Hazardous Waste:

Groundwater Conditions at Many Land Disposal Facilities Remain Uncertain

RCED-88-29: Published: Feb 18, 1988. Publicly Released: Mar 23, 1988.


Richard L. Hembra
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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the: (1) problems the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states experienced in obtaining and using hazardous waste facility groundwater monitoring data; and (2) actions EPA took to address the problems.

GAO found that: (1) 39 of the 50 land disposal facilities it reviewed had not achieved the groundwater monitoring goals EPA established for facility operations; (2) EPA program managers did not develop data quality objectives for groundwater monitoring until 1986; (3) after internal review, EPA set funding for the development of data quality objectives, training, and quality assurance at $270,000; (4) although a task force report recommended actions to improve the groundwater monitoring program, including the development of technical guidance, EPA has not issued any new technical requirements; and (5) EPA has established few quality control mechanisms to ensure the accuracy of the operator-provided data.

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: The Administrator, EPA, should develop data quality objectives for the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA) groundwater monitoring program specifying the type, amount, and quality of data needed for regulatory decisionmaking. Once established, these objectives should be used to develop specific regulatory requirements and quality assurance/quality control mechanisms for the groundwater monitoring program.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 1992, EPA completed revisions to guidance establishing new data quality objectives and quality controls for groundwater monitoring at RCRA facilities. EPA had planned to incorporate this guidance into federal regulation, but encountered opposition from OMB. Although the guidance meets the intent of the recommendation, its non-binding nature limits its effect.

    Recommendation: Until this system is established, the Administrator, EPA, should report the absence of an internal control system in the RCRA groundwater monitoring program as a material weakness in the agency's annual Federal Managers' Financial Integrity Act report to the President and Congress.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Since EPA believes that its data quality objectives are adequate, it believes this is not a material weakness and does not need to be reported.

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