Superfund Program:

Activities of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Department of Justice

RCED-99-85: Published: Mar 18, 1999. Publicly Released: Apr 8, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the use of Superfund resources by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), focusing on the: (1) amount and purpose of Superfund money provided to ATSDR for fiscal years (FY) 1996 and 1997 and the processes this agency follows to ensure that Superfund funds are used for authorized activities; (2) ways in which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses ATSDR's health consultations and assessments in making cleanup decisions for Superfund sites; and (3) amount and purpose of Superfund money provided to DOJ in fiscal years 1996 and 1997, and the processes DOJ follows to ensure that Superfund funds are used for authorized purposes.

GAO noted that: (1) EPA provided ATSDR with about $59 million in Superfund funds in FY 1996 and $64 million in FY 1997; (2) these funds were used to conduct health assessments at Superfund sites, provide consultations on health issues unique to a site, and research the health effects of hazardous substances; (3) the Department of Health and Human Services' Inspector General annually audits the use of these funds and has reported that these resources were generally used in accordance with applicable requirements; (4) EPA regional officials told GAO that many of ATSDR's products and services were useful in EPA's efforts to clean up hazardous waste sites; (5) however, these officials also said that the health assessments had little or no impact on EPA's cleanup decisions because they were not used when needed and were not conclusive about the health effects of Superfund sites; (6) Superfund legislation requires the ATSDR to conduct health assessments at all sites proposed or listed on the nation's list of the worst hazardous waste sites; (7) recognizing the problems with assessments, ATSDR undertook an initiative to address these concerns; (8) although EPA and ATSDR officials believe that the initiative has resolved some of the problems, they questioned the continuing need for the legislative requirement that full health assessments be prepared for all Superfund sites; (9) they also believed that the ATSDR's resources could be used for consultations or other services that better meet EPA's and other users' needs; (10) EPA provided DOJ with about $32 million in FY 1996 and about $30 million in FY 1997 to represent the federal government in litigation involving the cleanup of hazardous waste sites; (11) DOJ's actions included negotiating with responsible parties to compel the cleanup of Superfund sites and recovering the federal government's costs when EPA cleans up sites; and (12) DOJ's annual Inspector General audits have found no major problems in DOJ's use of Superfund resources during the 1990s.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Conference report for EPA's FY2000 appropriations reduced ATSDR's appropriation by $6 million from its FY1999 level, and the Conference report made the legislative change GAO recommended, relieving ATSDR of the requirement of preparing health assessments for all Superfund sites.

    Matter: Congress should amend the requirement that ATSDR conduct a detailed health assessment at each site proposed for listing on the National Priorities List in order to provide ATSDR with more flexibility in choosing the appropriate health-related product or service that will best meet EPA's and other users' needs.


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