Hazardous Waste Sites:

State Cleanup Status and Its Implications for Federal Policy

RCED-89-164: Published: Aug 21, 1989. Publicly Released: Nov 10, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the status of state cleanups of hazardous waste sites not on the National Priorities List (NPL) and whether the cleanups met Superfund Program standards.

GAO found that: (1) although 47 states reported about 28,000 known or suspected Superfund sites, many had not identified all of their sites; (2) 42 states reported inspecting about 7,800 sites and 43 reported cleaning up 1,736 sites and had begun work on another 760 sites; (3) six states completed about four-fifths of their cleanup activities, while about one-third of the states did not complete any cleanups; (4) the three most active states established major hazardous waste site cleanup programs, had laws to compel responsible parties to clean up sites, authorized at least $100 million for cleanup, and employed 100 or more people in their programs; (5) of the 41 reporting states, only 11 had more than $5 million available for non-Superfund sites; (6) at the 17 non-Superfund sites GAO analyzed, state cleanups generally met the federal contaminant levels required for Superfund sites; (7) there were no federal standards for about one-third of the contaminants in groundwater and none for many soil contaminants at the sites reviewed; (8) states set cleanup levels at 11 of the 17 sites without performing formal risk assessments, most states selected remedies without fully considering Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-required alternatives, and only 1 state considered the full range of remedies; and (9) although EPA provided technical assistance to states in the form of standards, guidance, training and advice on some sites, states needed more information on health effects of contaminants, protective cleanup levels, risk assessments, remedy selection, and cleanup technologies.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA created a Technology Information Office and database for technology transfer. EPA has also held a series of forums with state officials to discuss substantive issues of EPA/state coordination (e.g., soil standards, training and technical assistance needs.)

    Recommendation: In view of the difficult task faced by states seeking to clean up thousands of non-NPL sites, the Administrator, EPA, should reexamine the nature, form, and extent of EPA technical assistance to the states to determine how best to assist them in selecting cleanup levels and remedies at non-NPL sites. Given concerns raised within EPA about the need for improved technical assistance on NPL sites, this reexamination should be designed so that NPL case managers in EPA regions and at state-lead NPL sites also benefit. The Administrator should then devise and implement a strategy to increase the delivery of effective assistance to states and EPA regions.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA is not going forward with the deferral policy at this time because of concerns raised. EPA plans to study the capabilities of states as outlined in the response to the first recommendation. EPA believes that CERCLA reauthorization may be a more appropriate forum for consideration of the deferral.

    Recommendation: To ensure consistently protective cleanups for sites so seriously contaminated that they could be listed on NPL, the Administrator, EPA, should require, in any deferral policy EPA adopts, that: (1) state cleanup of deferred NPL sites be consistent with the national contingency plan; (2) states' eligibility for deferrals be conditioned on their meeting specified standards, including standards for experience and resources; and (3) EPA has the right to monitor state cleanup performance on deferred NPL sites.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA is not going forward with the deferral policy at this time.

    Recommendation: If a deferral policy is implemented, the Administrator, EPA, should periodically monitor state cleanups for compliance with the deferral requirements.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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