Reports on Superfund Reauthorization Issues

Published: Mar 7, 1985. Publicly Released: Mar 7, 1985.

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GAO discussed the Superfund program and the extent of the hazardous waste problem, the status of cleanup efforts, and the projected cost of cleaning up hazardous waste sites. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that the number of sites listed for priority cleanup would be about 1,500 to 2,500 over the next few years and that the estimated cost would range from $7.6 billion to $22.7 billion. Other cost estimates based on past levels of operations show the number of priority sites could grow to 4,170 with costs of $6.3 billion to $39.1 billion, and additional costs of $7.6 billion for states and $26.1 billion for responsible parties. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act requires that each state compile an inventory of its hazardous waste sites and that EPA compile inventories for those states that do not; however, both efforts have been limited. EPA estimated that the Superfund cleanup program has only cleaned up 10 sites because the program activities have concentrated on the inspection, performance, and design of cleanup actions. EPA has recognized the program's inefficiencies and has made changes to clarify and streamline them. Superfund legislation provides funding and authority for site cleanup but does not provide standards for determining the degree of cleanup required, which has a direct bearing on cost and actions which protect public health and the environment. Superfund has set no national standards, and EPA has concentrated only on emergency cleanups, leaving most of the site responsibilities to the states. As a result, EPA does not monitor cleanup actions, and the public may not be receiving uniform protection from the dangers posed by the sites. Therefore, if there is to be proper management of hazardous waste sites on a national basis, uniform criteria should be established to govern cleanup decisions at both the federal and state levels.