Asbestos Removal and Disposal:

EPA Needs to Improve Compliance With Its Regulations

RCED-92-83: Published: Feb 25, 1992. Publicly Released: Apr 1, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) implementation of Clean Air Act regulations governing the removal and disposal of asbestos during building renovation and demolition, focusing on EPA: (1) monitoring of building owners' and contractors' compliance with regulations; and (2) enforcement of the regulations when it detects violations.

GAO found that: (1) EPA generally delegates day-to-day responsibility and provides technical and financial assistance for implementing the regulations if state and local agencies requesting such delegation are capable of carrying out the program; (2) EPA compliance monitoring agreements with delegated agencies vary among regions; (3) 5 of the 14 delegated agencies GAO reviewed inspected fewer renovation and demolition projects than required by their grant agreements; (4) EPA has limited resources for monitoring projects in areas for which it is still responsible and conducts fewer inspections than the delegated agencies did; (5) delegated agencies do not follow EPA recommendations for annual inspection of all contractors submitting renovation or demolition project notifications; (6) the EPA National Asbestos Registry System (NARS) database does not accurately reflect delegated agencies' notification and inspection reports; and (7) delegated agencies generally do not perform other compliance monitoring actions, citing limited resources and competing requirements. GAO also found that: (1) delegated agencies do not always fully use their authority to assess penalties, even when they detect substantial violations; (2) EPA regions are reluctant to overfile delegated agencies' assessed penalties; and (3) EPA revision of its enforcement guidance, EPA implementation of new enforcement provisions of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, and delegated agencies' actions to raise maximum penalty amounts should facilitate the assessment of more appropriate penalties that will deter violations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA developed a performance standard for the regions to use in negotiating annual grant agreements with the delegated agencies that implement the program. The standard was used for the fiscal year 1994 negotiations.

    Recommendation: In light of the EPA asbestos program's resource problem, the Administrator, EPA, should establish national standards of performance for EPA regional offices and the delegated state and local agencies to meet in implementing the asbestos program. In recognition of the limited resources available, those standards should be based on the minimum levels of compliance monitoring needed to ensure a viable program that protects public health. The standards should incorporate appropriate methods for targeting resources.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has taken various actions to reduce data entry delays which it believes are the biggest accuracy problem with the NARS database. EPA has also informed the regions and the states of the need to keep NARS accurate and is using the system to monitor the performance of the delegated agencies.

    Recommendation: In light of the EPA asbestos program's resource problem, the Administrator, EPA, should correct inaccuracies in the NARS database and monitor the performance of EPA regional offices and the delegated state and local agencies to identify instances in which regions or agencies need special assistance to develop their capacity to operate a viable program for monitoring and enforcing federal asbestos regulations.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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