Water Pollution:

Poor Quality Assurance and Limited Pollutant Coverage Undermine EPA's Control of Toxic Substances

PEMD-94-9: Published: Feb 17, 1994. Publicly Released: Feb 17, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the quality of information and activities the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses to control the discharge of toxic pollutants to surface water.

GAO found that: (1) 7 EPA activities form the core of EPA efforts to control toxic discharges from point sources into surface waters; (2) 13 types of information are required to analytically support EPA water quality activities, and EPA cannot effectively meet quality assurance requirements or implement strategies for controlling toxic pollutants because 5 of the 7 activities have not implemented the quality assurance procedures necessary to produce accurate information; (3) the permit process is ineffective, and 77 percent of the toxic discharge cases that GAO reviewed were not controlled by permit limits; (4) while most of the discharged toxics are nonpriority pollutants, many of these can pose human health and aquatic life risks; (5) it could not identify the risk implications of many uncontrolled pollution cases because human health or aquatic life risk criteria were lacking; and (6) of the cases that could be evaluated, 8 percent posed human health and aquatic life risks.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Reauthorization of the Clean Water Act emphasizes pollution prevention as an additional method for controlling toxic pollutants.

    Matter: The Clean Water Act emphasizes a standards approach for controlling toxic pollutants. In its reauthorization of the act, Congress should consider augmenting this approach with additional authority to allow EPA to emphasize pollution prevention as a way of managing toxic pollutant discharges.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has instituted data quality assurance procedures that apply to all programs.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Water Quality to initiate immediate efforts to address the information quality assurance problems identified in the 5 toxic control activities in which these problems occur.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA does not intend to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Water Quality to expand the use of the Toxic Release Inventory database to identify nonpriority pollutants being discharged to water that should be considered for control through the permit process.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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