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Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5, Public information sheet by the Environmental Protection Agency for the Superfund program, September 1981, EPA, National Service Center for Environmental Publications

Issue Brief

CERCLA and Superfund

There are thousands of contaminated sites across the United States. These sites include manufacturing facilities, processing plants, landfills, and mining sites. In the 1970s, toxic waste dumps such as Love Canal brought the hazards of these contaminated sites into the public’s awareness. Residents noticed that the Love Canal site, located in Niagara Falls, New York, started developing foul odors, and people around the site were experiencing increased rates of health problems, such as cancer. In response to the existence of Love Canal and similar places experiencing contamination and ill health, Congress created the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force parties to take responsibility for the contamination and clean up these sites.

CERCLA, also known as Superfund, was enacted in 1980 and created a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Superfund: CERCLA Overview," accessed June 30, 2020, https://www.epa.gov/superfund/superfund-cercla-overview.It also gave the federal government the authority to respond directly to releases of hazardous substances that have the potential to endanger public health or the environment. It was revised by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act in 1986. CERCLA established requirements regarding abandoned hazardous waste sites, created liability for the releases of hazardous waste at the sites, and made a trust fund to provide for cleanup when no party could be identified. The law authorizes 1) short-term removals and 2) long-term remedial response actions conducted at sites listed on the EPA’s National Priorities List (NPL). CERCLA also enabled the revision of the National Consistency Plan to cover releases at hazardous waste sites requiring emergency removal actions.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, "Superfund Sites," 2019, accessed June 30, 2020, https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/superfund-sites.In Colorado, the lead oversight agency for Superfund cleanup may be the EPA or the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. While there are more than 200 total Superfund sites in the state, the EPA lists 24 Superfund sites on its National Priorities List in Colorado. These NPL sites have been identified as needing further assessment and cleanup. These sites include the Denver Radium site, the Lincoln Park site including the Cotter Corporation’s uranium mill, and the Uravan Uranium Project.


Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "Superfund Sites." 2019. Accessed July 24, 2020.

Sevits, Kurt. "Colorado’s Superfund Sites: Where Are They and How Is Cleanup Going?" Denver7.com. April 4, 2017 [last updated]. Accessed July 24, 2020.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Love Canal Niagara Falls, NY Cleanup Activities." Accessed July 24, 2020.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP) Overview." Accessed July 24, 2020.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Superfund: CERCLA Overview." Accessed July 24, 2020.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Superfund: National Priorities List (NPL)." Accessed July 24, 2020.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "What is Superfund?" Accessed July 24, 2020.

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