Although the EPA may not know how much hazardous waste is being produced (see RHWN #22, April 27, 1987), the agency has nevertheless tried to estimate where wastes are going today. According to EPA, 55% of hazardous waste still goes to unlined pits and lagoons; 20% goes into sewage treatment plants; 13% is pumped intentionally into the ground (so-called deep well injection); one percent goes into landfills; less than one percent is incinerated; nine percent is "stored."
Is there enough waste management capacity in the U.S. today? Are new facilities needed? A consultant to the EPA (the ICF Corp.) tried to answer this question in 1985 and reported that the nation has sufficient hazardous waste landfill capacity for the next 15 years; only 3% of the nation's chemical treatment capacity is used; only 35% of the nation's deep well injection capacity is used; only 47% of the nation's resource recovery capacity is used; only 54% of the nation's land treatment capacity is used. ICF reported that 90% of the nation's hazardous waste incinerator capacity is used, so this is the only technology in need of expansion today, according to ICF's data.
Since the American people have just begun to ask, "How can we stop creating this waste in the first place?" we may be able to reduce the amounts of waste being generated in the next five to 10 years. If this were to happen, it seems possible that we would not need any new waste processing capacity for decades, if ICF's study is correct.
Citizens fighting the siting of new facilities should take careful note of these figures--they are EPA's best estimate of the need (or lack of need) for new waste-treatment capacity.
For further information on these subjects, see James E. McCarthy and Mark E. Anthony Reisch,
HAZARDOUS WASTE FACT BOOK [87-56 ENR] (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, Jan.,
1987). Free from Mr. McCarthy at: (202) 287-7225.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: epa; hazardous waste; waste treatment technologies; resource recovery; waste production; studies; landfilling; chemical treatment; incineration; deep well injection; capacity; statistics; hazardous waste industry;