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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Valbruna Steel is the current owner of the buildings on Taylor Street.

Superfund covers environmental cleanup

– Valbruna Steel makes its claim for compensation against Joslyn Manufacturing under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.

The act is more commonly known as superfund, enacted in 1980 to deal with serious environmental pollution.

Superfund was one of the last big environmental acts passed in that era, said A. James Barnes, a professor of law and professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University.

Barnes helped create the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, and served as a deputy director there in the 1980s. He has taught environmental law for a quarter-century.

The act grew out of the Love Canal disaster, an environmental nightmare that grew out of a chemical dump on which houses and a school were built. Waste leaching into the environment caused health problems and birth defects to those unfortunate enough to live there.

The act contained a retroactive liability provision, allowing whoever is cleaning up a site to try to pass off the bill to those responsible for making the mess under certain conditions.

According to Barnes, four entities or people are responsible for environmental cleanup: the current owner of site, previous owners of the site who handled hazardous materials, any entities that generated hazardous substances found at the site or who arranged for their disposal there, or any entities responsible for transporting waste to the site or who had a hand in deciding where the materials went.

The history of superfund since it was passed has been that a lot of money has gone into dealing with both how serious the problem is, as well as determining what ought to be done about it, Barnes said.

That determines how expensive the cleanup is, or is going to be.

The law specifically creates liability for events that occurred before 1980, Barnes said. The current and lengthy lawsuit against Joslyn is the last step in dealing with this particular site cleanup, he said.