Hazardous Waste:

Information on Potential Superfund Sites

RCED-99-22: Published: Nov 30, 1998. Publicly Released: Dec 23, 1998.

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Peter F. Guerrero
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information from its surveys of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regions, federal agencies, and states for each of the 3,036 potential Superfund sites awaiting a National Priorities List (NPL) decision, as well as for sites whose placement on the list has been opposed by state governors.

GAO noted that: (1) of the 3,036 sites that EPA's Superfund database classified as awaiting a NPL decision as of October 8, 1997, 1,789 are still potentially eligible for placement on the list; (2) officials of EPA, other federal agencies, or states reported that about 17 percent of the 1,789 sites currently pose high risks to human health and the environment and that another 10 percent of the sites could pose high risks in the future; (3) these officials were unsure about the severity of the risks for about 600 of the sites; (4) 73 percent of the sites have caused contamination in groundwater, and 32 percent have caused drinking water sources to become contaminated; (5) 96 percent of the sites are located within a half mile of residences or places of regular employment; (6) some cleanup actions were reported to have occurred at about 38 percent of the sites; (7) however, these cleanup actions have generally been limited in scope, primarily involving removing waste or other steps to mitigate the effects of the contamination but not a full cleanup of the sites; (8) EPA and state officials were unable to predict whether EPA, under the Superfund program, or the states, under their own cleanup programs, will arrange for cleanup of over half the sites; (9) collectively, respondents believed that 232 of the sites could be placed on the NPL in the future, although they agreed on the possible listing of only a few sites; (10) EPA officials identified 106 sites that they believed might be placed on the list, state officials identified another 100 sites, and both EPA and state officials agreed that 26 sites might be potential NPL candidates; (11) as of October 15, 1997, state governors had not concurred in the placement of 33 sites in 19 states on the NPL; (12) many of the sites exhibit the same characteristics as the sites that are awaiting a NPL decision and are still potentially eligible for the list; (13) many of these sites present significant risks to human health and the environment; and (14) 1,234 other sites classified by EPA's Superfund database as awaiting a NPL decision are not likely to become eligible for the list because they were misclassified by the database or, according to EPA or state officials, they: (a) have been cleaned up; (b) do not require cleanup; or (c) are currently undergoing a final cleanup.

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