The size of the hazardous waste problem in the U.S. remains unknown because EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) has failed to maintain a proper list, according to a study released Jan. 15, 1988, by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress.
Under the federal Superfund law, EPA is supposed to maintain an inventory of all sites where hazardous materials are being stored, treated, or disposed of, or where such materials have been released in the past. According to GAO, as of August, 1987, the EPA had only 27,200 sites on the list but GAO says information from EPA and other federal agencies indicates that the list should include somewhere between 130,340 and 425,480 sites.
GAO published a similar evaluation of EPA's efforts to identify hazardous waste sites back in 1985. At that time, GAO found EPA's list was missing somewhere between 130,000 and 378,000 sites.
The EPA list is known as CERCLIS (Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Information System); it is named for the Superfund law, which is formally known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).
The 1988 GAO report strongly criticized EPA for failing to provide states with adequate funding or technical assistance to identify sites themselves. EPA did provide $10 million to states to find sites in 1983, but has not provided funding since then, even though the 1984 amendments to RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) specifically gave EPA funds for that purpose.
"CERCLIS is becoming more a reflection of the amount of money EPA has allocated to site assessment" than an "accurate picture of the hazardous waste problem" in the U.S., GAO said.
Without a complete inventory of the nation's potential hazardous waste sites, the GAO report concludes, Congress cannot be "fully informed about the amount of work facing EPA and the states" and thus cannot accurately determine the "level of resources that should be allocated to the Superfund program."
The report criticized EPA for failing to establish criteria by which EPA's regional offices, and the states, should use to determine whether a site belongs on the CERCLIS list or not.
The GAO report, entitled, "Superfund: Extent of the Nation's
Potential Hazardous Waste Problem Still Unknown [GAO/RCED88-44],"
is free from: GAO, Box 6015 Gaithersburg, MD 20877; phone (202)
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: epa; sara; siting; monitoring; listing; gao; inventories; investigations; cerclis; cercla; rcra; risk assessment; congress;