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In 1980, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as the Superfund law. The Superfund law created a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries. The tax went into a trust fund to help pay for cleaning up abandoned or uncontrolled waste sites.

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A leachate/gas extraction well at the Refuse Hideaway Superfund site in Dane County.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers the Superfund trust fund and works closely with state and local governments and tribal groups to remediate sites that may endanger public health or the environment. The contamination at many of these sites was created years ago when environmental regulations were virtually nonexistent and companies dumped or emitted hazardous materials freely into the environment. Years later the threat to humans and the ecosystems remains so great that the sites need to be cleaned up.

Unfortunately, since much of this contamination was caused so many years ago, it can be hard to find the parties responsible, or the parties responsible may be unwilling or unable to pay for the cleanup. In these cases, the Superfund trust fund can be used to pay for most of the cleanup process. States must pay for a portion of such cleanups.

Also, in certain situations where contamination poses an imminent threat to the public and/or the environment, EPA will utilize Superfund dollars to address those threats via emergency removals – e.g., a transportation accident – and nonemergency, “time-critical” removals (e.g., asbestos contamination). The agency coordinates these removals with the Wisconsin DNR – via the Remediation and Redevelopment Program – and local officials. For more information, please see the following fact sheet: Federal Removals Assistance For Local Governments (RR-746) [PDF].

The CERCLA law also provides the EPA with enforcement tools to compel those responsible for causing the contamination to pay for the cleanup, including the issuance of administrative orders. If the trust fund is used, then the EPA and the state may go to court to recover their expenditures from those who are responsible.

Superfund National Priority List (NPL) sites in Wisconsin

As of October 2019, 36 sites in Wisconsin were on the NPL.

Former NPL sites

The following are former Superfund sites in Wisconsin that are now deleted, i.e., removed from the NPL:

  • Eau Claire Municipal Well Field - Eau Claire, Eau Claire County
  • Fadrowski Drum – Franklin, Milwaukee County
  • Northern Engraving - Sparta, Monroe County
  • Omega Hills - Menomonee Falls, Waukesha County
  • Tomah Armory - Tomah, Monroe County
  • Tomah Fairgrounds - Tomah, Monroe County
  • Waste Research and Reclamation – Eau Claire, Eau Claire County
  • Wheeler Pit - Janesville, Rock County

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) links