxic waste sites.

  • Despite spending more than $20 billion -- including $12 billion from all taxpayers and $7 billion in levies on companies -- Superfund has cleaned up only 83 of more than 1,300 sites that are priorities for cleanup.
  • However, many other sites have been identified and cleaned up by private parties, who pay to identify problems and remedy them.

Under Superfund and other laws, both past and present owners and operators of a site, and individuals who generated waste or transported it to the site, are held to strict joint and several and retroactive liability. This means anyone involved can be required to pay the full cleanup costs, even if they played only a small and unintentional role in creating the problem.

The result is lost jobs and vacant buildings in many cities in the Northeast and Midwest.

Source: Michael Harrold, "Brownfields: Superfund's Economic Toxic Shock," Issue Analysis No. 18, December 8, Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation, 1250 H Street, NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20004, (202) 783-3870.


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