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#56 - Environmental Groups Charge EPA Is Ignoring Federal Superfund Law, 20-Dec-1987

The federal EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) has
"systematically ignored" important provisions of SARA, the Superfund
Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986, according to a new report
by two environmental groups. The EPA has "simply decided not to enforce
parts of the new law," says the study by the National Campaign Against
Toxic Hazards (NCATH) and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S.

The two environmental groups used the EPA's own data to draw their
conclusions. They studied an October, 1987, EPA report describing the
74 "records of decision" or RODS issued in fiscal year 1987. RODS are
official documents that EPA issues when they decide what to do at a
Superfund site.

The report cites three specific provisions of the Superfund Amendments
of 1986 that the EPA has ignored:

(1) Superfund section 121(b) requires the agency to select permanent
cleanup remedies that protect human health and the environment by
treating Superfund wastes to detoxify them, rather than simply
containing the wastes by building a big box around them. In the past,
EPA has favored boxes, placing "caps" over the waste (caps of clay or
concrete or plastic), and putting walls or curtains (of clay or plastic
or concrete) into the ground around a dump site to slow the inevitable
migration of wastes from the site. The SARA law specifically instructs
the agency to avoid temporary "containment" that really just passes
today's problems on to the next generation. The law says the agency is
supposed to prefer permanent remedies that actually detoxify the wastes.

Study of the 74 RODS from 1987 reveal that the agency only approved
treatment technologies in 34% of Superfund cleanups-in the other 66%
they approved "containment." Containment does not permanently fix a
Superfund site for the same reasons that all landfills will leak--
sooner or later, nature will destroy the containment "box" just the way
nature will destroy a landfill. Containment of a Superfund site slows
down the rate at which chemicals will enter the environment and passes
responsibility for the problem to our children and grandchildren. But
it is cheaper (in today's dollars) than permanent cleanup, so it is the
solution preferred by industries that have to pay for Superfund
cleanups. EPA decisions seem to accommodate industry.

(2) The EPA has reversed the priorities set by Congress. Congress told
the EPA to human health is more important than cost in selecting
Superfund remedies. "EPA's response to its clear statutory obligations
under section 121(d) has been to write them out of existence," the
report says, citing EPA's August 27, 1987, interim guidance document
concerning cleanup standards.

(3) EPA pays little attention to the view of citizens, despite clear
language in section 117 of SARA giving citizens a right to participate
in the remedy selection process. In particular, the EPA has failed to
provide technical assistance grants (TAGs) under section 117(e) of
SARA; in that section, Congress told the EPA to give $50,000 to
communities so they could hire experts to help them understand the
choices they face in a Superfund cleanup. EPA has not set up the TAG

The report is available free from Bill Walsh, U.S. PIRG, 215
Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20003; phone (202) 546-9707.

--Peter Montague



A report from the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) Office of
Emergency and Remedial Response has identified 1196 potential Superfund
sites on or near 25 Indian reservations. In addition, the report says
the Bureau of Indian Affairs has identified an additional 24 sites. The
EPA has begun investigating the sites and the agency estimates that the
number of sites requiring remediation will be much smaller than 1196.
The report is available free from the Public Information Center, EPA,
401 M Street, SW, Washington, DC 20460; phone (202) 382-2080.

--Peter Montague



Gramm-Rudman budget cuts have forced the EPA (U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency) Office of Toxic Substances (OTS) to discontinue its
National Human Monitoring Program (NHMP). For more than 15 years, the
program has collected data on the accumulation of toxic substances in
human body fat. The program provided EPA with its primary data for
determining the long-term toxic effects of chemicals on humans and
therefore for prioritizing the agency's chemical regulatory programs.
Without the NHMP, the EPA will "virtually go back to guessing" about
which chemicals pose the greatest threat to humans, says Martin Halper,
the director of the Exposure Evaluation Division within OTS. Mr. Halper
points out that NHMP data, showing that PCBs were showing up in human
tissues in the 1970s, were "instrumental" in Congress's banning of PCB
production. Mr. Halper says the program took a long time to develop its
nationwide network of medical examiners and pathologists; therefore, he
says, it will be "difficult if not impossible" to resurrect the program
if funds become available later. The program's annual budget was $1.1
million before the Reagan adminstration cut it to zero. Contact Martin
Halper, OTS, EPA, 401 M Street, SW, Washington, DC 20460; phone (202)

--Peter Montague



Two New York organizations have proposed an international agenda for
preventing, and responding to, hazardous chemical disasters. The 172-
page report recommends steps to address the present lack of an
international system for protecting human health and the environment
from hazardous chemicals: comprehensive regulations for the
manufacture, export, import, transportation, use, storage, and disposal
of hazardous chemicals; international guidelines for hazard assessment;
an international judicial system for victims of chemical disasters;
standards of civil and criminal liability for multinational
corporations. For a free copy of the report, contact: Manina Lassen-
Grzech, Friedrich Naumann Foundation, 9th floor, 680 Fifth Avenue, New
York, NY 10019; phone (212) 333-2521.

--Peter Montague


Descriptor terms: superfund; epa; sara; native people; native
americans; tribal lands; ronald reagan; accidents;