Hazardous Waste: Unaddressed Risks at Many Potential Superfund Sites

RCED-99-8 Published: Nov 30, 1998. Publicly Released: Dec 23, 1998.
Jump To:
Skip to Highlights
Highlights

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO surveyed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regions, other federal agencies, and states to: (1) determine the number of sites classified as awaiting a National Priorities List (NPL) decision that remain potentially eligible for the list; (2) describe the characteristics of these sites, including their health and environmental risks; (3) determine the status of any actions to clean up these sites; and (4) collect the opinions of EPA and other federal and state officials on the likely final disposition of these sites, including the number of sites that are expected to be added to the NPL.

Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency Because of the need for current and accurate information on the risks posed by the 1,789 sites that are potentially eligible for the NPL in order to set cleanup priorities and delineate cleanup responsibilities, the Administrator, EPA, should, in consultation with each applicable state: (1) develop a timetable for EPA or the state to characterize and rank the risks associated with the potentially eligible sites; and (2) establish interim cleanup measures that may be appropriate for EPA and the state to take at potentially eligible sites that pose the highest risks while these sites await either placement on the NPL or state action to fully clean them up.
Closed – Implemented
In early 1999, EPA began to assess the risks of 286 contaminated sites that the report identified as possibly needing interim cleanup actions. In addition, the agency has began to evaluate the risks at 232 sites that the report identified as possible future Superfund sites. Throughout 1999, EPA regions met with states to discuss work share arrangements and divide up responsibility for assessing risks at the 1,789 potentially eligible sites GAO identified in its report. Once the assessments are completed, EPA regions and states will discuss the nature of the cleanup needed and which agency will be responsible for the cleanup.
Environmental Protection Agency Because of the need for current and accurate information on the risks posed by the 1,789 sites that are potentially eligible for the NPL in order to set cleanup priorities and delineate cleanup responsibilities, the Administrator, EPA, should, in consultation with each applicable state: (1) develop a timetable for determining whether EPA or the state will be responsible for cleaning up individual sites, taking into consideration, among other factors, some states' limited resources and enforcement authority; and (2) once a determination is made, notify the public as to which party is responsible for cleaning up each site.
Closed – Implemented
EPA has developed a timetable that responds to the recommendation. By June 2000, EPA regions and the states had met to discuss work sharing arrangements and divide up responsibility for assessing risks at the 1,789 potentially eligible sites GAO identified in its report. Once the assessments are completed, EPA regions and states will discuss the nature of the cleanup needed and which agency will be responsible for the cleanup.
Environmental Protection Agency Because of the need for current and accurate information on the risks posed by the 1,789 sites that are potentially eligible for the NPL in order to set cleanup priorities and delineate cleanup responsibilities, the Administrator, EPA, should correct the errors in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System database that incorrectly classify sites as awaiting a NPL decision and prevent the recurrence of such errors so that the database accurately reflects whether sites are awaiting a listing decision.
Closed – Implemented
In May 1999, EPA developed new categories for its regions to use when reporting information about sites to the Superfund database. These new reporting requirements were intended to result in more accurate database classifications about whether sites are awaiting Superfund listing decisions. As of June 2000, EPA had corrected all errors in the Superfund database that incorrectly classified sites as awaiting a listing decision.

Full Report