In 1980 Congress created the Superfund to pay for the cleanup of the country’s most hazardous waste sites. There are currently more than 1,700 of these waste sites.

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Sites have been studied, and cleanup plans proposed.


Cleanup facilities have not yet been completed.

Construction Completed

All the facilities necessary for cleanup have been built. They may need to be operated and maintained indefinitely.


All cleanup efforts have been completed and the site removed from the National Priorities List.

A Nationwide Cleanup

Since Congress passed the Superfund law, many of the worst hazardous waste sites in the U.S. have either been cleaned up or brought under control. But hundreds more are works in progress—and 95 of them, says the EPA, may be exposing humans to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals. A depleted Superfund and shrinking appropriations from Congress have delayed cleanup at some sites.
Related story: Wasteland »

By Anna Scalamogna, Jason Treat, and Xaquín G.V., NGM Staff; Meg Roosevelt. Sources: EPA; GAO

A growing list of sites ...

Of more than 47,000 waste sites, the EPA has put over 1,700 on the National Priorities List (NPL) since 1982. When polluters can’t be made to pay to clean them up, the Superfund pays.

with fewer federal resources ...

At first the Superfund was flush from taxes on oil and chemicals, but Congress let those expire in 1995. It’s now financed by the general fund—that is, by all taxpayers.

Balance of the superfund

Congressional appropriations

In 2013 dollars

and no end in sight

Leaky barrels can be removed, but contaminated land and groundwater remain. Most Superfund sites have been on the list for decades.

Three out of four of the currently deleted sites spent more than ten years on the list.

Construction completed
On almost half of these sites, construction was completed more than 15 years ago.

65 of these sites have been active since September 1983.

Of the 52 currently proposed sites, almost half were listed in the 1990s.