Asbestos Sites on the National Priorities List

In the course of discussion regarding asbestos exposure sites, the National Priorities List (NPL) is mentioned again and again. Those living in close proximity to asbestos cleanup sites may wonder what exactly constitutes listing on the NPL, how it is decided, and how sites can be removed. Asbestos exposure attorneys would like to outline the basic information pertaining to the NPL and hazardous waste cleanup sites. The more thoroughly the public understands federal processes, the more we can avoid exposure to hazardous substances and development of related illnesses.

Many asbestos-focused cleanup sites are included on the NPL, including the Ambler, Pennsylvania asbestos piles, the Coalinga, California asbestos mine, the Libby, Montana site, and the South Bay, California site. There are numerous stages of the Superfund cleanups, and because NPL sites are particularly large and complicated, they are usually split up into smaller areas, called Operable Unites, so they are more manageable. These Operable Units may be deleted from the NPL at separate times, depending on the progress of the cleanup. Both the NPL and Superfund have been under jurisdiction of the EPA for over twenty years after Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) in 1980.

Sites are first proposed to the NPL in the Federal Register. EPA then accepts public comments on the sites, responds to the comments, and places on the NPL those sites that continue to meet the requirements for listing.

The Federal regulation by which CERCLA is implemented provides three mechanisms for placing sites on the NPL:

  • The first mechanism is EPA’s Hazard Ranking System (HRS).
  • The second mechanism for placing sites on the NPL allows States or Territories to designate one top-priority site regardless of score.
  • The third mechanism allows listing a site if it meets all three of these requirements:

1. the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) of the U.S. Public Health Service has issued a health advisory that recommends removing people from the site;

2. EPA determines the site poses a significant threat to public health; and

3. EPA anticipates it will be more cost-effective to use its remedial authority (available only at NPL sites) than to use its emergency removal authority to respond to the site.

The NPL primarily serves as an information and management tool. It is part of the Superfund cleanup process and is updated periodically. The identification of a site for the NPL is intended primarily to guide EPA in:

  • determining which sites warrant further investigation to assess the nature and extent of the human health and environmental risks associated with a site;
  • identifying what CERCLA-financed remedial actions may be appropriate;
  • notifying the public of sites EPA believes warrant further investigation; and
  • serving notice to potentially responsible parties that EPA may initiate CERCLA-financed remedial action.

Inclusion of a site on the NPL does not in itself reflect a judgment of the activities of its owner or operator, it does not require those persons to undertake any action, nor does it assign liability to any person. The NPL serves primarily informational purposes, identifying for the States and the public those sites or other releases that appear to warrant remedial actions.

EPA may delete a final NPL site if it determines that no further response is required to protect human health or the environment, and one of the following criteria has been met:

  • EPA, in conjunction with the State, has determined that responsible or other parties have implemented all appropriate response action required.
  • EPA, in consultation with the State, has determined that all appropriate Superfund-financed responses under CERCLA have been implemented and that no further response by responsible parties is appropriate.
  • A Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study has shown that the release poses no significant threat to public health or the environment and, therefore, remedial measures are not appropriate.

Asbestos has been identified in at least 83 of the 1,585 hazardous waste sites proposed for inclusion on the NPL. Lung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm remind the public that no amount of asbestos exposure is safe in the human body. If you live near an asbestos NPL site and developed a related disease, contact one of our skilled asbestos attorneys immediately for a free legal consultation.

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