A program dedicated to taking on extremely costly clean up projects resulting from past uses.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liabilities Act of 1980 (CERCLA) was passed by the US federal government to investigate and clean up areas that were contaminated with hazardous substances. The Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of this “Superfund” named by the astronomical costs of cleaning up these sites. Out of 40,000 identified sites federally, 1,600 of them are on the National Priorities List that generally require long-term attention called remedial actions. The ones that require short-term attention are referred to as removal actions.

First, the Superfund tries to bring human exposure to these hazardous substances under control by removal of the contamination as well as through monitoring and control of the area use. For example, by implementing groundwater use restrictions. Once the site is under control, the Superfund then tries to open the site back up by bringing new uses there through redevelopment.

In order to achieve this, the Superfund is in charge of finding the potentially responsible parties. Legally, they have established that the seller of a contaminated site is still responsible for the clean up and that this liability is not something that can be passed onto the buyer. In cases where a potentially responsible party cannot be identified, they receive government funds from taxes which until 1995 was applied to oil companies.

When placing the signs to alert the community around the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY, of the work being done, the New York State Department of Health was in charge of the project and interfacing with the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group. The sign had three drafts before being approved by vote, with one of the changes including a change from “NO BOATING” to “CAUTION WHILE BOATING!” for a group of local recreational canoers.

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Warning sign development with community input for the Gowanus Canal in 2018

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