Hazardous Waste, Toxic Substances, and Contaminated Land Cleanup

Contaminated land in a community may be the result of many activities, and both present actions and historic poor disposal practices contribute to the resulting harms.

Common contamination activities include:
    • Manufacturing
    • Mineral extraction
    • Abandonment of mines
    • National defense activities
    • Waste disposal
    • Accidental spills
    • Illegal dumping
    • Leaking underground storage tanks
    • Hurricanes
    • Floods
    • Pesticide use
    • Fertilizer application

Examples of hazardous sites in Georgia include old wood preserving plants, chemical manufacturing plants, leaking dry cleaners, old unlined solid waste landfills, and defunct industrial facilities.

Common problems that may arise because of contamination include:
    • Fire and explosion hazards
    • Contaminated soil and drinking water
    • Health threats to people living or working nearby
    • Environmental damage
    • Diminished property values
    • Barriers to redevelopment

As a result, Congress has passed a number of laws to promote the safe disposal of hazardous and nonhazardous waste. Georgia, like many other states, has also passed laws aimed at preventing contamination and cleaning up contaminated sites.

This chapter explores the federal and state laws designed to control toxic substances, regulate waste, and promote and restore a healthy and clean environment.


Laws Aimed at Preventing Contamination

Nearly every activity generates waste of some kind, like household garbage (also called municipal solid waste), hazardous waste, industrial waste, agricultural and animal waste, medical waste, radioactive waste, and more. Congress has enacted laws that require monitoring and waste management programs to prevent improper disposal of waste and inadequate land management which can negatively impact human health and the environment. The most significant federal law in this area is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA, pronounced “rick-rah”). RCRA is implemented by EPA and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) through the Georgia Hazardous Waste Management Act. In addition to RCRA and the Georgia Hazardous Waste Management Act, the Georgia Underground Storage Tank Act is also aimed at preventing contamination.


Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

(42 U.S.C. §§ 6901-6992k)

RCRA was enacted to create a comprehensive program to manage hazardous wastes from cradle to grave. RCRA governs the generation, treatment, storage, and disposal of solid and hazardous waste across many industries. For example, hazardous waste generators, government agencies, small businesses, and gas stations must all comply with RCRA. RCRA’s goals are to prevent and clean up environmental contamination from hazardous waste.

RCRA has three major programs that regulate waste. The Solid Waste Management Program (RCRA Subtitle D) covers non-hazardous solid waste. The Hazardous Waste Management Program (RCRA Subtitle C) focuses on hazardous solid waste. The Underground Storage Tank Program (RCRA Subtitle I) addresses waste from underground storage tanks.

Non-Hazardous Solid Waste Management Program
(RCRA Subtitle D)

Hazardous Waste Management Program (RCRA Subtitle C)

Underground Storage Tank Program (RCRA Subtitle I)


RCRA Violations

Some of the most common violations of RCRA include the following:
    • Dumping hazardous wastes down the drain
    • Not having (or having inadequate) hazardous waste manifests during transport
    • Failing to properly train employees in hazardous waste management, handling, and emergency preparedness
    • Lack of, or improper, labeling of hazardous waste
    • Open containers of hazardous waste on site
    • Failing to comply with hazardous waste generator regulations
    • Failing to have hazardous waste determinations on file
    • Improper consolidation of waste from other, nearby facilities
    • Noncompliance with underground storage tank regulations

There are several possible actions in response to violations of RCRA. The EPA and EPD may issue administrative orders to facilities demanding that they comply with permit requirements and regulations.

If companies fail to comply with the requirements set by the EPA and EPD, then EPD may file civil suits, or criminal suits in the case of knowing violations of the statute. Individuals or organizations may also bring “citizen suit” enforcement actions against potential or actual violators of RCRA. For more information on citizen suit enforcement see Citizen Suits.


RCRA Public Participation Tools and Resources

The EPA has published a RCRA Public Participation Toolkit to help the public find ways to engage throughout the RCRA process.

