The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday served notice on the nation's industries that it will no longer tolerate the careless dumping of poisonous chemicals and other dangerous materials.
In its first major effect to control hazardous wastes, the agency proposed regulations for a comprehensive program forcing industry to dispose of its deadly byproducts safely.
The action comes at a time of increasing public outcry against hazardous dumping. In the most publicized incident, the state of New York declared a health emergency last summer and evacuated 200 families from their homes when poisonous chemicals seeped into their basements from Love Canal, a dump near Niagara Falls.
Cancer, birth defects, nervous disorders and other health problems can result when groundwater and streams near dumpsites are contaminated, or when toxic chemicals are released in the air from the careless burning of wastes.
The proposed regulations affect some 270,000 industrial facilities, including chemical plants,oil refineries, textile mills, steel plants and electronics factories. They set rules for some 10,000 companies that transport toxic materials and outline standards for 30,000 treatment and disposal sites nationwide.
EPA estimates that more than 35 million tons of hazardous wastes are produced each year-not counting atomic wastes, which are managed by the Nuclear Regulatory Agency. Of the 35 million tons, roughly 90 percent is disposed of improperly, EPA said.
"This country has a national problem in the way we've handled hazardous waste," said EPA Administrator Douglas Costle. "It's become the concern of every city and country in America."
Since the establishment of EPA in 1970, air and water pollution programs have received the most funding, while the unglamorous issue of waste disposal has remained in the background.
"For years we've paid little attention to these wastes," Costle said, "and now we're seeing the tragic consequences of this negelect." EPA has documented more than 400 cases of damage to public health and the environment from improper waste disposal.
Costle cited Love Canal, as well as North Carolina incident in which cancer-causing PCBs were sprayed along 200 miles of roadway at night. He alos mentioned an Iowa pharmaceutical dump from whch arsenic and other chemicals are seeping into groundwater and the injection of chemical waste into the ground around Miami, now threatening the city's water suppy.
Yesterday's regulations, 677 pages' worth, require that dumps be lined with clay or plastic and that they be placed at least 500 feet from water supplies. They also hold dump site owners liable for up to $5 million damages arising for any incident of improper dumping and require that they set aside money to maintain the site for 20 years after it closes.
However, the rules do not deal with the more than 600 abandoned sites around the country which pose potential public health problems, according to EPA. In many cases, the cleanup costs run to millions of dollars, while the companies responsible cannot be located, have gone out of business or refuse to accept liability.
Colste said he will propose legislation this spring to deal with abandoned sites. Another tough issue will be the location of the new sites to meet the requirements of yesterday's regulations.
"We can't let each state say it is some other state's problem," Costle said. "We can't keep shipping this stuff around like Charlie on the MTA."
Yesterday's regulations are expected to generate some opposition from chemical and utility companies who say they will have to spend too much money to comply, and from environmentalists who say too many companies ar exempted. Also, environmentalists want the rules to take effect earlieer than July 1980, as proposed.
However, yesterday's rules, were praised by U.S. Chamber of Commerce representative Gary Knight as "fairly good."
Knight said: "EPA worked with us. These regulations were produced in an open process." He added, however, that EPA should change its methods of testing some hazardous products.
Costle estimated the regulations will cost affected industries about $750 million a year, amounting to 0.37 percent of their annual value of production. These industries now spend about $155 million on waste disposal. CAPTION: A house next to Love Canal chemical dump has been lifted from its foundation and moved away. AP