Water Pollution:

Observations on EPA's Efforts to Clean Up the Great Lakes

T-RCED-92-1: Published: Oct 4, 1991. Publicly Released: Oct 4, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to address the Great Lakes' water pollution problems caused by industrial development, urbanization, and agricultural activities, focusing on: (1) compliance and enforcement issues associated with the Great Lakes area National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program, which regulates discharges into surface waters; (2) how the NPDES program controls the discharge of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), mercury, lead, and oil and grease into the Great Lakes; and (3) EPA efforts to implement a United States-Canadian agreement's goal of eliminating discharges of persistent toxins into the Great Lakes. GAO noted that: (1) poor NPDES program enforcement has resulted in serious and long-standing NPDES permit discharge limit violations, weak and sporadic enforcement against violators, and inadequate EPA oversight of states' enforcement activities; (2) although the NPDES program places limits on discharges of some toxic and other harmful pollutants, it is not designed to eliminate those discharges completely; (3) most permits did not contain mass limits for discharges of PCB, mercury, lead, and oil and grease; and (4) although EPA has several efforts underway to implement the joint Great Lakes agreement, progress has been slow due to a variety of technical, organizational, and resource problems.

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