The toolkit discusses a broad range of activities communities can use to design and promote public participation in enforcing RCRA compliance. RCRA requires that hazardous waste facilities obtain permits, and there are multiple opportunities for the public to participate in and comment on the permitting process.

In addition to the Public Participation Toolkit, EPA has also published a RCRA Public Participation Manual.

Remember that in Georgia, the EPD administers RCRA and issues these permits. See below for more information about EPD’s permitting process and opportunities for public engagement.


Georgia Hazardous Waste Management Act

(O.C.G.A. §§ 12-8-60 to -83)

Georgia’s equivalent of RCRA is the Georgia Hazardous Waste Management Act. In Georgia, the EPA has delegated RCRA compliance monitoring responsibility to state and local authorities. This means that while the EPA sets standards at the national level, the Hazardous Waste Management Branch of the EPD is in charge of dealing with the generation, transportation, storage, treatment, and disposal of hazardous waste in Georgia.

Under the Georgia Hazardous Waste Management Act, a hazardous waste facility is any property or facility that is intended or used for storage, treatment, or disposal of hazardous waste. Examples include landfills, incinerators, containment buildings, and storage tanks.

Permits are required for all hazardous waste facilities, and the Georgia Hazardous Waste Management Act establishes a permitting process for the construction, modification, and operation of hazardous waste facilities. This permitting process allows an opportunity for public involvement.

When a company applies for a permit to generate hazardous waste, the EPD must publish a notice of the application in at least one local newspaper within 30 days of receipt of an application for a Hazardous Waste Facility Permit. The public may request a hearing on the application, but the request must be made in writing within 30 days of publication of the notice and must be made by at least 25 individuals affected by the facility.

If you are concerned about a facility in your community, you can track notices of hazardous waste permits on the EPD’s website.

The Georgia Hazardous Waste Management Act requires that any hazardous waste storage, treatment, or disposal facility demonstrate that it has the money available to cover the expenses of maintaining, operating, and properly closing the facility, as well as paying any liabilities.

The Act also requires entities that generate large quantities of hazardous waste to develop plans to reduce hazardous waste generation. To oversee the implementation of these plans, the EPD requires large-quantity generators to submit progress reports twice a year. You can access summaries of the biennial progress reports.

The EPD oversees the investigation and cleanup of hazardous substance releases into soil, groundwater, sediment, and surface water at hazardous waste facilities regulated under the Act. The EPD also investigates public complaints and provides technical assistance regarding the management of hazardous waste.

If you would like to make a complaint or have any further questions you should reach out to Georgia’s Hazardous Waste Management Program Manager using the information provided below.


Georgia’s Hazardous Waste Management Program Contacts


Georgia Underground Storage Tank Act

(O.C.G.A. §§ 12-13-1 to -22)

The Georgia Underground Storage Tank Act was established to protect groundwater and surface water against environmental contamination from the release of harmful substances, like gasoline or oil, which are stored in underground storage tanks.

The Act provides a comprehensive program to prevent, detect, and correct releases from underground storage tanks, and is administered by the EPD’s Land Protection Branch. The location of underground storage tanks, and accompanying data, can be found on the EPD’s underground storage tanks webpage.

Corrective action for noncompliance with the Act is required, and the Act establishes a trust fund that can pay for preventative or corrective action and provide compensation for third-party liability. The EPD also provides the application form for trust fund assistance for owners or operators of leaking underground storage tanks that require cleanup.

Public involvement is likely to be limited to notifying the EPD of evidence of leaks or contamination from underground storage tanks. Odors or other observable product discharges may indicate a leak. Additionally, newer underground storage tank systems may be equipped with leak detection equipment that may signal a release either electronically or with an audible alarm.

The public can notify the EPD by contacting the Corrective Action Unit (for management of leaking underground storage tanks) or the Regulatory Compliance Unit (to ensure operational compliance of underground storage tanks). The contact information for each is listed below.

Upon notification, the director of the EPD must seek corrective action if the director has reason to believe that the leak or contamination poses a danger to health or the environment.


