Basic Information about Cleanups

EPA conducts and supervises investigation and cleanup actions at sites where oil or hazardous chemicals have been or may be released into the environment. Cleanup activities take place at active and abandoned waste sites, federal facilities and properties, and where any storage tanks have leaked. EPA, other federal agencies, states or municipalities, or the company or party responsible for the contamination may perform cleanups. Cleanup can also include site reuse and redevelopment.

There are several programs under which EPA and its partners conduct cleanup-related activities.  EPA's programs are described below.  The taglines in the listing should generally help you figure out which programs are appropriate for specific situations.  

EPA's Cleanup Programs

Emergency Response

  • Emergency Response - responses to releases and hazardous waste site situations that pose imminent and substantial danger to human health and the environment and prompt immediate or short-term actions

Superfund Cleanup

EPA's Superfund program was established in1980 to locate, investigate, and clean up hazardous waste sites throughout the United States. The Superfund program oversees long-term ("remedial") cleanups at National Priorities List (NPL) sites, short-term cleanups ("removal actions") and responses to chemical and oil spill emergencies. Superfund cleanup starts when anyone discovers or reports a waste site or the possible release of hazardous materials. EPA compiles a database of potential hazardous substance release sites. EPA evaluates the potential for a release of hazardous substances using these Superfund cleanup process steps:

Federal Facilities Cleanup

The mission of EPA’s Federal Facilities Cleanups Program is to facilitate faster, more effective, and less costly cleanup of environmental contamination such as hazardous and radioactive wastes, munitions and explosives, or other toxic substances, and ready Federal Facility sites for reuse across the country. At Superfund federal facilities, we provide regulatory oversight under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) to ensure protection of human health and the environment. In addition, Section 120(c) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) requires EPA to establish a Docket which contains information reported to EPA by federal facilities that manage hazardous waste or from which hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants have been or may be released. Government facilities have to follow all necessary environmental regulations including state, tribal, and local requirements. We work with the Department of Defense, Department of Energy and other federal agencies to ensure long-term protectiveness of cleanup remedies and return Federal facilities back to communities for beneficial use.

Brownfields Cleanup

Brownfields are defined as real properties, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. EPA's Brownfields Program provides funds and technical assistance to states, communities, and other stakeholders in economic redevelopment to work together to assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields.

EPA's Brownfields program balances protecting human health and the environment with redevelopment. Possible environmental contamination can affect re-use of abandoned or unused sites. Many "brownfields" were created when manufacturing plants or military bases closed or moved. EPA assesses these sites to clean them up, prevent more contamination and make plans for re-use.

EPA’s Brownfields and Land Revitalization cleanup enforcement program provides guidance and uses site-specific enforcement tools to address available liability protections, thereby assisting parties seeking to clean up, reuse, or redevelop contaminated properties.

Underground Storage Tank Cleanup

The federal UST program defines underground storage tank systems (USTs) as tanks and connected piping with at least 10 percent of their combined volume underground. Some leaking USTs can cause fires and explosions. The greatest hazard is UST contents seeping into the soil and contaminating groundwater, the main source of drinking water. Learn more about cleaning up UST system releases and their enforcement.

RCRA Corrective Action

Hazardous waste can be released accidentally from storage facilities. Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), owners or operators of treatment, storage or disposal (TSD) facilities are responsible for investigating and cleaning up these accidental releases. EPA calls this kind of cleanup a "corrective action."

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Compliance Monitoring

There are several ways to accomplish RCRA cleanup enforcement. TSD facility owners can sign a voluntary cleanup agreement. EPA can compel compliance with a permit, require an investigation or implement a cleanup action. EPA can also issue an order regarding situations that might present imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment.

Oil Spill Cleanup

EPA works to prevent oil spills. The Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) program helps prepare for, and respond to, any oil spill affecting the inland waters of the United States. The program has reduced the number of spills to less than 1% of the total volume of oil handled each year.

Oil cleanup enforcement information is available under the Oil Pollution and Clean Water Acts. Enforcement concerns parties responsible for actual or threatened oil spills. Regulatory enforcement includes administrative and judicial penalty actions for oil spills, SPCC program violations and other regulatory requirements.

Cleaning Up Air Pollutants

Learn more about toxic air pollutants and air pollutants affecting our air quality.