Extent of Nation's Potential Hazardous Waste Problem Still Unknown

RCED-88-44: Published: Dec 17, 1987. Publicly Released: Jan 19, 1988.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO studied the extent to which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) increased its hazardous waste site discovery efforts to determine the: (1) total possible number and types of sites that required investigation; (2) status of 837 sites EPA did not include in its 1985 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System (CERCLIS) inventory; (3) reasons why EPA did not place the sites on its National Priorities List (NPL); and (4) states' efforts to develop comprehensive inventories of their hazardous waste sites.

GAO found that, although 130,000 to 425,000 hazardous waste sites qualified for inclusion in CERCLIS, it contained only about 27,000 sites. GAO also found that EPA: (1) offered states little direction, guidance, or money to conduct site identification and had not reviewed any state programs to determine their adequacy; (2) assigned a higher priority to evaluating and cleaning up sites already on CERCLIS than to identifying additional potential sites; (3) limited its grants to states to evaluating reported sites; and (4) had not instructed its regions or the states as to when they should add sites to CERCLIS. In addition, GAO found that 494 of the 837 sites not included in 1985 CERCLIS were still missing from the inventory because the regions: (1) lacked sufficient funds; (2) wanted to first verify the presence of hazardous wastes; (3) believed that they could clean up the sites more efficiently without EPA involvement; or (4) felt obliged to report only those sites eligible for federal cleanup.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA believes it has taken sufficient action to encourage states to identify hazardous waste sites.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should develop guidelines and criteria for assessing state hazardous waste site programs under section 3012 of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and evaluate the state programs according to these criteria. As part of these evaluations, EPA should examine the states' need for federal funding or other forms of assistance.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has taken some limited action to improve CERCLIS reporting, but the action is not fully responsive.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the public, Congress, and EPA have a more accurate view of the nation's hazardous waste problem, the Administrator, EPA, should issue a formal CERCLIS reporting policy to be followed by the regions and the states. The Administrator should: (1) develop a statement of the EPA position on the need for full reporting of sites identified by states as potential hazardous waste sites; (2) issue instructions to EPA regions on the types of sites that should be added to CERCLIS and when they should be added, and periodically assess how well each EPA region is following these instructions; and (3) advise each state of these reporting criteria and the importance of complying with them, and direct each region to work with the states to implement these criteria.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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