Interim Report on Inspection, Enforcement, and Permitting Activities at Hazardous Waste Facilities

RCED-83-241: Published: Sep 21, 1983. Publicly Released: Oct 5, 1983.

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GAO reviewed the federal regulatory program for hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities, focusing on ground water monitoring, inspection and enforcement activities, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permitting program for hazardous waste facilities. GAO performed this work in four states, all of which had primary inspection responsibility under interim authorization from EPA.

Under federal regulations, about 1,350 hazardous waste management facilities must institute ground water monitoring programs. GAO found that 78 percent of the facilities in two of the states visited were not in compliance with federal regulations. The other states did not know the extent of noncompliance in their states because they had not inspected most of their facilities for compliance. EPA has concluded that there has been considerable noncompliance with monitoring standards nationwide. Federal regulations also require that waste facility operators demonstrate their ability to finance closure and postclosure activities when the facility ceases operations. GAO found that none of the states visited require their inspectors to routinely evaluate the adequacy of closure and postclosure plans. EPA has concluded that most such plans are inadequate, although the extent of noncompliance nationwide is unknown. GAO found that, while EPA and state inspections and facilities may have improved, enforcement efforts aimed at hazardous waste facilities have not been extensive. In addition, GAO reported that final permits have been issued to only 24 of the estimated 8,000 hazardous waste facilities expected to require such permits. GAO contends that final permitting is important because facilities with interim status need not comply with all the technical and design standards that EPA believes necessary to protect human health and the environment. Because so few permits have been issued, GAO believes that it is too early to evaluate the effectiveness of the EPA permitting process.

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