Hazardous Waste:

Impediments Delay Timely Closing and Cleanup of Facilities

RCED-92-84: Published: Apr 10, 1992. Publicly Released: May 28, 1992.

Contact:

Peter F. Guerrero
(202) 512-4907
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) inspection of closing land disposal facilities, focusing on the: (1) enforcement actions taken against facilities found in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA); and (2) factors delaying the proper closing of those facilities.

GAO found that: (1) over a 5-year period, states conducted annual inspections 96 percent of the time for the 20 closing facilities; (2) states conducted 89 percent of the triennial inspections to determine the adequacy of facilities' groundwater monitoring systems, as EPA directed; (3) although those inspections disclosed serious violations that affected closure at 19 of the 20 facilities, EPA has revised its guidance by decreasing the number of inspections required because of resource constraints at the federal and state levels; (4) while none of the three states have conformed fully with the EPA enforcement policy, states' success in closing facilities has depended less on the type of enforcement action than the states' success in ensuring that facilities install adequate groundwater monitoring systems, which are necessary for certifying closure; (5) EPA has not determined how many closing facilities nationwide do not have adequate groundwater monitoring systems and, without such systems in place, the extent of the contamination threat is unknown; (6) once enforcement actions have been taken, lengthy negotiations and appeals delay final resolution; and (7) EPA has not yet developed a plan to determine which facilities nationwide will close or established the best means of closing them.

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 guidance regarding when: (1) facilities should be allowed to attempt waste removal and how long those attempts should continue before facilities are instructed to revise their closure plans to close with waste in place; and (2) regions and states should request post-closure permit applications.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although EPA agrees that facilities should not be allowed to postpone closure by pretending to remove waste, it does not believe it can develop meaningful guidance. In its FY 1993 operating plans, EPA has provided guidance on when regions and states should request in postclosure permit applications.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should establish time frames for settling disagreements with owners/operators after enforcement orders are issued, and when such disagreements cannot be resolved and orders are appealed, evaluate the feasibility of establishing time frames for administrative hearings and for obtaining decisions in those hearings.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA has not instituted time frames on a national basis because of the caseload carried by EPA's seven administrative law judges.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct EPA regions and the states to reinstate the requirement that groundwater monitoring inspections be conducted at least every 3 years at closing land disposal facilities once basic monitoring systems are installed to ensure that the systems are capable of providing necessary and basic information on the extent to which those facilities pose a threat to human health and the environment and require cleanup.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has reinstated the requirement that these inspections be conducted every 3 years in its FY 1993 program plans.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct EPA regions and the states to give a higher priority to closing land disposal facilities by annually conducting compliance inspections at those facilities, thereby ensuring that facilities do not have any violations that would significantly delay or prevent closure.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: While EPA agrees that inspections at closing facilities are important and has made inspections a national priority in its FY 1993 program plans, EPA has stated that it is not practical to require more inspections than once every 2 years, as mandated by law.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct EPA regions and the states to obtain and maintain data on the status of closing land disposal facilities' groundwater monitoring systems and on barriers delaying or preventing their installation, as well as develop a plan to address those barriers in a timely fashion so that closure can be completed.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA has directed its regions and the states to address all RCRA hazardous waste facilities, on a worst facility first basis, not only just closing land disposal facilities. EPA has also directed its regions and the states to emphasize actual cleanup over studies and assessments at facility sites. A GAO follow-up review is considering these issues again.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should develop and implement a plan that: (1) identifies those closing land disposal facilities not making reasonable progress toward properly closing and unlikely to comply with RCRA requirements; (2) determines who will install necessary groundwater monitoring systems and when they will be installed to provide basic information on the nature and extent of groundwater contamination; and (3) determines the best options for controlling and cleaning up, in a reasonable time, those facilities that pose the greatest threat.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA has outlined a strategy to address all RCRA hazardous waste facilities on a worst-facility-first basis, not just closing land disposal facilities. EPA has asked its regions to submit a strategy to address closing land disposal facilities that either rank high or are unranked for environmental priority. A GAO follow-up review is addressing these issues again.

    Jul 16, 2014

    Jul 15, 2014

    Jul 9, 2014

    Jun 30, 2014

    Jun 16, 2014

    May 22, 2014

    May 21, 2014

    May 19, 2014

    May 12, 2014

    May 5, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here