Hazardous Waste:

Data Management Problems Delay EPA's Assessment of Minimization Efforts

RCED-91-131: Published: Jun 13, 1991. Publicly Released: Jul 16, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to develop baseline and trend data to measure its progress in minimizing hazardous waste generation.

GAO found that: (1) EPA underestimated the complexity of developing baseline minimization data; (2) staffing and funding constraints and competing priorities limited EPA efforts to obtain minimization data; (3) EPA data collection instruments were badly designed; (4) over half of the states did not use the EPA-designed forms for collecting and reporting biennial data to EPA; (5) EPA did not include small-quantity generators in its surveys or reporting system; (6) EPA data did not account for changes in waste toxicity; and (7) EPA was beginning to redesign its efforts to measure waste minimization.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 1992, EPA, industry, states, and environmental groups met to verify the various needs to measure source reduction and recycling progress. As a followup, four states did pilot studies to investigate specific issues pertaining to these measures. In addition, EPA's Office of Solid Waste launched a stakeholder dialogue in 1993 and 1994 in the context of the Combustion and Waste Minimization Strategy, obtaining extensive state, industry, and environmental and public interest group input into its waste minimization measurement needs for national policymaking purposes. EPA is analyzing the results of these efforts and expects to provide a formal response to GAO in FY 1997 on the three information gaps identified in the report.

    Recommendation: To build on current agency efforts to reassess its hazardous waste minimization data needs and how to meet them, the Administrator, EPA, should work with the states and industry to establish data requirements to meet current and future needs, including the specific data elements needed to fill critical information gaps for small-quantity generators, toxicity, and changes in production.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA is developing an information needs matrix with waste minimization measurement needs, available data, data gaps, resources for managing and analyzing available data, resources for acquiring additional data, roles and responsibilities for data acquisition, management and analysis, and EPA's own prioritized recommendations for critical needs. EPA expects to complete this matrix in FY 1997. It will be supplemented in the future by the larger analytical effort known as the Waste Information Needs initiative, in which EPA and states are working with a broad range of stakeholders to determine information needs.

    Recommendation: To build on current agency efforts to reassess its hazardous waste minimization data needs and how to meet them, the Administrator, EPA, should develop a plan that sets out: (1) what data are already obtained in an adequate manner; (2) how additional data will be obtained; (3) who will be responsible for data collection, analysis, and management; (4) what the time frames will be for the completion of these tasks; (5) what resources are needed; and (6) what the impact on time frames would be if the needed resources are not made available. To ensure that the planned approach to measuring waste minimization meets congressional needs and expectations, the plan should be made available to the cognizant congressional committees, which may want to explore the planned approach and options in more detail.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA is developing an information needs matrix with waste minimization measurement needs, available data, data gaps, resources for managing and analyzing available data, resources for acquiring additional data, roles and responsibilities for data acquisition, management and analysis, and EPA's own prioritized recommendations for critical needs. EPA expects to complete this matrix in FY 1997. It will be supplemented in the future by the larger analytical effort known as the Waste Information Needs initiative, in which EPA and states are working with a broad range of stakeholders to determine information needs.

    Recommendation: To build on current agency efforts to reassess its hazardous waste minimization data needs and how to meet them, the Administrator, EPA, should, in exploring how best to obtain the needed data, consider the range of available options, including the biennial reporting system, special surveys, the Toxic Release Inventory, or a combination of these.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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