Environmental Cleanup:

Supplemental Case Studies of High Priority DOD Installations

NSIAD-95-8: Published: Nov 18, 1994. Publicly Released: Dec 20, 1994.

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GAO provided cases studies on six Department of Defense (DOD) installations' environmental cleanup efforts in this supplement to an earlier report, GAO/NSIAD-94-133, and addressing the: (1) status of the restoration program; (2) cost of cleanup to date; (3) cleanup options considered; (4) option selected; (5) expected completion; and (6) applicable standards.

GAO found that: (1) DOD's environmental cleanup program for high priority installations has proceeded slowly over the past 10 years, with relatively few hazardous waste sites being cleaned up; (2) the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) system for identifying high priority sites has led to a large number of individual sites on installations with that designation; (3) some sites not designated as high priority are more contaminated than high priority sites and pose a greater risk to human health and the environment than those on the NPL, according to DOD officials; (4) EPA usually scores only the four to six worst sites on an installation in determining whether an installation, which may have hundreds of sites, should be placed on the NPL; (5) many of these sites may have only minor contamination, but DOD program managers must apply the entire Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) process to all the sites on an NPL installation, including those with only minor contamination; (6) DOD will not be able to efficiently institute cleanup efforts until it and EPA evaluate the large number of sites currently on the NPL or the closure list and determine which should be designated as high priority; (7) even a relatively few high priority sites could strain resources and force difficult choices; (8) DOD has proposed a new approach to solving cleanup problems, which includes developing cooperative rather than adversarial relationships with regulatory agencies, setting priorities based on risk, and trying to accelerate cleanups; and (9) GAO identified other key factors that have affected DOD's cleanup of high priority installations in a timely and cost-effective manner: (a) the complex and time-consuming CERCLA study and cleanup process; (b) prolonged study of hazardous waste sites rather than cleanup; (c) disagreements with regulatory agencies over the extent of cleanup required; (d) addressing issues during the CERCLA process, such as liability, that generally do not pertain to governmental installations; and (e) scarce resources including limited technology and expertise.

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