The United States federal Superfund law is officially known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). The federal Superfund program, administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is designed to investigate and clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances. Sites managed under this program are referred to as "Superfund" sites. There are 40,000 federal Superfund sites across the country, and approximately 1,600 of those sites have been listed on the National Priorities List (NPL). Sites on the NPL are considered the most highly contaminated and undergo longer-term remedial investigation and remedial action (cleanups).

The EPA and state agencies use the Hazard Ranking System (HRS) to calculate a site score (ranging from 0 to 100) based on the actual or potential release of hazardous substances from a site. A score of 28.5 places a site on the National Priorities List, eligible for long-term, remedial action (i.e., cleanup) under the Superfund program. As of August 9, 2016, there were 1,328 sites listed; an additional 391 had been delisted, and 55 new sites have been proposed.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton proposed a new Superfund reform bill, Executive Order (E.O) 12898, which called for federal agencies to make achieving environmental justice a requirement by addressing low income populations and minority populations that have experienced disproportionate adverse health and environmental effects as a result of their programs, policies, and activities. The regional offices of the Environmental Protection Agency now had to apply required guidelines for its managers to take into consideration data analysis, managed public participation, and economic opportunity when considering the geography of toxic waste site remediation. Some environmentalists and industry lobbyists saw the Clinton administrationís environmental justice policy as an improvement, but the bill did not get bipartisan support. The newly elected Republican Congress made numerous unsuccessful efforts to significantly weaken the law. The Clinton Administration then adopted some industry favored reforms as policy and blocked most major changes.

Upon notification of a potentially hazardous waste site, the EPA conducts a Preliminary Assessment/Site Inspection (PA/SI), which involves records reviews, interviews, visual inspections, and limited field sampling. Information from the PA/SI is used by the EPA to develop a Hazard Ranking System (HRS) score to determine the CERCLA status of the site. Sites that score high enough to be listed typically proceed to a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS).

Historically about 70 percent of Superfund cleanup activities have been paid for by potentially responsible party (PRPs). When the party either cannot be found or is unable to pay for the cleanup, the Superfund law originally paid for toxic waste cleanups through a tax on petroleum and chemical industries. The chemical and petroleum fees were intended to provide incentives to use less toxic substances. Over five years, $1.6 billion was collected, and the tax went to a trust fund for cleaning up abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.

Federal actions to address the disproportionate health and environmental disparities that minority and low-income populations face through Executive Order (E.O) 12898 required federal agencies to make environmental justice central to their programs and policies. Superfund sites have been shown to impact minority communities the most. Despite legislation specifically designed to ensure equity in Superfund listing, marginalized populations still experience a lesser chance of successful listing and cleanup than areas with higher income levels. After the executive order had been put in place, there persisted a discrepancy between the demographics of the communities living near toxic waste sites and their listing as Superfund sites, which would otherwise grant them federally funded cleanup projects. Communities with both increased minority and low-income populations were found to have lowered their chances of site listing after the executive order, while on the other hand, increases in income led to greater chances of site listing. Of the populations living within 1 mile radius of a Superfund site, 44% of those are minorities despite only being around 37% of the nation's population. It has also been shown that the government responds slower to community demands from minority communities than from white communities. Superfund sites near white communities are reputed to have better clean-up, harsher penalties for polluters, and a larger tax-base of funding than minority communities.

The Afton community of Warren County, North Carolina is one of the most prominent environmental injustice cases and is often pointed to as the roots of the environmental justice movement. PCB's were illegally dumped into the community and then it eventually became a PCB landfill. Community leaders pressed the state for the site to be cleaned up for an entire decade until it was finally detoxified. However, this decontamination did not return the site to its pre-1982 conditions. There has been a call for reparations to the community which has not yet been met.