Study Finds E.P.A. Not Protecting Ground Water

Special to Tile New York Times

    WASHINGTON, April 6 - The Environmental Protection Agency's rules for monitoring and controlling hazardous waste are inadequate to protect underground water supplies, according to a study prepared for Congress
    As a result, says the report by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, it is likely that many or most toxic waste disposal sites will have to be cleaned up in the future at heavy cost.
    "Ground water is being contaminated because the regulations to protect it are largely cosmetic," said William Sanjour, an official of the environmental agency who worked with the Congressional office in preparing the report, "They are like a movie set: They look good from a distance but when you get close you find there is little substance."

Lack of Nationwide Monitoring

    The technology office's findings are in line with internal reports submitted by regional offices of the E.P.A., which have said that efforts to monitor ground water are inadequate to protect public health.

    There is no nationwide system for monitoring underground water pollution. Experts agree that once ground water becomes contaminated, it is difficult if not impossible to reverse the process. About half the nation draws its drinking water from subsurface supplies.
    Russell A. Dawson, a spokesman for the agency, said agency officials lad not yet seen the report and could not comment on its findings.
    Mr. Dawson added, however, that current regulations "were developed on the basis of the best available technology and are designed to protect all environmental media." He said that "as new technology emerges, the regulations will be improved."
    The environmental agency regulates the handling and disposal of hazardous wastes under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976. The agency reported in August that 150 million metric tons of wastes subject to E.P.A. regulation were generated In the United States in 1981.
    The report concluded that "where ground water is at risk" the rules adopted under the act are insufficient to prevent landfills used for toxic waste from becoming "uncontrolled sites that will require cleanup under superfund," a reference to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act enacted in 1980 to deal with unused and abandoned waste sites.
    The report concludes it would be far less expensive to monitor waste sites adequately and to protect water supplies than to clean the water after it is polluted.
    The inadequate regulations, coupled with insufficiently developed techniques for preventing ground water contamination, "are likely to cause serious problems for future generations," the researchers said.
    Of particular concern, they said, are waste disposal sites that were in operation when the toxic waste law was passed. They were permitted to continue in operation under less stringent requirements for monitoring and cleaning wastes than new disposal sites.
    There are about 2,000 of these landfills, pits, ponds and lagoons that have "already received billions of tons of hazardous wastes over several decades" and are continuing to receive them, the report noted.
    It also said that many are already leaking and many others can he expected to leak. Meanwhile, it said, the environmental agency will take years to decide which will be given permits to continue operations.
    Mr. Dawson, the agency spokesman, said that some of the waste sites in operation when the law was passed will he required to close.
    The report noted that while E.P.A. rules require new hazardous waste disposal sites to be designed so they do not leak for 30 years, there is no requirement that sites be shut down if they do leak.
    It also pointed out that the rules do not require corrective action for ground water contamination beyond the boundaries of a disposal site, although underground contamination does not respect property lines.
    Current rules are not based on the effects of toxics on human health and may not be adequate to protect humans against contaminated water, the study said. It also said the regulations were designed to keep testing costs low and as a result there is a high probability that contamination may go undetected.
    Another problem with the rules, the study said, is that they do not require monitoring for toxic leakage in the ground between the bottom of a waste site and. underground water. This means, it said, that an opportunity is lost to get an early warning of leaks that threaten the water and to take corrective action.

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