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EPA Establishes Hazardous Waste Enforcement and Emergency Response System; Names 60 New Sites

[EPA press release - July 11, 1979]

Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Barbara Blum today named the clean-up of hazardous waste dump sites threatening public health the "highest Agency priority" and established an agency-wide Hazardous Waste Enforcement and Emergency Response System to respond to hazardous waste emergencies.

Blum also released today the names of 60 newly-discovered sites containing wastes which may be public health and environmental hazards.

"We are now aware of 151 sites across the country which may contain potentially dangerous quantities of hazardous wastes," said Blum. "We will continue to evaluate the extent of the hazards at these sites and force responsible parties to alleviate any immediate threat to the public."

EPA is currently in the process of evaluating potential hazards at 111 sites known to contain hazardous wastes. These evaluations may result in legal actions or emergency Federal actions to contain the spread of contaminants where there is an imminent hazard and existing local authority and funding is insufficient.

At the moment, Federal legal action is pending on five sites, and the States are acting against 34 sites. Forty-five dump sites named earlier this year as potentially dangerous have been cleaned up or removed from the current inventory of imminent hazards.

Blum also stressed the need for greater Federal authority and funding to act in emergencies when it becomes clear that sites containing hazardous wastes are threatening public health.

"EPA must now identify a responsible party and prove that imminent danger exists before it takes legal action, often delaying emergency cleanup," Blum said. "Responsible parties--generally site owners or operators if known--are often financially and logistically incapable of remedying hazards resulting from past careless dumping practices."

Legislation proposed by President Carter and now before Congress would give EPA authority and money to clean up such hazards in emergencies from abandoned or inactive waste sites without going to court first. The legislation, referred to as "superfund," would give EPA $1.625 billion in fees and appropriations over a four-year period for emergency cleanup of waste sites and spills. The fees would be levied on segments of the oil, petrochemical, and inorganic chemical industries.

Under the legislation, owners of abandoned or inactive hazardous waste sites would have to notify the government of the site's presence. The government could recover any cleanup costs incurred from the liable parties, if such parties could be identified.

EPA has also requested an additional $45 million and 70 positions to aid in cleanup investigations and to prepare legal casework. At the moment, the Agency has devoted some 100 people, primarily in its Regional Offices, to hazardous waste site investigation and enforcement.

To implement the system, Blum created a National Hazardous Waste Enforcement Task Force and a new unit in the Oil and Special Materials Control Division. The Enforcement Task Force, which will report directly to Blum, will coordinate Federal cleanup activity with its Regional Offices and with the States, including technical, scientific and legal support work. A status report will be kept of the number of sites containing hazardous wastes known to EPA and their cleanup status.