Hazardous Waste:

EPA's Generation and Management Data Need Further Improvement

PEMD-90-3: Published: Feb 9, 1990. Publicly Released: Mar 16, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to improve the quality of information it collected on hazardous waste generation and management capacity.

GAO found that EPA: (1) initiated 13 efforts to improve its previous data collection efforts, which primarily relied on joint federal-state programs that sometimes produced inconsistent, flawed, and incomplete hazardous waste information; (2) implemented information system development practices that were generally consistent with existing federal guidelines, although it needed to refine several data collection mechanisms to ensure the full integration of all data; (3) identified most of the categories of information it needed, although it lacked categories for information about Superfund site waste, other types of waste that would ultimately require management, and the disposal capacity of salt domes or other geologic formations; (4) generally improved the measurement instruments it used to obtain hazardous waste information, but could develop frameworks to help resolve remaining classification and measurement problems; (5) did not provide sufficient funding for states to collect and verify data; (6) was not planning to conduct future national surveys using probability sampling, although they had been the primary source of detailed national information; and (7) had limited authority to require states to collect standard data or hazardous waste handlers to provide the detailed information it required.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has taken no action to date.

    Matter: In addition to the improvements EPA can make, GAO believes that a refinement in legislation may also be necessary to improve the quality of EPA information. Nonuniform data and procedures across the states, which are associated with a joint federal-state data collection effort under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, degrade the quality of information about hazardous waste. Under current law, responsibility for data collection, as well as other regulatory activities, is shared by federal and state governments. This problem could be corrected by separating the recordkeeping and reporting provisions of the act from other regulatory provisions and making EPA solely responsible for collecting the information required for developing and implementing the federal program. Uniform national data would then be assured, but states would retain the authority to add data elements and to use supplemental data collection mechanisms to support state needs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA has revised its recordkeeping and reporting regulations so states are required to collect and provide standard data elements in a disaggregated form and handlers are required to provide detailed data.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response to amend federal recordkeeping and reporting regulations so that states are required to collect and provide standard data elements in a disaggregated form and hazardous waste handlers are required to provide sufficiently detailed data.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA is implementing this recommendation in revisions to the biennial report regulations.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response to ensure that the toxic chemical release inventory reporting system complements other hazardous waste data collection efforts so that the data it provides on toxic chemical concentrations can be used to their maximum potential.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA has started to use statistical sampling in routine national data collection efforts.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response to use probability sampling, rather than a census of waste handlers, whenever feasible, for routine national data collection and quality control, to ensure that EPA obtains the information necessary to develop regulations efficiently and without unnecessary data collection burden.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA has implemented a nationally consistent format.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response to ensure that state data collection and quality control efforts receive fully adequate support and include specific indicators related to data collection and verification in the agency's mechanism for monitoring state performance.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The agency has revised its data collection instruments to incorporate appropriate measures.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response to ensure the use of the most appropriate measures of the relevant attributes of hazardous waste generation and management. Specifically, quantitative measures should be used to measure waste characteristics, such as those needed for assessing management capacity or waste minimization, and in addition, a true general classification system should be developed for treatment technologies.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA has revised its data collection instruments to meet the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response to take appropriate and feasible steps to fill remaining information gaps, including the: (1) volumes of waste located at Superfund and corrective action sites that will ultimately require management capacity; (2) volumes of waste that will require management capacity under proposed regulations, including the large volumes of waste expected from cleanups of leaking underground storage tanks; and (3) potential disposal capacity of salt domes and other geologic formations that are capable of preventing the migration of wastes.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA has taken action.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response to take appropriate steps to enhance its information system development process and fully ensure that data collection efforts complement each other and support the program mission. Specifically, a comprehensive data collection plan should be developed. Steps should be taken to improve the assignment of responsibilities for planning and directing the development of information system components by increasing the authority of the central coordinating office to develop data collection efforts and ensure consistency. Finally, the life-cycle management system should be refined to ensure the complete and detailed analysis and documentation of each stage of the cycle for major system components.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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