Waste Disposal Practices:

A Threat to Health and the Nation's Water Supply

CED-78-120: Published: Jun 16, 1978. Publicly Released: Jun 16, 1978.

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Millions of tons of waste are generated annually and disposed of on land because this is usually the cheapest method of waste disposal. Land disposal sites are often located in areas considered to have little value for other uses.

There has not been enough concern for soil or proximity to water resources in selecting land disposal sites. Leachate, a polluted liquid resulting when water comes in contact with waste, contaminates groundwater and creates a potential public health threat. Federal and state agencies have not assessed the extent of damage to groundwater supplies or determined the number of sites which may be leaching. Studies have been made only after wells have been contaminated. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that about 14,000 of the nearly 20,000 municipal wasteland disposal sites do not comply with state standards, and almost nothing is known of the over 100,000 industrial sites. State programs have been ineffective because of lack of staff and funds and because of the unavailability of alternative sites. Federal legislation aimed at improving waste disposal practices has not been effective enough because time frames for improvements have not been met, problems of existing groundwater contamination have not been addressed, and monitoring of drinking water systems does not include all contaminants.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should: (1) determine when the legislative mandate for completing the open dump inventory can reasonably be achieved and present this information and estimates of needed federal funding to congressional committees; (2) include in criteria for sanitary landfills monitoring at sites located in areas where conditions enable the development of leachate contamination unless states specify that groundwater will not be used as drinking supply; and (3) amend implementing regulations to the Safe Drinking Water Act applicable to state programs to include minimum standards for performing the sanitary survey of public water systems. These standards should include an analysis of sources of pollution and effects on water quality and provide for public notification of survey results.

    Agency Affected:


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