Georgia Underground Storage Tank Act Contacts

Laws Focused on Contaminated Site Cleanup

In 1978, in Niagara Falls, New York, the Love Canal community discovered that their homes and school were built on top of an old, filled-in canal that the Hooker Chemical Company had used as a dump from the 1920s to 1953.

The community noticed increased incidences of cancer and other illnesses. As a result, members of the community reached out to the EPA to demand help in investigating the cause of their illnesses. This community’s action threw a spotlight on the harmful effects of old industrial contamination on redeveloped land, and led to the passage of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, also often referred to as “Superfund”).

This law gave the EPA the authority necessary to force the polluters responsible for contaminating land to conduct a site cleanup under the EPA’s supervision or pay for a cleanup conducted by the EPA.

In Georgia, the Georgia Hazardous Site Response Act of 1992 is the state law equivalent and is sometimes referred to as the state Superfund program. Contaminated sites are sometimes called “brownfields.” This section will also cover the Brownfields and Land Revitalization Program and the Georgia Brownfields Act.


Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act

(42 U.S.C. §§ 9601-9675)

Congress enacted CERCLA in 1980 to promote the prompt cleanup of hazardous waste sites and to ensure the costs of cleanup efforts fall on the parties responsible for the pollution.

For CERCLA to apply, there must be:


Release or Threatened Release

A release includes virtually any movement of hazardous substances into the environment (spilling, leaking, pumping, emitting, emptying, pouring, etc.) The law defines release very broadly and courts often find that the mere presence of a hazardous substance constitutes a release.

Hazardous Substance

What constitutes a hazardous substance under CERCLA is also very broad. Any substance which is deemed hazardous under other prominent environmental laws (such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, RCRA, or the Toxic Substances Control Act) is automatically considered hazardous substances under CERCLA.

CERCLA applies to much more than waste, also covering hazardous natural materials, consumer products, manufacturing byproducts, and more. There is one key exception: CERCLA does not apply to petroleum (oil) and various natural and synthetic gases because these substances are controlled by different laws.


What constitutes a facility is also broadly interpreted to mean virtually any place a hazardous substance is located. Some examples include any building, structure, pit, pond, or storage container where hazardous substances have been placed.


CERCLA provides two mechanisms to help achieve its contaminated site cleanup goals:
  1. A liability framework to force those responsible for the contamination to pay for cleanup.
  2. A trust fund to provide money to fund cleanup efforts.

Under CERCLA, the polluters who own a contaminated site or contributed to the problem are referred to as “potentially responsible parties” (PRPs) and are required to clean up the site. Other potentially responsible parties include anyone who created, transported, or was paid to dispose of the hazardous substances contaminating the site. But, sometimes these potentially responsible parties cannot be found or are bankrupt. To ensure that funding is still available to cleanup these sites, CERCLA established a trust fund. The trust fund, known as the “Superfund,” is funded through a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries, and is used to finance the cleanup of hazardous waste sites when responsible parties cannot pay.


Initiating the CERCLA Process

The CERCLA process begins when the EPA is notified of possible hazardous chemical releases. Notification can come from mandatory reports from facilities, employee whistleblowing, and reports from the public.

If you know that you live near a potentially contaminated site, like a factory, former industrial site, or landfill, it is important to be aware of your surroundings. If you experience an unusual odor or see something that concerns you (like strange colors in water, leaking or rusting drums or tanks, or dead plants), take logs of what you are experiencing.

For more information about keeping a log, see Protecting Your Community: Getting Started and Appendix C-4.

If you are concerned about a release in your community, you can report it to the EPA using the following resources:

If contamination is found, the EPA records the site in a database and begins determining if cleanup action is required. The timeframe for the evaluation and cleanup process depends on the magnitude of the damage and the risk presented to people from the contamination.

Cleanup of a contaminated site is not a quick process! The EPA’s response can range from emergency or short-term removal action (which takes years) to long-term remedial action (which takes decades).

