The "Superfund" toxic waste dump cleanup program is ineffective, inefficient and still choosing penny-wise, pound-foolish cleanup methods that may have to be redone later at great expense, a congressional study stated Friday.
"Technical evidence confirms that all too frequently, Superfund is not working environmentally the way the law directs it to," stated the report issued by the Office of Technology Assessment.The Environmental Protection Agency is not consistently fulfilling the mandate of 1986 amendments that it should prefer waste treatment technologies that permanently reduce the "toxicity, mobililty or volume" of the waste in question, the report stated.
OTA investigators examined decision documents for about 100 sites affected by the 1986 amendments and selected for detailed study 10 they believed to be representative.
Study of such documents, what EPA calls the "Record of Decision" for the site, is particularly useful because "even after eight years, cleanup technology is a new and fast-changing field and the work force is relatively young and inexperienced. Recent college graduates are often put in charge of multi-million dollar projects ... they have almost no one to learn from, as turnover is high. Research papers and technical manuals ... are quickly outdated."
"Too much flexibility and lack of central management control are working against an effective, efficient Superfund program," the report said.
EPA spokesmen said they were studying the document and expected to have a response later.
The report called the decisions at the 10 sites questionable because:
-If different and readily available technical information had been used, the decision would have changed significantly.
-The range of cleanup alternatives was too narrow.
-The analysis was not comprehensive and was not fair to different technologies.
-The study work was not internally consistent.
-Mistakes were made in calculations and estimates.
-Critical assumptions were false.
-Conclusions were stated without analysis and documentation.
In five instances, treatments were selected before results came in from small-scale "treatability" studies of whether the method would work at the particular site.
Eight of the 10 sets of documents were signed on Sept. 29 or Sept. 30 last year, the last day of the fiscal year, and two on the last day of the following quarter, which the OTA analysts said could be an indication that decisions were rushed for the sake of boosting the number of sites moved along the decision pipeline.
The agency is selecting impermanent remedies "purely because they are cheaper in the short run," the report said.