HHS' Implementation of Superfund Health-Related Responsibilities

HRD-84-62: Published: Sep 28, 1984. Publicly Released: Oct 16, 1984.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO determined the extent to which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been carrying out its responsibilities under the Superfund program. HHS responsibilities under Superfund include: (1) information collection, analysis, and management; (2) provision of medical services, including care, testing, and research; and (3) development of standards to protect hazardous waste workers.

GAO found that HHS: (1) is developing plans to establish three required registries of hazardous-substance-related diseases, but has not developed a registry of persons exposed to toxic substances; (2) is planning to upgrade its inventory of information on the health effects of hazardous substances, but has not because of funding decreases; (3) has contracted for the development of a complete registry of areas closed due to contamination by toxic substances; (4) has conducted some biological testing at emergency sites; (5) has several studies in progress regarding the health effects of hazardous substances, but had only completed one such study since Superfund's implementation; and (6) has experienced delays in the establishment of safety standards for hazardous waste workers. In addition, GAO found that HHS has made limited progress with Superfund implementation because of: (1) funding delays and reductions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which coordinates the Superfund budget; and (2) staffing limitations within HHS.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress enacted P.L. 99-499, which provides that health-related activities under Superfund will be carried out by HHS under the auspices of EPA. EPA continues to control funding for HHS activities. This act provides that a minimum of 100 full-time employees will be available to carry out these activities and that not less that $50 million will be directly available for HHS activities.

    Matter: As Congress deliberates the future of Superfund, particularly the health-related responsibilities of HHS, it may wish to consider: (1) the workability of the existing arrangement whereby EPA controls HHS funding levels; and (2) whether additional staff positions should be authorized for HHS activities to avert past situations where HHS had inadequate funds or staff to carry out its plans.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress enacted P.L. 99-499, under which HHS retained all existing health-related authorities under Superfund and added several new authorities. The new law, however, did not change the HHS role under Superfund, nor were any of the issues discussed in the report further clarified.

    Matter: If Congress considers the HHS interpretations of its role under the act to be inconsistent with congressional intent, it may wish to: (1) clarify the purpose and intent of the national exposure and disease registries and the types of information to be included; (2) clarify the extent to which medical care is to be provided; and (3) define such terms as exposed individuals and public health emergencies.


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