Washington Journal of Social & Environmental Justice


Marginalized communities in the United States bear the brunt of toxic pollution from Superfund sites. Criminal provisions in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, allow prosecutors to seek penalties for environmental crimes involving significant harm and/or culpable conduct, but we know little about how companies have been prosecuted for Superfund crimes. We utilize content analysis of 2,728 environmental crime prosecutions stemming from U.S. EPA criminal investigations from 1983-2021, and select cases of companies prosecuted for Superfund crimes. We found that across 41 prosecutions, 126 defendants were prosecuted, resulting in 68 years of probation and over $47 million in criminal penalties assessed at sentencing, but penalties are significantly impacted by a few large-penalty prosecutions. Fifty-one percent of prosecutions centered on hazardous waste crimes, followed by asbestos crimes (24 percent), chemical spill crimes (15 percent), and emissions crimes (10 percent). We conclude with a discussion of the value of Superfund criminal enforcement for deterring environmental crime and make suggestions for expanding Superfund criminal prosecutions.