The Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules yesterday requiring that all toxic waste in the United States -- an estimated 57 million tons a year -- be traced from production to disposal at a legal site.
"We will know at all times who is responsible for hazardous waste, where it is going and whether it gets there safely," EPA Administrator Douglas Costle said.
Costle told a news conference that the regulations, which take effect in Cotober, will cover the waste produced each year by an estimated 750,000 chemical companies, hospitals, factories, processing plants, mills and other sources.
At the moment, 90 percent of that waste is disposed of by "environmentally unsound methods," Costle said. "For decades, we dumped out the back door and into anay vacant lot or inadequate landfill . . . unfortunately, these wastes did not just go away."
The new rules, originally proposed last December, will produce what Costle called a "national roadmap" of waste sites and destinations to prevent disasters like Love Canal in New York, where hundreds of houses were built near an abandoned chemical dump site.
Those people and others like them in other sites, Costle said, have unfairly borne the real costs of uncontrolled waste. Implementing the new regulations will cost industry an initial $7.3 million for the registration and startup procedure and $16 million to $24 million a year afterward but, Costle said, that is "very reasonable."
He cited 1979 gross sales of the chemical industry at $146 billion. "It can't be said we are imposng unduly burdensome costs," he added.
Robert Roland, president of the Chemical Manufacturers' Association, promptly objected to what he said was Costle's attempt to equate the chemical industry with the toxic waste problem. Many mineral mining and biological wastes have nothing to do with the chemical industry, he said, while other wastes come from chemicals reprocessed by other industries.
"We have supported the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act . . . it is the answer to preventing 'midnight dumping' and God knows we need it." Roland said. "But you cannot equate chemical wastes and hazardous wastes."
The EPA has estimated that 32,000 waste sites exist nationwide and that 1,200 are "potentially hazardous." Roland has said in the past that the figures are exaggerated.
Costle outlined the new waste tracting system as the central part of the agency's overall approach. "It's designed to put the midnight dumper out of business," he said.
Any industry that has a waste product will be required to determine if it is hazardous, in accordance with a list the EPA will issue in April. New chemicals and products not on the list will be judged for corrosiveness, flammability, toxicity and capacity to react with other substances. Companies will be crosschecked with other inventories of effluent such as local sewer agency lists.
If the waste is to be shipped, the generator will have to package and label it in conformity with Department of Transportation rules, and fill out a manifest specifying destination.
The manifest will then be signed by the trucker or shipper, and upon delivery the disposal site operator must sign a copy and return it to the original generator, "thus closing the loop," Costle said.
All business handling toxic waste at any point must notify the EPA by July to be listed on a national inventory. All waste disposal sites will be required to have permits, with interim permits allowed for the first two years while current dumps attempt to comply with the new rules.