Removal actions include short-term temporary measures such as:
    • Installing fences, warning signs, and site control precautions
    • Controlling drainage
    • Stabilizing land by building dikes and other structures
    • Capping and containing hazardous substances
    • Using chemicals to stop the spread of a release
    • Removing contaminated containers
    • Providing an alternative water supply
    • Temporarily evacuating a community

When the EPA determines that a site needs long-term cleanup it conducts a remedial action, in accordance with the National Contingency Plan.

For the most extreme situations, EPA may first place the site on the National Priorities List (NPL). Once a site is listed on the NPL, the EPA develops and implements a cleanup plan and then follows up with routine monitoring and reviews of the site.

When cleanup is achieved, the EPA removes the site from the NPL, but this can take many years. You can see an online map of cleanup sites in Georgia.

Remedial actions include long-term permanent measures such as:
    • Excavating and treating soil
    • Removing and treating groundwater
    • Constructing structures to prevent the hazardous substance from spreading
    • Relocating residents permanently


Issue Spotlight:
Atlanta’s Westside

Opportunities for Community Involvement in a CERCLA Cleanup

The EPA encourages community involvement during CERCLA cleanups through the Superfund Community Involvement Program. The law incorporates public involvement in the cleanup process and is intended to give communities affected by the hazardous substances and cleanup efforts a say in what happens in their community.

If your community is subject to removal or remedial action, the EPA will likely form a committee responsible for the cleanup. It is important to attend hearings and meetings hosted by the committee because the community can ask questions or voice concerns about the cleanup.

Resources for Community Involvement

The EPA provides a Superfund Community Involvement Toolkit. Additional resources and information can be found in EPA’s Superfund Community Involvement Handbook. For more information, you can call EPA Region 4 at (404) 562-8583 and ask to speak to someone in the Superfund Community Involvement Program.


Each Superfund site will also have a site-specific Community Involvement Coordinator, so if there is a cleanup in your neighborhood, ask who the Community Involvement Coordinator for that site is.

Also, the EPA will often create Community Advisory Groups (CAGs) made up of local leaders, representatives from existing community groups, and concerned individuals. Ask the EPA if the cleanup you are concerned about has an existing CAG or if one is being formed that you could join. For more information about CAGs, see the EPA’s Superfund CAG webpage.

Funding for Community Involvement

Technical Assistance Grants (TAGs) of up to $50,000 are available to assist community groups in understanding the nature of the contamination hazard and the Superfund process, including remediation measures. TAGs provide funding to community groups to hire their own expert advisors to interpret and explain technical reports, site conditions, and EPA’s proposed cleanup proposals and decisions.

To be eligible for a TAG, a community group must incorporate, and the community group grant recipient must contribute at least 20% of the total cost of technical assistance unless it receives a waiver.

Importantly, this 20% match does not have to be provided as money. The EPA will accept “in-kind” matches through the donation of volunteer hours and will work with your group to determine what kind of match works for your group.

To apply for a TAG, community groups must submit a Letter of Intent to the EPA Region 4 Office’s TAG Coordinator. For more about the TAG program visit the EPA’s website.

Additional Resources

Another resource is the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). ATSDR is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services whose mission is to protect communities from harmful effects related to exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances.

Whenever a site is listed on the NPL, ATSDR is required to evaluate the health impacts of the contamination on the community. ATSDR has many helpful resources that can be found online here.


Georgia Hazardous Site Response Act

(O.C.G.A. §§ 12-8-90 to -97)

The Georgia Hazardous Site Response Act (HSRA) is a state-level analog to CERCLA that the Hazardous Site Response Branch of the EPD administers.

HSRA covers more sites within Georgia than CERCLA, so if you live near a site that you are concerned about, make sure to check the lists of contaminated sites under both laws. Like CERCLA, HSRA empowers the EPD to negotiate a voluntary agreement with polluters to clean up hazardous pollutants released onto a site. Should the responsible parties refuse to act voluntarily, the EPD can order cleanup and hold the responsible parties liable.

