Superfund & Toxics Release Inventory

What is Superfund?

Superfund is the federal government’s program to cleanup the nation’s uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. The UNC Superfund Research Program is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to conduct cutting-edge research on how chemicals found at hazardous waste sites impact human health and the environment.

One in four Americans lives within four miles of a hazardous waste site.63

Following the discovery of toxic waste dumps in the 1970s, the federal government enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980, also referred to as Superfund, to enable the cleanup of toxic sites and reduce human exposures to toxic substances.

The CERCLA statute authorizes the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) to clean up toxic sites and to engage responsible parties in site cleanups. When the responsible party is absent or unable to pay, the CERCLA funds are used to reimburse the government for EPA-lead cleanups.44

The environmental and public health emergencies that emerged from locations such as Love Canal, NY, Times Beach, MO, and Warren County, NC were important catalysts for the Superfund program.44 The discovery of uncontrolled hazardous waste sites near communities led to a national effort to prevent potential harm to human and ecological health from historic and ongoing contamination. To find out more about the origin of Superfund, read the US EPA’s 1979 account entitled, “The Love Canal Tragedy”. Love Canal was the first location in the United States to be designated a Superfund site.

View a map of Superfund sites in NC.

What is the National Priorities List?

The National Priorities List (NPL) is the list of the nation’s most hazardous waste sites.46

The NPL is intended primarily to guide the US EPA in determining which sites warrant further investigation and which courses of action will be most appropriate to cleanup the site for safe future use. NPL sites can be removed from the national listing after all appropriate responses have occurred and the site no longer poses a significant threat to public health or the environment.47

Learn more about the National Priorities List.

What is the Toxics Release Inventory?


The US Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) is a database that contains information about the disposal and releases of over 600 toxic chemicals from thousands of facilities throughout the United States. The TRI contains information about how the facilities manage the disposal of chemicals, such as through surface impoundments, on-site recycling, energy recovery, and chemical treatment. The TRI also reports the quantity (in grams or pounds) of the chemical that is released.

One of the TRI’s primary purposes is to inform communities about toxic chemical releases to the environment.1

Find out more about the TRI data used on North Carolina well water maps.

US EPA “Right to Know” Act

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s Right to Know Act ensures that communities have access to accurate information about toxic releases in their area and that alert systems are in place in case of accidental releases or other emergency environmental hazards.

To find air quality reports, information about your local watershed, and emergency response plans for local governments, visit the EPA Right to Know page.58

What is the Superfund Research Program?

The Superfund Research Program (SRP) is a network of university grants that are created for faculty, students, and researchers to seek solutions to the complex health and environmental issues associated with the nation’s hazardous waste sites.48

The UNC Superfund Research Program (SRP) conducts cutting-edge research on how chemicals found at hazardous waste sites impact human health and the environment. We are developing better ways to detect chemicals in the environment, clean up contaminated sites, and minimize human and environmental risks due to exposure.

The UNC SRP trains new scientists and engineers in interdisciplinary research while sharing our findings with a broad and diverse audience of scientists, regulators, legislators, and communities.

Visit the UNC Superfund Research Program.


This project was funded by an ARRA supplement from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (#P42ES005948) 2009-2011.