Clearer EPA Superfund Program Policies Should Improve Cleanup Efforts

RCED-85-54: Published: Feb 6, 1985. Publicly Released: Feb 13, 1985.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO examined the types of removal actions taken by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at hazardous waste sites under its Superfund program and whether existing legislation allows for more comprehensive cleanup of contamination by the removal program.

GAO found that: (1) from December 1980 to February 1984, EPA finished immediate removal actions at 165 hazardous waste sites, spending an average of about $302,000 per action; (2) the types and extent of immediate removal actions taken varied in terms of cost, type of response required, and degree of EPA contribution to long-term site cleanup; (3) actions ranged from complete removal of hazardous substances from non-priority sites to stabilization of hazards at priority sites for future remedial action; and (4) EPA generally addressed subsurface contamination problems under the remedial program because their solution required extensive study, but surface hazards were often amenable to complete cleanup. GAO also found that: (1) current EPA policy on immediate removals at priority sites has often led to the containment or stabilization of surface waste problems, such as leaking containers, but threats to the public and the environment and increased overall cleanup costs cotinue; and (2) EPA chose to limit the scope of its removal actions in order to ensure that funds would be available for the most pressing hazardous waste problems posed at priority sites.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The EPA proposal allows, but GAO believes that EPA should require, removal actions to eliminate surface hazardous subtances to the extent possible to reduce recurring threats, avoid repeated actions, minimize expenditures, and contribute to permanent cleanup.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should include in the revisions to the national contingency plan a requirement that removal actions eliminate surface hazardous substances to the extent possible to reduce recurring threats, avoid repeated actions, minimize Superfund expenditures, and contribute to the permanent remedy of national priority list hazardous waste sites.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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