The EPD cleans up hazardous sites according to risk-based standards. This means the worst problems are cleaned up first. This also means that the most hazardous sites are prioritized and that the worst problems at these sites are handled first. This is done to minimize exposure to the most harmful levels of hazardous substances.

Like the Federal Superfund, HSRA also provides a funding mechanism called the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund. This fund is used to pay for the cleanup should the responsible party be unable to pay or fail to comply with the order.

The fund is financed through fees paid by industries and government agencies that generate, manage, or dispose of hazardous wastes, hazardous substances, and solid wastes, as well as from fines collected from violators of state environmental laws.

The fund can be used to pay for:

    • investigation, detoxification, removal, and disposal of hazardous waste or substances from sites posing a danger to public health, safety, or the environment; or
    • emergency response to releases of hazardous wastes or substances.

Hazardous Site Inventory

Annually, EPD is required to publish the Hazardous Site Inventory. The inventory is a list of sites that have had known or suspected releases of a regulated substance above a reportable quantity and do not yet meet state clean-up standards.

The inventory provides information on the location of the site, the hazardous substances present, whether corrective action is required, and the cleanup priority and status.

The Hazardous Site Inventory can be accessed in the clerk’s office in each superior court of the state, the county office of deeds and records, or online. The EPD’s website also includes an interactive map with site profile information and links to individual site summaries.

The Response and Remediation Program (RRP) of the Land Protection Branch of the EPD evaluates notices and reports of releases of regulated substances and determines if the release should be listed on the Hazardous Site Inventory for further investigation and cleanup.

You can notify the RRP of a suspected release by filling out the Release Notification/Reporting Form. Historical release notifications and the EPD’s decisions relating to those submittals are available for public review at the EPD office located at 2 MLK Jr. Dr., Suite 1054, East Tower, Atlanta, Georgia 30334.

For more information about response and remediation, or if you believe there is a hazardous site in your area, contact:


Brownfields and Land Revitalization Program

In 1995, the EPA established the Brownfields and Land Revitalization Program to improve how communities develop and reuse contaminated land.[1] A brownfield is a property that has been contaminated or polluted, making development or use of the land complicated.

The program is designed to empower communities to reuse brownfields safely and sustainably. Brownfield grants are available to help fund environmental assessment, cleanup, and job training activities.

Brownfields can be difficult and expensive to manage or redevelop, which caused industries to choose to build facilities on clean and uncontaminated land instead.

The EPA established the Brownfields and Land Revitalization Program to return contaminated land to its productive use, protect the environment, incentivize the re-use of industrial land rather than development of clean land, and revitalize communities. The program provides grants and technical assistance to communities, giving them the resources necessary to safely clean up and reuse brownfield sites.

Brownfield sites are typically abandoned manufacturing facilities, factories, or gas stations that communities would like to see redeveloped but lack the financial means to safely clean up. To encourage the voluntary cleanup of brownfield sites, the government offers tax incentives to parties willing to pay to clean up the contaminated land. Georgia adopted similar environmental protection legislation for brownfields.


Georgia Brownfield Act

(O.C.G.A. §12-8-200)

The Georgia Brownfield Act protects purchasers from being liable for contamination that occurred prior to their owning the property.[2] To receive this protection from liability, the prospective purchaser cannot have contributed to or have a personal or business connection with a person or company who contributed to the source of contamination.

Additionally, the prospective buyer must implement a corrective action plan detailing how the property will be cleaned up. This plan must include a certification of compliance with the Georgia risk reduction standards.

The Georgia Brownfield Act encourages the voluntary and timely investigation and remediation of contaminated properties where there has been a release of contamination harmful to human health.

To qualify, the contaminated property cannot be:

  1. Listed on EPA’s National Priority List.
  2. Undergoing any response activities ordered by EPA.
  3. A facility required to have a permit for hazardous waste under O.C.G.A. 12-8-66.

Some examples of facilities that can be remediated under the Georgia Brownfield Act include chemical manufacturing, drycleaners, agricultural chemical blending, solvent recycling, manufactured gas plants, metals recycling, rail yards, vehicle repair and maintenance facilities, and landfills.


