A new "overview" of America's hazardous waste problems has been released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Called "The Hazardous Waste System," the report tries to look at "the big picture" of hazardous waste production and regulation in the U.S. The report finds that 96% (250 million tons) of all hazardous wastes are treated on-site by the companies that produce the wastes; only four percent is shipped off-site to commercial treatment plants. The vast majority of on-site treatment consists of storage in a lagoon (to let the volatiles become airborne), or treatment in a waste-water treatment tank (which also volatilizes many organics). Two million tons are burned in 174 on-site incinerators or in 14 commercial incinerators operating today. Thirteen million tons are sent to about 430 landfills, only 60 of which are commercial (the other 370 being operated by individual waste-generating companies for their own use). Between 22 million and 35 million tons of wastes are deep-well injected.
Soon the EPA will require liners to be put into existing surface impoundments (ponds, lagoons), and the agency expects many companies to close their surface impoundments rather than add expensive liners. The EPA thinks 100 million tons of wastes that used to go into lagoons will soon be discharged into surface waters (rivers, lakes), or into sewage treatment plants; both such discharges are exempt from regulation under RCRA (the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act).
EPA also expects new restrictions on landfilling to increase the demand for offsite commercial treatment facilities; the agency plans to push hard to site new incinerators and new waste-processing plants.
An appendix to the report lists all the commercial hazardous waste landfills, incinerators and deep well injection operations known to the agency in 1985. Curiously, the report does not list the privately-operated on-site facilities that handle 96% of the nation's hazardous wastes.
The report says EPA will release draft regulations for ocean incineration in October, 1987, and will issue final regulations in October, 1988.
The report is available free from the Office of Solid Waste (WH-562A), EPA, 401 M Street, SW, Washington,
DC 20460; phone (202) 382-3000, or (800) 424-9346.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: overviews; hazardous waste; epa; statistics; landfilling; lagoons; incineration; deep well injection; ocean incineration;