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#209 - Celebrating EPA's Birthday -- Part 1: At 20, EPA Should Know Better, 27-Nov-1990

This week and next the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) is
celebrating its 20th birthday, patting itself on the back for doing a
great job. To balance the record, here's a partial assessment of the
agency's performance since 1970:

Item: During EPA's 20-year effort to control toxic materials, industry
has continued to produce more toxics each year (averaging 6.5% increase
annually); thus in 1990, industry produced roughly four times as much
toxic material as it produced the year EPA was born. To this day, EPA
has no pollution prevention program worthy of the name.

Item: By its own admission, the EPA has information on 27,200 potential
Superfund dump sites but the agency has placed fewer than 1200 of them
on the official Superfund cleanup list and, after spending $4 billion
of taxpayers' money, has actually cleaned up only 52 sites. The U.S.
General Accounting Office (GAO) says the EPA is badly misinformed
because GAO has evidence that somewhere between 103,340 and 425,480
contaminated sites need investigation.

Item: EPA has consistently underestimated the amount of hazardous waste
produced in the U.S., from its 1973 report which put the number at 10
million tons annually to its latest report which puts the number at 259
million tons annually; the American Chemical Society says the true
number is somewhere between 530 million tons and 2.9 billion tons
annually--two to 10 times more than the EPA acknowledges.

Item: EPA made a policy decision in 1984 to start promoting hazardous
waste incineration as an alternative to landfills, instead of
encouraging, or requiring, waste reduction and pollution prevention.
Then EPA exempted 80% of all liquid hazardous waste from RCRA [Resource
Conservation and Recovery Act] by allowing cement kilns and industrial
furnaces to burn such wastes as fuel (which EPA calls "recycling" the
wastes).

Item: EPA has institutionalized "risk assessment" as the basis for all
important decisions regarding control of toxic materials, thus
sanctioning the repugnant concept that government can kill citizens
without due process of law simply because the names and addresses of
those to be killed are not known. EPA now routinely says it is an
"acceptable risk" to plan to kill one out of every million citizens
affected by a chemical or by a project such as an incinerator.

Item: EPA joined the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in renaming
one-third of the nation's so-called "low-level" radioactive wastes; the
new name is "below regulatory concern" (BRC). Now these renamed (though
still radioactive) BRC wastes are officially considered non-
radioactive; therefore they can be put into municipal landfills,
incinerators and recycling programs. The result will be inevitable
increases in the public's exposure to radiation.

Item: EPA has routinely proposed fines for polluters that fail to
recover amounts larger than the profits earned by illegal activity;
thus EPA's enforcement programs have sent polluters the clear message
that crime pays.

Item: For the past decade, EPA contributed substantially to destruction
of lakes and forests by acid rain because the agency refused
(illegally) to enforce Clean Air Act prohibitions against tall stacks
on power plants and smelters.

Item: For 15 years, EPA ignored the threat to planet earth's ozone
layer posed by CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), despite the agency's own
estimate that DuPont's stratospheric ozone hole will cause some 40
million cases of skin cancer and 800,000 cancer deaths among Americans
before the year 2075.

Item: EPA has consistently ignored--and is still ignoring--the need for
action to curb the growing threat of global warming.

Item: EPA has failed to control the problem of lead in drinking water;
the agency estimates that at least 38 million Americans drink water
containing lead at levels that exceed EPA safety standards.

Item: EPA has failed to protect the nation's children against lead
pollution. Despite EPA's explicit recognition of the dangers posed by
exposure to lead, an astonishing 88% of American children under age 6
now have sufficient lead in their blood (the average is 160 micrograms
of lead per liter of blood) to reduce their IQs measurably.

Item: By the late 1980s, 27% of America's rivers and 22% of America's
lakes were either not fishable or not swimmable, despite Congress's
1972 mandate to EPA to make them so by 1983.

Item: EPA in 1990 approved plans to incinerate dioxin-contaminated
chemical-biological warfare agents in a residential section of
Jacksonville, Arkansas, thus setting a chilling precedent indicating
the agency believes it is acceptable to incinerate hazardous wastes,
including dioxin wastes, adjacent to homes.

Item: In the mid-1980s, EPA proposed a "new technology" for cleaning up
Superfund sites; they called it "natural flushing" and it consisted of
doing nothing but allowing natural rain to slowly remove chemicals from
an old chemical dump by washing them away over a 400-year period. EPA
officials argued that this met Congressional requirements for a
"permanent cleanup" strategy.

Item: For 15 years EPA failed, and in some years blatantly refused, to
even ask Congress for funding to clean up asbestos in schools, where an
estimated 15 million children are at risk. After Congress took action
to force the agency to get involved in this issue, EPA dragged its
feet, then finally established a program that subsequently was found to
be inadequately monitored, inspected and enforced and which, in many
cases, exposed children to more asbestos than they might have
encountered if no removal program had been undertaken.

Item: EPA gave a "waiver" of hazardous wastes rules (even though EPA's
regulations make no mention of the possibility of such waivers being
given) to the Department of Energy (DOE) to allow them to bury
hazardous chemical wastes in a salt mine (called the WIPP site) in New
Mexico where DOE is proposing to bury one ton of plutonium and other
assorted radioactive wastes.

Item: EPA has allowed a massive loophole to develop in RCRA (Resource
Conservation and Recovery Act, the nation's basic hazardous waste
control law) by declaring that hazardous chemicals dumped into sewage
treatment plants are no longer legally defined as hazardous wastes. In
1986, EPA estimated that 202 million pounds of hazardous wastes were
exempt from RCRA because they were dumped into sewers by industry each
year. The figure is almost certainly larger today.

Item: Despite saying that control of pesticides is its Number One
priority, EPA says it will be "well into the next century" before all
dangerous pesticides are banned, restricted, or regulated. In 1972
Congress told EPA to gather new data on the 600 active ingredients in
45,000 different pesticide formulations because data on the hazards was
either scientifically inadequate, fraudulent, or non-existent. To date,
EPA is willing to provide safety assurances on only a handful of the
more-than-600 active ingredients and the U.S. General Accounting Office
(GAO) questions whether even these assurances have any validity.

Item: In the mid-1980s, EPA embraced the concept of selling "pollution
rights," thus strengthening the legal position of polluters and
assuring that pollution will always be with us since polluters can now
buy and sell the "right" to produce it.

Item: EPA has continued to issue licenses (RCRA Part B permits) to
hazardous waste landfills despite the agency's frequent statements,
which are corroborated by independent scientists, that all landfills
leak.

In sum, EPA's record is a catalog of misdirection, mismanagement,
missed opportunities, and abject failure.

Next week: An EPA insider tells Why the EPA Is Like It Is.

--Peter Montague

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Descriptor terms: epa; toxic materials; superfund; liquid hazardous
waste; radiation; brc; lead; heavy metals; asbestos; pesticides; nm;
rcra; hazardous waste landfills; landfilling;