Waste Minimization:

EPA Data Are Severely Flawed

PEMD-91-21: Published: Aug 5, 1991. Publicly Released: Sep 6, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) National Survey of Hazardous Waste Generators (NSHWG) data, focusing on data quality problems.

GAO found that: (1) EPA initially developed three national data sets to provide information about industry's progress in minimizing hazardous waste, but two sets failed to adequately integrate the data, making NSHWG the primary EPA data source; (2) survey data items measured waste-generation amounts only for 1985 and 1986, and some waste handlers believed that the use of those 2 years would not accurately represent the waste production trend; (3) one waste-generating firm suggested that the measure of hazardous waste generation standardized by production did not adequately document waste minimization progress; (4) a lack of correspondence between two items measuring the amount of hazardous waste generated in 1986 suggested that the estimated waste-generation total was unreliable; (5) EPA indicated that it could not analyze the production process or waste source, since the survey's design limited its ability to obtain an adequate amount of detailed information; (6) between 1985 and 1986, 60 percent of the generator survey respondents did not report one or more of the data elements necessary to calculate a change in waste generation per unit of production; and (7) tracking progress on hazardous waste minimization for a longer duration would provide a more accurate estimate of program effects and establish trend lines.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA agreed with the recommendation and has completed action on database changes and data collection activities. EPA has established a revised recordkeeping requirement.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response to amend federal recordkeeping to ensure that the information that EPA requests about hazardous waste minimization will be methodologically sound and readily accessible.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has revised its measures to reflect the reduction of hazardous waste, adjusted for economic and production increases or decreases.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response to devise waste minimization measures that account for the mix of production processes and for nonproduction activity that generates hazardous waste.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has completed an effort involving the National Advisory Committee on Environmental Policy and Technology and the National Roundtable of State Waste Reduction Programs to make recommendations on EPA efforts to measure hazardous waste reduction. EPA is implementing those recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response to investigate industry's perception of EPA efforts at measuring waste minimization and initiate changes as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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