POLLUTION LOCATOR|The National Priorities List

The National Priorities List (NPL) is the list of hazardous waste sites eligible for long-term remedial action financed under the federal Superfund program. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations outline a formal process for assessing hazardous waste sites and placing them on the NPL. At non-NPL sites, EPA can also take shorter-term cleanup actions under the emergency removal program.

The process begins when EPA receives a report of a potentially hazardous waste site from a state government, a private citizen, or a responsible federal agency. EPA enters a potentially contaminated site into a database known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System (CERCLIS). EPA or the state in which the potentially contaminated site is located then conducts a preliminary assessment to decide whether the site poses a potential threat to human health and the environment. If the preliminary assessment shows that contamination may exist, EPA or a state under an agreement with the agency may conduct a more detailed site inspection. The agency then uses a hazard ranking system (HRS) to review available data on the site and determine whether its health or environmental risks are sufficient to qualify it for a Superfund cleanup.

Sites are first proposed to the National Priorities List in the Federal Register. EPA then accepts public comments on the sites, responds to the comments, and may place on the NPL those sites that continue to meet the requirements for listing. However, EPA often delays or forgoes listing if the state does not concur.

There are three mechanisms for placing sites on the NPL:

  • The first mechanism is EPA's Hazard Ranking System. Generally, sites with overall scores of 28.50 and above are eligible for the NPL.
  • 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:
  • 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;
  • EPA determines the site poses a significant threat to public health; and
  • 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.
EPA may delete a final NPL site if it determines that no further response is required to protect human health or the environment.