UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
WASHINGTON. D.C. 20460
DATE: 11 DEC 1978
SUBJECT: Comments on William Drayton's Memo of December 4, 1978
FROM: William Sanjour
Environmental Scientist (WH-563)
TO: John Schaum
Office of Planning and Evaluation (WH-223)
This is in response to your request for my personal comments on Mr. Drayton's memo of December 4, 1978.
First of all, let me tell you how surprised and pleased I am that he did not object to any of the regulations which I had been responsible for before my transfer. Secondly, I sympathize with his concerns about the impact of the regulations. There are, however, solutions to the problems he raises which are much less costly both in terms of economic impact and the impact or public health than the solutions he suggests.
I. Small Firms
I share Mr. Drayton' s concern about small firms but in order to solve the problem we must first understand it. Mr. Drayton's mention of "this extra five percent" of the waste sounds as if he feels it represents an incremental problem. This implicitly assumes that the environmental and human health problem is proportional to the quantity of waste generated. This sort of reasoning may be valid in the water area where everyone is discharging into the same river so that it makes sense not to regulate the numerous small generators who may contribute only five percent of the waste, but this is not the case for hazardous waste.
Hazardous waste can be disposed of in many different ways and places, some good and some bad. Experience has shown that many damages to human health have been caused by quite small quantities of hazardous waste inadequately disposed. It is closer to the truth to say that the hazardous waste problem is proportional to the number of generators than to the quantity of wastes generated.
There are several reasons for this. First, while it is true that many large firms are unaware of the hazardous nature of their waste and the environmental inadequacy of their disposal, this ignorance is more prevalent among small firms. Second, it is easier to improperly dispose of a small occasional batch of hazardous waste and not get caught, than to dispose of large quantities continuously. Thirdly, it has been my observation that the most important single factor which correlates with inadequate disposal is profitability. Companies which take short cuts in disposing of hazardous wastes are frequently in a profit squeeze. As you know, this can happen to small companies as well as large ones.
On the other hand, I share Mr. Drayton's apprehension for regulating the "thousands of the tens of thousands of resistant, resentful, and unpoliced small firms". The solution which, as you will recall, I have suggested many times is to encourage and develop alternative mechanisms for collecting the wastes from small generators. For example, in the attached memo of May 28, 1978, I proposed a scheme for having hazardous waste collection firms assume the generators responsibility by mutual agreement with the generator. This relieves the generator of the administrative burden of complying with the act and improves the protection of human health. Another scheme I've proposed, which might work in the case of pesticide applicators for example, is to have the supplier for the toxic material assume the responsibility for disposal by mutual agreement with the many small businesses which he supplies.
The point of this approach is to obtain quid pro quo. To relieve the small generator of the administrative burden in exchange for an approach which assures that human health will be adequately protected.
II. Heavily Impacted Industries
Most, if not all, of the industries cited by Roy Gamse as being heavily impacted by the proposed hazardous waste management regulations are so impacted because of the cost of adequately disposing of the toxic sludges from waste water treatment plants. These plants, as you know, are required by EPA in order to clean up the rivers. However, toxic waste inadequately disposed on land are much more dangerous to human health than if they were dumped in the river. I've heard of lots of fish kills but I've never heard of any people being poisoned from toxic wastes in rivers, have you? But we know of hundreds of cases of poisoning from land disposal.
I cannot comment on whether the burden on industry is or is not too great. But if it is, then the assessment of the remedy should include not requiring waste water treatment in the first place. I discussed this at greater length in a memo I wrote on June 19 which you have a copy. In that memo, I pointed out that if it is a given that we cannot regulate the adequate disposal of toxic sludges from waste water treatment plants then the better course would be to not require the plants in the first place. This would have the dual advantage of improving the protection of human health and saving tens of billions of dollars thus aiding the fight against inflation.
In conclusion, let me reiterate that the ends which Mr. Drayton seeks can be gained without sacrificing the health of the American public, indeed we can even improve the protection of public health and save billions of dollars and achieve everything Mr. Drayton says he wants to achieve by exercising a little ingenuity.
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