In 1980, the United States passed a law -- called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) -- that gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the power to force the cleanup of Superfund sites. Superfund sites are areas that were contaminated by toxic waste in the past, leaving the land unappealing to developers and nearby communities, even after they were cleaned up [source: EPA].
Despite the law's intentions to return previously unusable land to the marketplace, many Superfund sites remained empty after cleanup. Even years later, private purchasers are still concerned there may be lingering effects from the toxic waste, which makes them hesitant to buy or develop the land. Corporate purchasers fear that they will be on the hook for the costs of future cleanups for pollution that they didn't create. In some cases, there's been permanent damage to the economies and property values of communities containing Superfund sites.
In response to these problems, the EPA and Congress passed the Superfund Redevelopment Initiative (SRI) in 1999 to help transition Superfund sites from cleanup to redevelopment. The SRI works with communities to develop uses for sites waiting for cleanup and to find uses for previously cleaned sites. Another law allows potential buyers to qualify as a "bona fide prospective purchaser." If the purchaser does qualify, then that person or company would be shielded from any legal liability to pay for the cleanup of waste they didn't cause [source: EPA].
While it may be slow going to overcome negative media attention and misconceptions about the cleanup of Superfund sites, over the years, hundreds of communities have been able to reclaim previously contaminated sites for a variety of commercial, residential, recreational and ecological uses [source: EPA].
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