Success Story: Atlantic Station

Laws Aimed at Controlling Market Access to Harmful Chemicals

Regulating the use of hazardous chemicals protects both human health and the environment. There are two federal laws that are particularly important in limiting access to and use of harmful chemicals. These include the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA, pronounced “toss-kah”) and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)

(15 U.S.C.A. § 2601-2692)

TSCA was enacted to enable the EPA to track and control industrial chemicals and take steps to protect human health and the environment from harms associated with those chemicals. TSCA addresses the production, importation, use, and disposal of specific chemicals.

TSCA can be considered a “catch all” statute because it applies to all chemicals that are not specifically regulated by other federal programs (i.e., food, drugs, cosmetics, and pesticides). Under TSCA, the term “chemical substance” is broadly defined as any substances aside from pesticides, tobacco, nuclear material, or food, all of which are regulated by other agencies.

Under TSCA, the EPA is empowered to test all new and existing chemical substances and to control any substance that is deemed to cause unreasonable risk to public health and the environment. The EPA is responsible for determining what actions to take if any risks from a particular substance are identified.

If the EPA determines a chemical substance presents an unreasonable risk, it must impose restrictions to the extent necessary so that the chemical no longer presents such a risk.

An opportunity for an informal hearing before the EPA is conducted for chemicals that pose an unreasonable risk to human health and the environment. Additionally, there is an opportunity for written and oral presentation during a focus meeting open to the public before the testing rules are finalized. At these meetings the public has access to all documents in the EPA’s public file.


Special Treatment for Specific Chemicals

Since its enactment, TSCA has been amended to direct the EPA to create regulations specific to asbestos, radon, lead-based paint, mercury, and formaldehyde. You can find more information online about how EPA regulates these chemicals.


Legal Remedies Available Under TSCA

TSCA provides citizen suit and citizens’ petition provisions. The citizen suit provision allows members of the public to file legal actions against persons allegedly in violation of TSCA and actions against the EPA for failing to perform nondiscretionary acts.

These cases are brought in the U.S. district courts. See Citizen Suits for more on citizen suits in general. The citizens’ petition provision allows the public to ask the EPA to initiate a proceeding to issue, amend, or repeal rules related to a specific chemical.


It is important to pay close attention to the health and wellbeing of members of your community.

If sickness occurs and it is seemingly connected to chemicals used within your community, like cleaning chemicals or pesticides, reach out to the EPA or a local health professional to inquire about testing.


EPA TSCA Hotline

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) (7 U.S.C. §§ 136-136y) and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. §§ 301-399)

Under FIFRA, pesticides must be registered with the EPA, which must evaluate all claims made by the manufacturer, the effectiveness of the product, and whether the pesticide will cause an unreasonable adverse effect on the environment if used according to widespread and common practice.

For a pesticide to be registered for use on food, the EPA must study its effects and find a “reasonable certainty of no harm” from its use. Pesticide registrations must be reviewed at least once every 15 years.

Under the FFDCA, Congress gave power to regulate food, drugs, and cosmetic products to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services. However, the statute also gives the EPA the authority to establish tolerances and exemptions for pesticide residues in or on food.

In establishing these tolerances and exemptions there must be reasonable certainty that no harm will result from aggregate exposure to the pesticide chemical residue. The agency must consider the impact on infants and children, who are more sensitive than adults.

While the statute does not provide for private enforcement (citizen suits), individuals or community groups can file petitions with the FDA to take action regarding a certain food, drug, or cosmetic product. The FDA provides instructions for how to file a citizen petition. Petitions filed with the FDA can be found online here.

Unfortunately, neither law contains a citizen suit provision, which would allow individuals to directly file lawsuits against a violator.


If you suspect contamination from a pesticide is affecting the health of your community, reach out to the Pesticides Enforcement Branch of EPA Region 4’s Chemical Safety and Land Enforcement Branch.

[1] Public Law 107-118 (H.R. 2869), the “Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act”, signed into law January 11, 2002.

[2] O.C.G.A. § 12-8-200.