Authority to establish HSRC Center Program was established by EPA in 1989 under the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986. The mission of the program was to conduct research to develop and demonstrate new methods to assess and remediate sites contaminated with hazardous substances; improve existing treatment technologies; decrease the production & use of hazardous substances; and educate hazardous substance management professionals and improve community public awareness

The HSRC program provided a national program of basic and applied research, technology transfer, and training. Five multi-university centers, each located in a pair of federal regions, focused on different aspects of hazardous substance management. They brought together researchers from a variety of disciplines to collaborate on integrated research projects.

The HSRCs were funded by EPA, DOE, DOD, academia, and other state and federal government agencies. The centers shaped their research agendas with the assistance of advisory committees made up of representatives from industry, regulatory organizations, academic institutions, and government.

The Great Lakes & Mid-Atlantic center served EPA Regions 3 and 5. The lead institution was the University of Michigan. Other participating universities included: Howard University and Michigan State University. This center focused on remediation of hazardous organic compounds found in soil and ground water. Researched focused on in-situ bioremediation, surfactant introduction, and bioventing technologies.

The Great Plains/Rocky Mountain center covered EPA Regions 7 and 8, under the leadership of Kansas State University. Other participating universities included: Haskell Indian Nations University, Kansas State University, Lincoln University, and Montana State University. This HSRC focused on contaminated soils and mining wastes. Research covered soil, water, and ground water contaminated with heavy metals, and organics; wood preservatives in groundwater; pesticides; improved methods for analyzing contaminated soil; and pollution prevention technologies.

The Northeast center covered EPA Regions 1 and 2, with New Jersey Institute of Technology serving as the lead institution. Other participating universities included MIT, Princeton, Rutgers, Stevens Institute of Technology, Tufts, and University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey. This HSRC focused on incineration/thermal treatment, characterization and monitoring, in-situ remediation, and ex-situ treatment of industrial wastes.

The South and Southwest center covered EPA Regions 4 and 6, under the leadership of Louisiana State University. Other participating universities included Georgia Institute of Technology and Rice University. This HSRC focused on contaminated sediments, in particular: in-situ chemical mobilization in beds and confined disposal facilities; in-situ remediation; and in-situ detection.

The Western Region center covered EPA Regions 9 and 10, and is led by Stanford University, with Oregon State University participating. This HSRC focused on groundwater cleanup and site remediation with a strong emphasis on biological approaches. Projects addressed chlorinated solvents; halogenated aromatics (pentachlorophenol and PCBs); nonhalogenated aromatics including petroleum derivatives; ordinance wastes (TNT); heavy metals; and transport and fate.