Illegal Disposal of Hazardous Waste:

Difficult To Detect or Deter

RCED-85-2: Published: Feb 22, 1985. Publicly Released: Apr 5, 1985.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO studied issues related to illegal hazardous waste disposal to determine whether: (1) information regarding illegal disposal is available; (2) the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states can identify hazardous waste generators and the types and quantities of waste that they produce; (3) the hazardous waste transportation manifest system effectively detects illegal waste disposal; (4) inspections of waste generators and transporters effectively detect illegal disposal; (5) enforcement actions are taken against hazardous waste disposal violators; and (6) other methods not covered in federal regulations could detect illegal disposals.

GAO found that EPA and state officials agree that illegal hazardous waste disposals are a problem, but do not know the extent or cost of such disposals. EPA and the states cannot ensure compliance with federal and state waste disposal regulations because they do not have complete data on the identities of waste generators and the types and quantities of waste produced. While EPA and the states believe that they have identified most large generators of hazardous waste, they are concerned about the identification of the larger number of generators of small quantities of waste, which EPA will be required to regulate by March 1986. GAO also found that the manifest system, which requires waste generators and transporters to document each shipment of hazardous waste from origin to disposal, may deter illegal disposals, but does not detect such disposals and cannot detect instances where forgery has occurred. Routine federal and state inspections of waste generators and transporters have not detected illegal disposals because they are primarily intended to ensure compliance with procedural requirements and are not primarily targeted at illegal waste disposers. In addition, GAO found that, in the 28 illegal disposal cases prosecuted in the states studied, convicted violators received fines ranging from $250 to $100,000 and prison sentences ranging from 20 days to 7 years. GAO also identified several alternative methods of detecting illegal disposals, but could not determine whether the alternatives would be cost-effective because the extent of illegal disposal is unknown.

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