EPA Slow in Controlling PCB's

CED-82-21: Published: Dec 30, 1981. Publicly Released: Dec 30, 1981.

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Various studies have associated the widely used polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's) with a number of health problems. Industry has purchased over 1 billion pounds of PCB's for use in electric transformers and capacitors. Since PCB's have a potential for environmental harm, Congress passed a special provision under the Toxic Substances Control Act to control PCB's. With certain exceptions, the act prohibits the manufacture of PCB's, limits their use, and requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop regulations to ensure proper marking of PCB materials and prescribe acceptable methods for disposal. Since PCB's were the only chemicals Congress specifically identified for immediate EPA action, GAO initiated this review to determine how well the PCB control mandate has been implemented.

GAO found that EPA missed by more than 7 months its congressionally mandated deadline for issuing rules on marking and disposing of PCB's. In addition, regulations for implementing the statutory ban on PCB's were late by as much as 18 months. Tight rulemaking timeframes and complicated regulatory issues are factors that contributed to the delays. EPA was not prepared to enforce regulations through a coordinated inspection program. Although progress has been made in developing such a program, additional improvements are needed to make better use of limited EPA inspection resources. EPA enforcement actions which are issued in response to violations are processed slowly and do not encourage rapid or widespread compliance with PCB regulations. Since EPA does not have the additional resources to inspect all potential PCB facilities, it must rely on the deterrent value of its penalties and voluntary industry efforts to help achieve compliance. However, penalties assessed in accordance with an agencywide penalty policy are reduced during settlement. Such reductions may weaken the penalties' deterrent value and could be a strong indication that either the policy is not being applied properly or that the policy is incorrect. One of the EPA enforcement strategy objectives is to maximize voluntary compliance; however, its user awareness program is of limited scope. Another problem hindering the initial EPA PCB control efforts was the lack of incinerators capable of destroying the large quantities of PCB. Only two commercial incinerators are available to handle the PCB waste disposal.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should develop and use an information system capable of assisting in program evaluation and oversight. This information system should contain such information as types of facilities inspected, the compliance rate of a given industry, and number of inspections resulting from complaints.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should periodically review the regional implementation of inspection strategies to help ensure that the most appropriate facilities are being inspected.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should develop a PCB enforcement strategy that encompasses such areas as: (1) inspection priorities on a regional basis; (2) complete lists of potential PCB facilities within the targeted industries; and (3) target groups, such as transformer repair shops and waste oil dealers, which are not included among the strategy's currently targeted industries.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to EPA, budgetary limitations prevent any expansion of the industry awareness program. However, the Industry Assistance Office will continue to operate the program at its present level of activity. This includes updating guidance when appropriate and making information available upon request.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should require that the industry awareness component of the strategy be expanded.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should review the penalty policy and its application and, if necessary, revise it so that the limited EPA resources are used to penalize the most serious violations and that penalty reductions are limited.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should require written interim notification of possible violations to inspected facilities to speed the correction of the violation.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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