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Highlights

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Superfund and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) programs were established to clean up hazardous waste sites. Because some sites cannot be cleaned up to allow unrestricted use, institutional controls--legal or administrative restrictions on land or resource use to protect against exposure to the residual contamination--are placed on them. GAO was asked to review the extent to which (1) institutional controls are used at Superfund and RCRA sites and (2) EPA ensures that these controls are implemented, monitored, and enforced. GAO also reviewed EPA's challenges in implementing control tracking systems. To address these issues, GAO examined the use, implementation, monitoring, and enforcement of controls at a sample of 268 sites.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency In order to ensure the long-term effectiveness of institutional controls, the Administrator, EPA should clarify agency guidance on institutional controls to help EPA site managers and other decision makers understand in what cases institutional controls are or are not necessary at sites where contamination remains in place after cleanup.
Closed - Implemented
Since the time of our report, EPA has finalized four guidance documents that address various aspects of the implementation of institutional controls and conducted several training programs that address this recommendation.
Environmental Protection Agency In order to ensure the long-term effectiveness of institutional controls, the Administrator, EPA should ensure that, in selecting institutional controls, adequate consideration is given to their objectives; the specific control mechanisms to be used; the timing of implementation and duration; and the parties responsible for implementing, monitoring, and enforcing them.
Closed - Implemented
In June 2009, EPA issued revised institutional controls language for its model Superfund remedial design/remedial action consent decree that addresses each of the four key factors in this recommendation, among other things. In addition, a June 2007 EPA guidance document helps to ensure adequate consideration of these key factors at Resource Conservation and Recovery Act facilities, according to EPA.
Environmental Protection Agency In order to ensure the long-term effectiveness of institutional controls, the Administrator, EPA should ensure that the frequency and scope of monitoring at deleted Superfund sites and closed RCRA facilities where contamination has been left in place are sufficient to maintain the protectiveness of any institutional controls at these sites.
Closed - Implemented
In response to our recommendation, the agency indicated that its Revised Operation and Maintenance checklist, issued in April 2008, identifies additional requirements specific to monitoring institutional controls. In addition, a June 2007 EPA guidance document advises site managers and attorneys on options for implementing effective monitoring of institutional controls at RCRA facilities. EPA also presented information on monitoring best practices at a national meeting of state waste management officials in August 2009.
Environmental Protection Agency In order to ensure the long-term effectiveness of institutional controls, the Administrator, EPA should ensure that the information on institutional controls reported in the Superfund and RCRA corrective action tracking systems accurately reflects actual conditions and not just what is called for in site decision documents.
Closed - Implemented
As of August 2009, EPA regions had reviewed the accuracy of system data for over 92 percent of the construction complete sites stored in the system, and the quality assurance effort was still ongoing, according to EPA.

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