Hazardous Waste:

Controls Over Injection Well Disposal Operations Protect Drinking Water

RCED-87-170: Published: Aug 28, 1987. Publicly Released: Oct 13, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program, to assess: (1) the extent to which hazardous waste has contaminated underground sources of drinking water; and (2) EPA and state oversight of underground injection of hazardous waste.

GAO found that: (1) although there are few confirmed cases of drinking-water contamination, because the contamination is hard to detect, there could be more; (2) monitoring wells have a limited usefulness for large underground areas; (3) neither EPA nor the states require sampling or testing of groundwater immediately above injected waste; (4) EPA did not perform periodic well inspections to ensure compliance with regulations in two states for which it had direct responsibility; (5) 1984 legislation mandated the banning of injection well disposal of hazardous wastes as of August 1988, unless operators could demonstrate that the hazardous waste would not migrate; and (6) EPA believes that most wells currently in operation should pass a demonstration of no migration, meet the more stringent controls, and continue to operate.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure that the regulatory oversight functions built into the UIC program for hazardous waste injection wells are in fact being performed in states for which EPA bears direct responsibility, the Administrator, EPA, should strengthen the program's oversight functions by requiring that EPA headquarters annually evaluate each regional office operating a UIC program, to ensure, at a minimum, that the program's regulatory oversight functions are being performed.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 1987, the EPA Office of Water developed a more extensive mid-year evaluation of each region's UIC program. According to EPA, the evaluation enables headquarters to review the UIC program's implementation to identify strengths and weaknesses and to focus on accomplishments, reporting procedures, and quality control. However, the revised mid-year evaluation does not address oversight functions.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the regulatory oversight functions built into the UIC program for hazardous waste injection wells are in fact being performed in states for which EPA bears direct responsibility, the Administrator, EPA, should strengthen the program's oversight functions by reemphasizing to EPA regions with direct UIC program responsibility that they are to perform and document periodic inspections and report noncompliance incidents to EPA headquarters, as required by UIC regulations.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The UIC branch completed a training program for states and regions to discuss the types of inspections that must be performed and how inspections and violations must be documented and reported.

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