Water Pollution:

Nonindustrial Wastewater Pollution Can Be Better Managed

RCED-92-40: Published: Dec 5, 1991. Publicly Released: Jan 8, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined: (1) the range, sources, and seriousness of pollutants found in nonindustrial wastewater; (2) local and state governments' strategies and programs to better manage and control those pollutants; and (3) federal options that might encourage or require better management and control of those pollutants.

GAO found that: (1) household wastewater accounts for about 15 percent of the regulated toxic pollutants entering treatment plants, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that as industrial discharges decrease, the proportion of household and commercial pollutants will increase and ultimately account for almost two-thirds of the toxic metals discharged to treatment plants; (2) EPA has focused little attention on assessing or controlling nonindustrial sources of toxic pollutants discharged to sewage treatment plants; (3) state and local programs to keep nonindustrial pollutants from entering treatment plants range from public education efforts to product bans; and (4) EPA efforts to better manage and control nonindustrial wastewater pollution have been limited to providing guidance and information on methods to assess and prevent nonindustrial wastewater pollution to states and the public.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA activities include: encouraging local pretreatment programs to address nonindustrial sources of toxics in guidance; emphasizing the inclusion of water quality based controls in discharge permits; and cooperating with Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies members to evaluate the seriousness of nonindustrial sources of toxic pollution and appropriate control strategies.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should require major wastewater treatment plants to identify the most serious nonindustrial pollutants entering their facilities and the sources of those pollutants, and report on their efforts to control them. EPA should use this information to determine what, if any, further analyses are needed by those or other plants. Further, EPA should make this information available to treatment plant officials so they can benefit from others' experiences and potentially reduce the start-up time and costs of needed programs to better control those pollutants.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA responded that, as a result of its efforts, should it determine additional nonindustrial source controls are necessary, it will develop appropriate and cost-effective measures. Depending on the extent of identified problems, these measures may include revising discharge permits, regulatory initiatives, or product bans.

    Recommendation: On the basis of the information reported to EPA, the Administrator, EPA, should determine whether further regulatory actions are needed to reduce nonindustrial wastewater pollution. Such action could include: (1) requiring treatment plants to implement source control programs (e.g., regulating additional industrial and commercial discharges and establishing programs to collect household hazardous wastes); and (2) exercising EPA authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act to restrict or ban substances, or require manufacturers to place warning labels on their products to alert consumers of the products' risks.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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