The environmental awakening, ignited by Rachel
book 'Silent Spring' and leading to the first Earth
Day in 1970, prompted Congress to pass several laws to protect
humans and wildlife from exposure to toxic substances. These laws
give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the authority to
regulate the manufacture and disposal of toxic materials and to
clean up existing hazardous waste disposal sites.
The Toxic Substances Control Act (1976) calls for the government
to track industrial chemicals, screening them for environmental
or human health hazards. If a chemical poses an unreasonable risk,
its import or manufacture can be banned.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976)
provides for management of hazardous waste from 'cradle to grave',
i.e. generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal.
A document follows the waste from 'birth' (generation)
to 'death' (disposal) so that chemicals can be tracked
until they are safely disposed.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability
Act (1980), also called Superfund, supports the cleanup of abandoned
or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. Taxes placed on the chemical
and petroleum industries under Superfund and its successor SARA
(Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act, 1986) have provided
a fund of $8.5 billion to pay for cleanup projects.