Superfund:

Status, Cost, and Timeliness of Hazardous Waste Site Cleanups

RCED-94-256: Published: Sep 21, 1994. Publicly Released: Oct 24, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Superfund Program, focusing on: (1) EPA use of Superfund program funds between 1987 and 1993; (2) the status of cleanup work at each Superfund site; (3) the cleanup work financed by EPA and the responsible parties; and (4) the extent to which judicial review limits have eliminated EPA cleanup delays.

GAO found that: (1) 60 percent of Superfund program funding went to contractors that performed site cleanups; (2) the largest portion of cleanup spending went toward remedial or long-term cleanup activities including site studies, remedial designs, and cleanup construction; (3) spending for the construction phase overtook spending for site studies and increased from 46 to 78 percent of Superfund cleanup spending; (4) 40 percent of the construction funds went to 13 sites; (5) although EPA has completed cleanup at only 52 sites, about half of the 1,320 Superfund sites have been moved beyond the initial study phase and into the design and construction cleanup phases; (6) 150 sites that have been in the Superfund program for at least 8 years have not progressed beyond the initial study phase and at 9 of these sites, the study phase has not begun; (7) progress at federal facilities has lagged behind progress at nonfederal sites; (8) there has been no difference in EPA-financed or responsible party-financed cleanup efforts, but neither party has met current EPA work completion goals; (9) Department of Justice and EPA attorneys believe that the time limits on judicial reviews of EPA cleanup decisions have effectively discouraged or eliminated legal challenges that have delayed Superfund cleanups; and (10) only three site cleanups have been delayed by legal challenges, since Congress limited judicial reviews in 1986.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA surveyed its regions to identify the reasons for slow progress at NPL sites listed before 1987 and analyzed the reasons for these delays. About one-fifth (34) of the sites had actually progressed beyond the RI/FS stage. Of the remaining 116 sites, EPA estimates that 75 percent will complete the RI/FS stage by FY 1996.

    Recommendation: To ensure that expeditious cleanup actions are being taken at Superfund sites listed before 1987 and the accuracy of EPA data on site cleanup status, the Administrator, EPA, should determine why no site studies have been started at nine sites placed on the National Priorities List before 1987 and the reasons for slow progress at other pre-1987 sites that have not progressed past the initial study phase. Consideration should be given to removing sites from the list if they do not pose a significant threat.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has reemphasized the importance of accurate data on the status of state-managed cleanups and established guidance that requires its regional staff to consult semi-annually with state officials on the status of state-managed cleanups.

    Recommendation: To ensure that expeditious cleanup actions are being taken at Superfund sites listed before 1987 and the accuracy of EPA data on site cleanup status, the Administrator, EPA, should ensure the accuracy of the Superfund database on state-managed sites by directing the regions to confirm the accuracy of the data with appropriate state officials, correct inaccurate data, and ensure accurate and timely reporting in the future.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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