August 25, 2011: GAO Report: Hazardous Waste Sites Cleanup Delayed

Markey Warns Cleanup Further Imperiled by Republican Budget Cuts
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, today released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that concluded that cleanup of some of the nation’s most hazardous waste sites faces major challenges in light of delays and other constraints – challenges that will only be further exacerbated by proposed budget cuts by Republicans. The report details the progress of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) corrective action program, which requires facility owners to clean up hazardous waste that could pose a risk to human health and the environment.
The House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill, H.R. 2584, proposes approximately $4 million in cuts specific to RCRA programs, which would be the lowest funding level for EPA’s oversight of these cleanups in the last decade. The appropriations bill also proposes cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) total funding by $1.5 billion dollars below fiscal year 2011 levels, which, if enacted, would result in the lowest budget level since at least 2004 for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, the office responsible for administrating RCRA and other hazardous waste cleanup programs such as Superfund, the funds for which are used to clean up facilities where no responsible corporate polluter can do so.
The Republican assault on public health and the environment extends beyond the halls of Congress to neighborhoods across the country,” said Rep. Markey, top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee and a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Proposed budget cuts by Republicans to an already constrained program further threaten delay of clean-up of some of the nation’s most highly toxic facilities that threaten our drinking water.
The full report can be found HERE .  
RCRA is one of the main federal laws that governs the cleanup of hazardous waste and is administered by the EPA but implemented by state regulators in 43 states and territories. GAO found that while the program has made considerable progress in preventing contamination at some of the nation’s most high-risk facilities from entering the drinking water supply, less than a third of these facilities have actually completed permanent cleanups to ensure long-term protection of human health and the environment. Among all RCRA facilities, nearly 75 percent have yet to complete construction of their permanent cleanup plans to achieve long-term protection of health and the environment.
Budgetary limitations within the states have only exacerbated delays. The GAO report indicates that constraints on program funding have limited the grant support the EPA can offer to states to assist with hazardous waste cleanup. Furthermore, reductions in staff, technical complexity of remediation and disagreements between industry and regulators over what constitutes appropriate groundwater cleanup standards only further perpetuate delays. The GAO recommended that EPA assess the remaining workload to determine the extent to which the agency has the resources to meet long-term cleanup goals.
In Massachusetts, there are 48 RCRA sites that are subject to corrective action, and 281 in New England.  Below are two examples of sites whose long-term remediation could be adversely impacted by budget cuts:
The former Walton and Lonsbury chromium plating site in Attleboro, MA contains contaminants that could cause harm such as total chromium, hexavalent chromium, lead and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) like trichloroethylene.  This site was being addressed under RCRA until the owner declared bankruptcy in 2007. It is currently being addressed through the Superfund program.
The Sporting Goods Properties site in Bridgeport, CT, formerly owned by Remington Arms Company and now owned by Dupont was used for production, testing, storage, and disposal of small and large caliber ammunition and powders. Remington operated a hazardous waste lagoon as part of their wastewater treatment system.  This site is currently being addressed under RCRA.
A list of RCRA sites in New England, as well as state-by-state breakdowns, can be found HERE.