Hazardous Waste:

EPA Has Made Limited Progress in Determining the Wastes To Be Regulated

RCED-87-27: Published: Dec 23, 1986. Publicly Released: Jan 20, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to: (1) determine which wastes are hazardous; and (2) produce a biennial report on the types and amounts of hazardous wastes the United States generates, treats, stores, and disposes of nationwide.

GAO found that: (1) EPA has met some of the deadlines Congress set for considering additional characteristics and reviewing specific wastes; (2) changing approaches or strategies have hampered EPA identification efforts; (3) since large numbers of hazardous wastes remain unidentified, EPA is considering refocusing its approach to develop characteristics through testing and refining the already-listed hazardous wastes; (4) EPA has made limited progress in completing five congressionally mandated studies of large-volume wastes; (5) although Congress required EPA to use more stringent criteria when reviewing petitions to delist wastes, EPA does not have the required information on state-authorized delistings; and (6) without proper controls, delisting can negate the efforts of the hazardous waste identification program by allowing facilities handling these wastes to escape regulation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA stated that it will not develop a plan, however, through litigation with the Environmental Defense Fund, EPA has a proposed agreement to complete final listing determinations on 14 potentially hazardous wastes between July 1992 and September 1998. Litigation between the two continues on whether EPA has fulfilled its statutory requirement to identify additional waste characteristics.

    Recommendation: To improve EPA progress in identifying hazardous wastes, the Administrator, EPA, should develop a plan laying out what actions will be necessary to identify the universe of wastes needing control. Such a plan should contain, as a minimum, the additional waste characteristics that need to be developed and the industry waste streams that need to be evaluated, milestones to accomplish these tasks, needed resources, and organizational responsibilities for completing these actions.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Except for one study that has not yet been initiated, the recommended study plans have been programmed. The study not yet begun is not a priority and no date has been set for beginning it.

    Recommendation: For the remaining mandated studies or portions of studies yet to be completed, the Administrator, EPA, should develop study plans that include the information requirements the study is to address, milestones for completing the various stages of study, resource needs, and organizational responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA recommended to states, in a December 1987 memo to regions and states, that they reexamine state-granted delisting using new EPA delisting criteria. States where EPA spot-checked have done reevaluations. EPA has reviewed the one final state delisting, but has no formal mechanism to track future final delistings.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should determine which wastes have been granted final delistings by states and what criteria were applied to those delistings; assess the potential environmental or health impact of those delistings; and, where appropriate, initiate action to apply the new delisting criteria.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has no monitoring mechanism in place, but there is currently only one state final delisting. EPA has provided the federal criteria to the three states that now have delisting authority.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should ensure that: (1) future state-delegated delisting activities are monitored and that information is collected that will allow EPA to identify facilities and wastes delisted; and (2) the review criteria applied are at least as stringent as those set by EPA and are applied consistently.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has instituted rigorous quality control for data submitted by delisting petitioners and required petitioners to use standardized EPA test methods. EPA intends to implement a good spot-check program when funds are available.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should increase the number of site visits or implement other controls to ensure that EPA has complete and accurate information when evaluating delisting petitions.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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