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What’s the Difference Between a Superfund and RCRA Cleanup?

land reuseWhat’s the difference between a Superfund and RCRA Cleanup?  I was just asked this question for the third time in a month. The question is a good one. I bring it up because public participation has been, and will continue to be, a key element of environmental cleanups nationwide. The US EPA wants to make sure that community members potentially impacted by its decisions understand why a particular cleanup is being undertaken, and how community members can influence the site clean-up process.

I’ve been a student of the environmental business for nearly 30 years, and in dealing with it every day, I have a pretty good handle on the answer to the question. But unless you are “in the business,” it can be pretty confusing. While both programs achieve the basic goal of protecting human health and the environment, they achieve that high-level goal in very different and substantive ways.

Searching the internet for a quick way to explain the difference, I came across a Northern Arizona University web page for its students with some very useful resources in answering this question1. The NAU website had a very clear definition of the difference:

The main difference between the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (Superfund) is that: RCRA is an approach to manage solid and hazardous waste at facilities that are currently in use while CERCLA is focused on the management and remediation of abandoned, non-operating sites with media contaminated with hazardous substance.

Unlike CERCLA, RCRA facilities’ owners and operators are known and are currently using, managing, or disposing of hazardous wastes. RCRA also regulates the transport of hazardous waste.

Brownfield site cleanups can also include elements of both RCRA and Superfund. The sites are also subject to spooky sounding regulations like the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) or the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The acronym soup used in the environmental business, particularly the legal and technical jargon that participants throw around, can be daunting and to a layman, just plain terrorizing. It’s not meant to be, but it ends up that way.

More likely than not, your community is being impacted by a hazardous waste site. I would encourage you to be involved in the public participation process. In the case of Superfund, US EPA has $50,000 community grants available for local civic groups to hire a consultant to help explain what’s going on and to look out for their interests. The foundation of Superfund’s community involvement program is the belief that members of the public affected by a Superfund site have a right to know what the Agency is doing in their community and to have a say in the decision-making process.

Think about applying for a grant if you haven’t yet (Community Grants). I hope to see you at a public meeting soon.

1 Disclaimer – I have no affiliation with Northern Arizona University; however, I know a useful website when I see one. NAU’s website is a pretty valuable resource.