The Role of Risk in Setting Priorities

T-RCED-95-161: Published: Apr 5, 1995. Publicly Released: Apr 5, 1995.

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GAO discussed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) use of risk to set priorities for the Superfund Program. GAO noted that: (1) EPA has not fully implemented its policy of addressing the worst contaminated sites first; (2) because of the large backlog of sites waiting to be evaluated, EPA regions have used factors other than risk to determine their cleanup priorities; (3) although risk assessments for sites already on the National Priorities List (NPL) generally followed EPA guidance, these assessments could have overestimated or underestimated exposure risks; (4) EPA plans to use its Hazard Ranking System to rank more NPL sites, but data inadequacies will make subjective judgments unavoidable; and (5) despite data problems, risk assessments and cost and feasibility analyses are useful for ensuring the rational allocation of the program's scarce resources.

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