The Environmental Protection Agency's habit of keeping dirty secrets to itself could prove deadly in several communities across the nation.

Government investigative reports we have obtained show widespread lapses in the EPA's handling of the banned herbicide Dinoseb. There are huge stockpiles of the chemical stashed around the country waiting for EPA disposal. And some of those stockpiles are leaking, unbeknownst to the emergency planners in the cities and states where the chemical is stored.

In Goldsboro, N.C., nearly 32,000 gallons of Dinoseb were temporarily stored at a warehouse near the Neuse River. In 1989, the EPA inspector general checked the site and found some containers were rusted and leaking, taking the risk of poisoning the groundwater that feeds the Neuse, a source of drinking water for more than 70,000 people. City officials, including firefighters who would have been exposed to toxic fumes if the storage site caught on fire, didn't know it was there.

Dinoseb was partially banned by the EPA in 1986, but some states were allowed to continue using it through the 1989 growing season. Farmers and chemical companies with stocks of Dinoseb were told to store it until the EPA got around to destroying the leftovers.

Dinoseb is dangerous. Laboratory animals exposed to it had offspring with serious birth defects. Researchers found increased incidence of sterility among farm workers using it.

There is no evidence that the water in Goldsboro has been tainted by Dinoseb. But it appears that the EPA is not interested in assuring that it will not be tainted in the future.

The EPA inspector general team -- the watchdog over the EPA -- says it found leaking containers there, and put that in writing last year. But an EPA spokeswoman in Washington now tells us there were no leaks, only rust. And a regional EPA official told our reporter Paul Parkinson, "Our records don't indicate there was a leak, so there is not a reason for us to test that area."

The inspector general also said local authorities were not notified about the Dinoseb as they should have been. But EPA headquarters says it's not their job to tell the local authorities, nor is the EPA responsible for making sure the storage site is safe until the EPA officially takes over the site to handle disposal. We asked firefighters in Goldsboro, whose jurisdiction covers the storage site, if they knew the Dinoseb was there. They said no. Then we asked the fire chief, and he refused to talk about it.

Goldsboro is not the only place where the EPA has mishandled Dinoseb. In Bakersfield, Calif., 17,987 gallons of Dinoseb were stored in containers, some of which corroded and leaked into the soil. The owner of the warehouse said he told EPA officials about the leaking cans, but he got no response to his warnings and the soil around the warehouse has not been tested.

The inspector general found that emergency planners in many states didn't know they had large stocks of Dinoseb under their jurisdiction. Yet the EPA claims it has gone out of its way to make those notifications. It appears that some Dinoseb, literally and figuratively, has fallen through the cracks.