CERCLA cost recovery

CERCLA Cost Recovery of the National Firework Superfund Site

On March 17, 2022, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated its National Priorities List (NPL) to include the National Fireworks Site in Cordova, Tennessee. This designation obligates the EPA to investigate contaminated sites and clean up its most complex, uncontrolled, or abandoned hazardous wastes. In addition, the EPA aims to make Superfund sites into productive resources by eliminating or reducing the health risks and environmental contamination often found at hazardous waste sites. Sites are removed from the NPL after all EPA response actions are completed, and cleanup goals have been achieved. Studies to determine the nature and extent of contamination, as well as suitable cleanup options, are currently underway at the National Fireworks Superfund site. Cleanup and remediation at this site, like at all Superfund sites, can be complex and costly, so it is important to enlist professionals throughout the CERCLA cost recovery process. 

A variety of health risks are associated with the contamination at these sites and their surrounding environments–this is why their cleanup is so imperative. Long-term exposure to air with elevated levels of chemicals can cause a variety of ailments, including respiratory problems and cancer. Chemical pollution characterizes many of these Superfund sites. Most chemical pollutants are man-made and result from activities in which toxic chemicals are disposed of improperly.

Superfund Sites and CERCLA Cost Recovery

In the late 1970s, the public learned about the environmental contamination and risks to human health posed by industrial contamination. According to the EPA, thousands of contaminated sites exist throughout the United States. These sites include manufacturing facilities, processing plants, landfills, and mining sites. In response to public concerns about the dangers associated with these sites, Congress established the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) in 1980. CERCLA sites are informally called “Superfund sites.”


When a location is designated as a Superfund site, the EPA is granted the funding and authority to clean it up. A Superfund designation can also obligate potentially responsible parties (“PRPs”) to meet environmental compliance standards or reimburse the federal government for EPA-led cleanup work. The goals of the Superfund program are to: 

Accomplishing these goals typically involves many years of work, negotiation, legal actions, and community involvement. Successful cleanup and repurposing of Superfund sites involve the gathering of historical research and environmental data. These facts can support well-founded legal arguments about both the historical and present-day responsibilities of the parties involved. The CERCLA cost recovery process can be long and complex, and the details matter. 


History of the National Fireworks Site

CERCLA cost recovery

According to EPA records, the 260-acre National Fireworks Superfund site is bordered by land used for industrial, residential, agricultural, and commercial purposes. It is the former site of the National Fireworks Company, which, from 1941 to 1945, manufactured munitions used by the United States Army and Navy. These munitions included flares, grenades, incendiary bombs, and 20- and 40-millimeter rounds. Chemicals were mixed and munitions were tested on site. In addition, the National Fireworks Company property includes a former burn pit and areas formerly used for the disposal of chemical wastes. 

Since 1986, the site has been in use as Cordova Industrial Park and subdivided into a variety of industrial facilities. Site inspections in 2001 and 2005 found contaminants in the soil and groundwater. This environmental contamination poses significant environmental and human health risks. Contaminants of concern include perchlorate, metals, and chlorinated solvents. According to Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen, “the site’s contaminants are dangerously close to Memphis’ Shaw Wellfield that provides drinking water to 79,000 people. The sooner this work begins, the sooner the contaminated groundwater and legacy pollution will be addressed.” 

The EPA aims to clean up Superfund sites so they can be repurposed for community use. The EPA’s Superfund Redevelopment Program aims to help communities reclaim and reuse formerly contaminated land. The EPA engages an array of tools, partnerships, and activities with the goal of providing local communities with new opportunities to grow and prosper. The EPA seeks public comment from residents and leaders; this occurred in Cordova in November 2021. Going forward, all interested parties will engage in ongoing discussions about how best to achieve environmental compliance and repurpose the site.  This involves identifying the community’s needs, and the EPA’s role going forward. This complex process requires research, time, data, and legal expertise. 

Historical Research Consultants Act as Expert Advisors 

CERCLA cost recovery

CERCLA cost recovery

CERCLA cost recovery and the Superfund Redevelopment Program require a deep understanding of sites, site owners, and sites’ historical uses. Because of the complexity of these cases, a professional historical consultant is an asset to organizations seeking this type of historical data and factual research. Environmental compliance litigation is typically a key feature of the Superfund Redevelopment process, and often these cases take years–if not decades–to resolve. Having a team of historical research consultants as a part of your team ensures that the facts are uncovered, presented, and resolved in as timely a manner as possible.


Historical Research Consultants assist lawyers who handle these cases by playing a variety of roles throughout litigation, including:

  • fact investigator and researcher
  • consulting expert for motion practice and depositions
  • expert witness at trial


The Historical Research Consultants at History Associates Inc. (HAI) are experts at performing the kind of deep, detailed research that assists lawyers in making compelling arguments at trial. HAI Historical Research Consultants possess unsurpassed knowledge of federal, state, and local records systems, and can conduct time-sensitive research effectively. They know how to decipher the arcane methods used to organize historical records. They employ the most current digital technologies and can deliver evidence to clients in a variety of formats. These professional historians can track down obscure facts and make connections between those facts and your objectives. 


HAI Historical Research Consultants are well-positioned to assist in investigating environmental compliance claims, including those that would lead to a Superfund designation and subsequent Superfund Redevelopment process. These experts use forensic historical research to determine the allocation of environmental cleanup costs and provide evidence to support claims made in litigation. HAI’s skilled investigators provide clients with detailed reports summarizing research methodology and significant findings. According to the American Bar Association, “perhaps the professional historian’s greatest value is in developing and implementing a thorough research methodology.”  These experts provide lawyers with an unimpeachable foundation of historical facts upon which to base their environmental litigation cases. For example, historians can provide crucial information that informs the community, the legal team, and the EPA about levels of environmental contamination, historical uses of the site, and other matters that have concrete effects on both the community and the outcome of the Superfund Redevelopment process. 


The work of HAI Historical Research Consultants can be invaluable to parties involved in environmental compliance litigation. HAI’s litigation research and analysis benefit any of the following:

  • national and regional law firms
  • general counsel at large companies
  • federal agencies
  • state attorneys general

Contact HAI’s litigation research team to learn more about how HAI Historical Research Consultants can act as responsive and skilled historical research consultants throughout the CERCLA cost recovery and litigation processes.

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