Toxic Substances:

Abandonment of PCBs Demonstrates Need for Program Improvements

RCED-87-127: Published: May 20, 1987. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO examined the circumstances that led a polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) handling firm to abandon PCB at two sites, focusing particularly on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) regulatory practices and enforcement efforts related to the abandonment.

GAO found that EPA: (1) has inadequate controls over PCB, particularly regarding headquarters oversight and guidance to regions; (2) lacks nationwide criteria for PCB disposal permits, since regional administrators are responsible for setting permit requirements without policy guidance from headquarters; (3) lacks adequate controls over PCB intermediate operators, which are potentially large handlers of PCB; and (4) lacks knowledge about the existence and operation of intermediate operators, which limits its ability to monitor them as part of its PCB enforcement and compliance program. GAO also found that, after an EPA inspector raised concerns about the large amounts of PCB that the firm was holding in excess of the 1-year storage limit, EPA fined the firm but failed to pursue practical corrective actions. GAO believes that such actions could have prevented the firm's abandonment of PCB.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: H.R. 3070, introduced in July 1987 as a direct result of the GAO report and passed on June 13, 1988, calls for amending the Toxic Substances Control Act to require persons handling PCB to comply with manifest and financial responsibility criteria for permits and intermediate operators to obtain EPA permit approval. GAO plans to issue an accomplishment report upon final Senate action.

    Recommendation: To improve EPA identification and control over the safe handling and disposal of PCB, and to reduce the likelihood of other cases of PCB abandonment, the Administrator, EPA, should take appropriate actions to strengthen controls over PCB, including: (1) establishing specific nationwide criteria for PCB permits; (2) requiring intermediate operators to obtain an EPA license or PCB permit, and PCB generators/owners to allow only permitted firms to pick up PCB or PCB materials; and (3) emphasizing periodic inspections of all PCB handlers, especially focusing on the correction of PCB regulatory deficiencies as soon after inspection as possible.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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