Nonhazardous Waste:

Environmental Safeguards for Industrial Facilities Need to Be Developed

RCED-90-92: Published: Apr 12, 1990. Publicly Released: May 4, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) industrial nonhazardous waste facilities' potential for groundwater contamination; and (2) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to revise its 1979 standards for industrial nonhazardous waste facilities.

GAO found that, between 1985 and 1987, more than 10 percent of industrial facilities: (1) handled small amounts of such hazardous wastes as arsenic, mercury, and strong acids; (2) failed to use environmental controls to prevent or detect groundwater contamination; and (3) violated state groundwater protection standards. GAO also found that EPA did not: (1) revise facility standards by March 1988, as required, and made little progress in gathering data necessary to revise the standards; or (2) establish specific tasks or identify the resources necessary to assess and revise the standards.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although EPA continues to collect and analyze data on industrial facilities that handle nonhazardous wastes, as GAO recommended, it has neither developed nor plans to develop a formal strategy for revising the standards for these facilities. The 1984 RCRA required EPA to revise, by March 1988, the standards for industrial facilities that may receive conditionally exempt small-quantity generator hazardous wastes. It also required EPA to revise its standards for other facilities that handle nonhazardous wastes, but did not mandate timeframes for those revisions. Because there is no legislatively mandated date for revising the standards for the larger universe of industrial nonhazardous waste facilities and EPA has dedicated its available resources to meeting other requirements, the agency is unlikely to act on the balance of GAO's concerns in the near future.

    Recommendation: To give more focus to the statutory requirements to assess and revise the standards, the Administrator, EPA, should develop a formal strategy to fulfill those requirements. This strategy should establish the objectives, specific tasks to be completed, milestones for completing the tasks, organizational responsibilities for carrying out the tasks, and required resources to carry out the strategy. In addition, the strategy should include an assessment of the standards for all industrial facilities, as required by the statute.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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