(Reprinted from: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Industrial Waste Management, Seven Conference Papers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA/530/SW-156, February, 1975, 111 p.)
(Ghostwritten by William Sanjour)
REMARKS BY MR. ROGER STRELOW
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR FOR AIR AND WASTE MANAGEMENT,
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
BEFORE THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON MANAGEMENT
AND DISPOSAL OF RESIDUES FROM THE TREATMENT
OF INDUSTRIAL WASTE WATERS.
Washington, D.C. -- February 3, 1975
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It gives me great pleasure to be here today and to open this very important meeting. I am impressed with the seriousness and the "let's get down to business" attitude of our program. I will try to keep my remarks in the same vein.
The generation of residues from the treatment of industrial waste waters and stack gases is increasing at a fantastic rate. We expect that for some industries the wastes destined for land disposal will double in the next 10 years due largely to air and water pollution control regulations. Already in many industries, pollution treatment residues greatly exceed all other forms of process wastes. Much of this waste contains hazardous materials, and whether hazardous or not, their management and disposal has become a major problem to both industry and government.
I would like to identify, first, the threat to both public health and the environment posed by the haphazard storage, insufficient treatment, and improper disposal of hazardous residues. Because of their concentration, quantities, or properties, these wastes are frequently non-degradable or persistent in nature, often can be biologically magnified, and may even be lethal.
The potential for contamination of our public water supplies through leaching from storage and disposal sites is a major concern. The leachate which is formed from water percolating through a disposal site containing industrial sludges or residues from pollution control facilities may contaminate groundwater supplies with heavy metals and other chemical substances. This is a potentially serious problem since approximately 50 percent of our domestic water supplies in the United States are derived from groundwater aquifers.
Toxic substances can enter the environment not only by leaching into the groundwater but also by sublimation and evaporation into the atmosphere, or by overload runoff, or it may be taken up by nearby vegetation.
In addition, anyone coming in direct contact with these wastes -such as workers, children, or animals -- can be injured or killed from poisoning, skin contact, explosion, or fires.
As we learn more about the components of hazardous wastes and their effects upon man and the environment, we realize that special care is needed for their handling and that we can no longer rely on the simple, customary means of waste treatment and disposal. Based on our findings in this area, we recognize that comprehensive Federal, State or local regulations controlling hazardous wastes have been lacking. As a result there has been little or no guidance or assistance to Industry on adequate treatment and disposal.
Vast sums of money have been invested by American. industry in wastewater treatment and emission control facilities. But I shudder when I see what comes out at the end of the pipe -- the foul poisonous liquors pouring into lagoons or the piles of noxious dusts. I shudder to think that, were it not for these treatment facilities, that stuff would be going into the air we breath and the water we drink. But mostly, I shudder to think "what is to become of all this poisonous residue? Where will it end up? In the groundwater? In the sewer? Blown into the air? Are we really saving our environment, or are we just engaged in some monstrously expensive folly which merely collects and redistributes pollution?"
I know many of you have the same thoughts. I recently heard a story of a factory which built a multi-million dollar sewage treatment plant and engaged a waste hauler to remove the sludge, under assurances that it would be taken to an approved sanitary landfill, only to find out later that it was being dumped in the local creek which the treatment plant was built to protect. I know that some of you could tell similar stories which make you wonder if anybody knows what's going on.
Environmental regulation has been piecemeal. Our environmental laws and regulations are like the walls of an ancient city, built in pieces by different people at different times for different purposes. There are several gaps, including one where residual disposal guidelines and standards ought to be. There are some who will argue that because the wall doesn't afford complete protection it should be torn down. And there are others who will silently take advantage of the gaps. But there are others who would plug the gap, as your presence here bears witness. I know the wall is not perfect. It may be too high in some places and certainly Is too thin in others. But we have a big investment in that wall, and our very lives depend on it. We must plug the gaps.
Why has this happened? Why do we find these gaps? In a democratic society, the government tries to respond to the pressures at hand, and that is as it should be. In the past, the public has shown justifiable concern over their air, their rivers and their oceans, and the public representatives have reacted to this concern. But in doing so we have significantly added to the problem of industrial solid waste disposal. It is a problem which has been out of public sight and therefore out of the public's mind.
