The handling of hazardous waste is a very complex issue in our
While there are a wide variety of state and federal laws and
regulations pertaining to hazardous waste, the two most visible laws
are the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 and the
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability
Act (Superfund) of 1980.
The basic difference in these acts is one of time. The Resource
Conservation and Recovery Act regulates hazardous wastes from
"cradle-to-grave" or, in other words, from generation to final
disposal of hazardous waste.
Superfund is designed to clean up hazardous substance spills and
disposal problems, principally at abandoned hazardous waste sites.
Both of these laws were enacted in a flurry of activity during the
closing days of Congressional sessions.
They therefore have caused considerable controversy among
regulators, the regulated and environmental groups. Subsequent
legislative and regulatory amendments have cleared the confusion
somewhat, but not entirely.
While most who are regulated by the Resource Conservation and
Recovery Act are conversant with the requirements and liabilities,
Superfund often affects parties with no experience with the
regulatory agencies and who are, therefore, quite justifiably
For instance, most of the major provisions of Superfund are tied
to the definition of "hazardous substances". While there are close
to 700 substances listed as hazardous under Superfund, the
Evironmental Protection Agency has taken the position that any
material may be listed if it contains constituents that are
Further, the Evironmental Protection Agency has the authority to
respond to the release or the threat of release of a "pollutant or
contaminant which may present an imminent and substantial danger to
the public health or welfare". The terms pollutant and contaminant
have been variously defined to include anything which may cause
disease in any organism in the environment.
While this language appears to give the agency great latitude,
in fact they have been very cautious in their approach. Although
various figures are reported, approximately 40 sites were cleaned
during the first five years of Superfund.
The first five-year authorization of $1.6 billion expired in
September 1985. It was kept alive with month-to-month emergency
appropriations until the fall of 1986.
The new reauthorization act appropriates up to $9 billion for
the next five years with a mandate of final closure of 175 to 600
sites. This would seem to indicate an escalation of regulatory
As the title of the act suggests, liability assessment is part
of the basic nature of Superfund. …