Superfund Cleanup

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) is the first program established by the EPA to deal with asbestos hazardous waste sites. The common name for this program is Superfund. After a potential hazardous site is deemed by the EPA to be a Superfund site, then the site cleanup will begin. Those responsible for the asbestos contamination will be mandated to help or pay the government for cleanup costs.

Any site under EPA investigation will be publicly added to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites. After a hazardous site is added to the list, it may still take years before cleanup even starts. When the cleaning process begins, extremely strict guidelines are put in force. If a Superfund site contains asbestos, then the site must be secured for safety before any cleanup begins and all asbestos must be tested and evaluated. In 2012, the Superfund NPL registered 1,200 different sites, including 16 with asbestos hazards that posed serious health threats.

Superfund Cleanup of Asbestos Material

The EPA has a uniform and constant method for investigating asbestos hazards. This evaluation assists managers at hazardous sites and other EPA workers as they determine a plan of action that will be the most effective and appropriate for handling all asbestos on site. The Superfund cleanup process requires many necessary steps, the first of which is site assessment. Step one involves investigators determining what hazardous level is prevalent at the site and whether immediate action is required to lessen the asbestos exposure concerns.

One example of a Superfund case, and likely the most well-known asbestos related site, occurred in Libby, Montana. Libby was home to a vermiculite mine created in the 1920s by Zonolite Company. In 1963, W.R. Grace and Co. bought Zonolite and began producing a massive percentage of all the world’s vermiculite supply. Tragically, vermiculite from the Libby mine was contaminated with toxic levels of asbestos fibers, which have been medically proven to cause severe diseases such as asbestosis, cancer of the lungs, and malignant mesothelioma cancer. For decades, Libby residents, local schools, and nearby businesses were given the vermiculite from the mine for free.

In 1999, the first emergency response team was sent to the Libby site. That same year, the Libby mine was added to the NPL, Superfund list of hazardous sites. In 2002, the Libby site became known as America’s deadliest Superfund site because of all the subsequent illnesses and deaths that resulted from residents’ being exposed to asbestos at work and all over the town. Mortality rates from asbestos exposure in Libby were up to 80 percent higher than projected by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease registry. Currently, more than 1,500 residents from the Libby community are still being diagnosed and treated for asbestos-related disease and conditions.

The Main Companies Connected to Asbestos-Contaminated Sites

A 2007 analysis by the Center for Public Integrity discovered that the some of the top offenders for asbestos-contaminated sites include:

  • General Electric
  • Dow Chemical
  • Honeywell International Inc.
  • General Motors
  • ExxonMobil
  • Ford Motor Company
  • Westinghouse Electric Corp.
  • K. Steel Holding
  • R. Grace

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