The vast network of industrial residual generation and disposal is carried on in concentrated isolated places, on private property behind fences. The public is hardly aware of its existence. Even local health and waste disposal officials are only dimly aware of the full scope. The principal environmental threat from residual disposal is the threat of groundwater pollution, which is also out of public sight. Therefore, public pressure simply has not been felt. Nevertheless, we who know that there is a growing problem have a responsibility to act when it is clear that merely reacting is not good enough. We must take the lead in informing the public of the dangers of haphazard disposal of industrial wastes and we must aggressively seek out new solutions.
I have confidence that the environmental "wall" will be completed. With your cooperation and, your constructive criticism, we will do our part to continually improve it and perfect it. What we have lacked in foresight we must now make up in perseverance. In this connection, EPA's Office of Solid Waste Management Programs is preparing guidance and demonstrating new and improved treatment and disposal technology for residuals management, which other speakers will address at this conference.
Congress, too, is moving. In spite of scant public pressure, several bills dealing with hazardous waste management were surfaced in the last session, and although none was passed, the prospects appear good for a bill in this session. The kind of bill we would like to see would have EPA define what is and what isn't a potentially hazardous waste, for land disposal purposes, and that the treatment of wastes be based on "best available technology," taking into account the degree of hazard and the cost of compliance.
We would like to minimize Federal involvement, and have the States establish hazardous waste generator reporting systems and grant permits for waste storage, treatment and disposal subject to State regulation under Federal guidelines. We would like to limit direct Federal regulation to only the most imminently hazardous wastes.
EPA is a regulatory agency, and regulation is often viewed as a negative business. In keeping with the mood of this conference, I would like to help dispel this notion by dwelling on the more positive aspects. We have been, and would like to continue to be in the forefront of promoting and disseminating better ways to handle residues. Of course, we would prefer it if there were no residue at all. I am convinced that in many industries, residues can be substantially reduced or even eliminated through process improvements. We will keep aware of such improvements and promote their implementation.
We will continue to promote technology which will recover resources, especially energy, from wastes. We believe that environmental regulations will lead to massing and centralized treatment of wastes, which will provide the economics of scale necessary to recover and reuse wastes limited only by ingenuity and enterprise of American industry. I see whole new industries springing up to recover and reuse industrial wastes. This movement is inevitable, and environmental considerations only serve to accelerate it. You know better than I how material shortages and high energy costs are causing American industry to husband its resources.
In this connection, a report released last year by the National Commission on Materials Policy called for under the Resource Recovery Act of 1970 clearly outlines where we are headed if we don't change our ways fast: toward greater dependence on other countries for vital materials and predictable worldwide shortages for some materials, especially as competition for them increases with increasing industrialization in other parts of the world.
The United States has run out of chromium and manganese, which are vital to steel-making, and we import most of the bauxite which we use for aluminum. Of the 13 basic raw materials required by our modern economy, we depended on imports for more than half of our supplies of six of these in 1970. By 1985, it has been projected that we will be primarily dependent on imports for supplies of nine of these 13 raw materials.
There is evidence that suppliers of some raw materials have attempted to emulate the organization of petroleum exporting countries, and the politics of petroleum may become the politics of copper or bauxite. Whether or not these attempts are successful, there is real reason for concern. It would be folly in this day and age to continue to fail to recover resources.
If the era of boundless resources is over, the era of limitless dumps is over as well. Both facts combine toward the same solutions -- recovery and reuse of wastes. We at EPA are committed to making recycling happen -- for both energy and materials. The tools we use are technical assistance, front-end planning assistance, and system demonstration -- all three to the extent permitted by our financial resources. I know this won't come about overnight and in the interim years, we continue to deal with improving the means of waste disposal and storage so that contaminants do not enter the environment.
The gains. in cleaning up our air and water have created a massive solid waste disposal problem for which industry has very few management options. Lack of available landfills to dispose of waste in an environmentally acceptable manner, and the closing of many landfills which do not meet environmental requirements, are placing a much greater burden on existing acceptable landfills and forcing Industry to consider other alternatives such as operation of their own landfills, or incineration.
EPA is concerned and is working to develop and demonstrate environmentally safe disposal and storage techniques as well as to disseminate information on available waste handling facilities. A great deal of our time is spent answering inquiries on specific problems, and we have helped many communities and industrial firms find solutions to their waste disposal problems.
In closing let me say that we must start thinking of clean air and water as industrial resources. We cannot continue to foul our environment with our wastes and then move on when the stench gets too bad because there will be no place to go. And besides. every bit of waste that comes out of a plant by the back door was bought and paid for as raw material when it went through the front door. In other words the environment is not only birds and trees and nature walks. it is also our natural resources which are our future If we are going to remain an industrial nation.
Thank you very much.
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