How States Establish and Apply Environmental Standards When Cleaning Up Sites

RCED-96-70FS: Published: Mar 20, 1996. Publicly Released: Apr 9, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on how states establish and apply environmental standards when cleaning up Superfund sites, focusing on whether states: (1) base their standards on human health risks; and (2) provide flexibility so that the level of cleanup can be adjusted according to the extent of contamination.

GAO found that: (1) 20 of the 21 states reviewed base their hazardous waste site standards on the danger posed to human health, and the cost and technical feasibility of achieving them; (2) states base their groundwater standards on existing federal drinking water standards; (3) when states set their environmental standards at levels other than the federal limit, they tend to be more stringent; (4) states provide more flexibility in adjusting the cleanup level when the cleanup involves soil pollution rather than groundwater pollution, in order to reflect a particular site's condition and health risk; (5) more than half of the states with soil standards regularly allow their cleanup levels to be adjusted for site-specific conditions; (6) less than one-fourth of the states with groundwater standards allow their cleanup levels to be adjusted; and (7) those states not allowing cleanup level adjustments view their groundwater as a potential source of drinking water and implement different standards, depending on the projected use of land or groundwater.

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