Toxic Substances:

EPA Needs More Reliable Source Reduction Data and Progress Measures

RCED-94-93: Published: Sep 23, 1994. Publicly Released: Oct 25, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to reduce toxic chemical pollution at its source, focusing on EPA: (1) progress in implementing source reduction reporting requirements; (2) efforts to promote voluntary source reduction activities at industrial facilities; and (3) dissemination of source reduction information to meet state and industrial needs.

GAO found that: (1) EPA has implemented source reduction reporting requirements by adding a source reduction and recycling report to the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI); (2) although the TRI report attempts to provide EPA with comprehensive information on companies' source reduction activities, the value of this information is questionable because companies are not required to report on the quantities of waste prevented or reduced or account for the different methods used to estimate waste; (3) EPA has not committed to collecting additional data because it is not required to do so; (4) EPA needs to collect additional data to provide a credible basis for evaluating progress in source reduction; (5) the effectiveness of the EPA voluntary industrial toxics project is uncertain due to limited company participation and data accuracy and reporting problems; (6) although EPA has given companies flexibility and incentives to voluntarily join the program, many have not; (7) although EPA recognizes that the exchange of information is a key element in promoting its pollution prevention strategy and provides states and companies with the technical information needed to implement source reduction programs, industry and states believe additional information is needed to better identify and make use of source reduction technology; and (8) EPA has developed guidelines and implemented several other actions to expand its dissemination of source reduction information.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with GAO's recommendation, EPA's Pollution Prevention Division is supporting the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable's efforts to obtain and analyze data on the quantities of waste prevented or reduced through source reduction activities. The Roundtable provides a national forum for promoting source reduction efforts, and is using a national survey to obtain information needed for measuring progress in preventing or reducing pollution at its source. The survey takes into account Toxic Release Inventory data and its quantitative results section seeks information on the quantity of waste and pollution reduced through pollution prevention from 1990 to 2000, related cost savings, and the impact on the environment and the economy.

    Recommendation: To evaluate progress in preventing or reducing pollution at its source in accordance with the Pollution Prevention Act, the Administrator, EPA, either through the Toxic Release Inventory or a survey of a sample of companies, should obtain and analyze data on the quantities of waste prevented or reduced through source reduction activities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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