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April 12, 2021
OIG reports EPA inconsistently monitors closed waste units

On March 29, 2021, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report on its findings of an audit of the EPA’s oversight of hazardous waste units closed with waste in place.

The report found that:

  • The “EPA did not consistently verify the continued protection of human health and the environment at [treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs)] with [Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)] units that were closed with hazardous waste in place. Specifically, almost half (339 of 687, or 49.3 percent) of TSDFs with RCRA units closed with waste in place were not inspected at the frequency set by EPA policy.” Failure to conduct frequent inspections could allow contamination to migrate and go undetected.
  • “EPA oversight of RCRA units referred to the Superfund program and those deferred back to the RCRA program is incomplete. The lack of procedures and the use of differing facility identification numbers in the two programs have hindered the EPA’s tracking of facilities transferred between the two programs. As a result, it is uncertain whether either program is appropriately managing RCRA units and protecting human and environmental health.” The Superfund program is administered under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

The OIG report made recommendations to address its findings:

  1. Develop and distribute RCRAInfo reports to EPA regions on a regular schedule that identify the inspection frequency status of nonoperating TSDFs with respect to the time frames stated in the EPA’s Compliance Monitoring Strategy for nonoperating postclosure TSDFs. RCRAInfo is an information system that allows the EPA and state authorities to document and track RCRA units.
  2. Establish mechanisms to ensure that all inspections are completed within the required 2 years for operating TSDFs or 3 years for nonoperating TSDFs.
  3. Develop and implement controls to verify proper referral and deferral of TSDFs between the RCRA program and Superfund program—specifically, the proper documentation of the facilities in RCRAInfo and the Superfund Enterprise Management System (SEMS), respectively.
  4. Develop and maintain a “crosswalk” (i.e., a single point of access to query across multiple information systems—in this case, RCRAInfo and SEMS) for identification numbers.
  5. Develop and implement controls to identify and eliminate overlap of environmental indicators between RCRA Corrective Action and Superfund Programs and include this information in public queries, such as Cleanups in My Community.

The EPA response

The EPA was provided the opportunity to respond to a draft version of the OIG report and was not necessarily in full agreement with the findings and the recommendations.

In response to the inconsistent inspection oversight finding, the agency states that its data indicate that the compliance rate for the requirement to inspect operating TSDFs is 96% and 80% for TSDFs that manage RCRA units closed with waste in place, which is significantly higher than the 49% indicated in the OIG report. In addition, the EPA states that, for TSDFs that manage RCRA units closed with waste in place, the “three-year timeframe is established in a guidance document and not in a regulation, the recommendation should not imply that the three-year review frequency is mandatory.”  

With regard to the incomplete oversight of proper referral and deferral of TSDFs between the RCRA program and Superfund program, the EPA response stated, in part, “As the OIG notes in its report, the [RCRA] and [CERCLA] programs often work together to address cleanup of contaminated sites. At any one facility/site, each program may have different roles for different areas, and roles and areas may change over time. For this reason, what appears as potential inconsistencies in the respective data systems may in fact be valid and meaningful differences in cleanup status for different areas managed by the respective program. We will work to improve how we communicate these differences to the public.”

Overall, “[t]hree of the six recommendations are resolved with corrective actions pending, and resolution efforts are in progress for the other three.”