Hazardous Waste:

Unaddressed Risks at Many Potential Superfund Sites

RCED-99-8: Published: Nov 30, 1998. Publicly Released: Dec 23, 1998.

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 surveyed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regions, other federal agencies, and states to: (1) determine the number of sites classified as awaiting a National Priorities List (NPL) decision that remain potentially eligible for the list; (2) describe the characteristics of these sites, including their health and environmental risks; (3) determine the status of any actions to clean up these sites; and (4) collect the opinions of EPA and other federal and state officials on the likely final disposition of these sites, including the number of sites that are expected to be added to the NPL.

GAO noted that: (1) on the basis of surveys of EPA regions, other federal agencies, and states, GAO has determined that 1,789 of the 3,036 sites that EPA's database classified as awaiting a NPL decision in October 1997 are still potentially eligible for placement on the list; (2) GAO considered the 1,234 other sites as unlikely to become eligible for various reasons; (3) the other sites do not require cleanup in the view of the responding officials, have already been cleaned up, or have final cleanup activities under way; (4) officials of EPA, other federal agencies, and states said that many of the potentially eligible sites present risks to human health and the environment; (5) the potentially eligible sites are generally located in populated areas; (6) officials of EPA, other federal agencies, and states said that about 17 percent of the potentially eligible sites currently pose high human health and environmental risks and that another 10 percent could also pose high risks in the future if they are not cleaned up; (7) however, these officials were unsure about the severity of risks for a large proportion of the sites; (8) responding officials said that some cleanup actions have taken place at 686 of the potentially eligible sites; (9) no cleanup activities beyond initial site assessments or investigations have been conducted, or no information is available on any such actions, at the other 1,103 potentially eligible sites; (10) many of the potentially eligible sites have been in states' and EPA's inventories of hazardous sites for extended periods; (11) 73 percent have been in EPA's inventory for more than a decade; (12) no cleanup progress was reported at the majority of the sites that have been known for 10 years or more; (13) responding officials did not indicate whether or how more than half of the potentially eligible sites would be cleaned up; (14) collectively, EPA and state officials believed that 232 of the potentially eligible sites might be placed on the NPL in the future; (15) however, EPA and the states agreed on the listing prospects of only a small number of specific sites; (16) officials estimated that almost one third of the potentially eligible sites are likely to be cleaned up under state programs but usually could not give a date for the start of cleanup activities; (17) officials of about 20 percent of the states said that their state's enforcement capacity to compel responsible parties to clean up potentially eligible sites is fair to very poor; and (18) officials of about half of the states told GAO that their state's financial capability to clean up potentially eligible sites is poor or very poor.

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: Because of the need for current and accurate information on the risks posed by the 1,789 sites that are potentially eligible for the NPL in order to set cleanup priorities and delineate cleanup responsibilities, the Administrator, EPA, should, in consultation with each applicable state: (1) develop a timetable for EPA or the state to characterize and rank the risks associated with the potentially eligible sites; and (2) establish interim cleanup measures that may be appropriate for EPA and the state to take at potentially eligible sites that pose the highest risks while these sites await either placement on the NPL or state action to fully clean them up.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In early 1999, EPA began to assess the risks of 286 contaminated sites that the report identified as possibly needing interim cleanup actions. In addition, the agency has began to evaluate the risks at 232 sites that the report identified as possible future Superfund sites. Throughout 1999, EPA regions met with states to discuss work share arrangements and divide up responsibility for assessing risks at the 1,789 potentially eligible sites GAO identified in its report. Once the assessments are completed, EPA regions and states will discuss the nature of the cleanup needed and which agency will be responsible for the cleanup.

    Recommendation: Because of the need for current and accurate information on the risks posed by the 1,789 sites that are potentially eligible for the NPL in order to set cleanup priorities and delineate cleanup responsibilities, the Administrator, EPA, should, in consultation with each applicable state: (1) develop a timetable for determining whether EPA or the state will be responsible for cleaning up individual sites, taking into consideration, among other factors, some states' limited resources and enforcement authority; and (2) once a determination is made, notify the public as to which party is responsible for cleaning up each site.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has developed a timetable that responds to the recommendation. By June 2000, EPA regions and the states had met to discuss work sharing arrangements and divide up responsibility for assessing risks at the 1,789 potentially eligible sites GAO identified in its report. Once the assessments are completed, EPA regions and states will discuss the nature of the cleanup needed and which agency will be responsible for the cleanup.

    Recommendation: Because of the need for current and accurate information on the risks posed by the 1,789 sites that are potentially eligible for the NPL in order to set cleanup priorities and delineate cleanup responsibilities, the Administrator, EPA, should correct the errors in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System database that incorrectly classify sites as awaiting a NPL decision and prevent the recurrence of such errors so that the database accurately reflects whether sites are awaiting a listing decision.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 1999, EPA developed new categories for its regions to use when reporting information about sites to the Superfund database. These new reporting requirements were intended to result in more accurate database classifications about whether sites are awaiting Superfund listing decisions. As of June 2000, EPA had corrected all errors in the Superfund database that incorrectly classified sites as awaiting a listing decision.

    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