Hazardous wastes are accumulating in the United States at the rate of more than a ton a year for every resident, and federal controls are inadequate to protect human health from their potential effects, a congressional study reports.
Government policies and regulations are even likely to create new risks in the future, according to the three-year study, released yesterday by the Office of Technology Assessment.
The assessment office, a nonpartisan research arm of Congress, said Environmental Protection Agency regulations encourage the disposal of toxic chemical residues in landfills, even though the EPA acknowledges that landfills will leak eventually.
It also said federal policies may be reducing the costs to industry of landfill disposal by "shifting some long-term cleanup and monitoring costs to the government or society as a whole."
The report was released at a news conference by Reps. James J. Florio (D-N.J.) and John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), who said they would introduce legislation to deal with the regulatory gaps identified in the report. Florio failed to win passage of similar legislation last year.
The technology assessment report suggests that the options for dealing with hazardous wastes come down to a choice between an expensive ounce of prevention or an even more expensive pound of cure. By providing economic incentives for technologically advanced waste disposal, such as incineration or recycling, the government may save money in the long run, it said.
"Cleaning up a site . . . and compensating victims might cost 10 to 100 times the additional costs incurred today to prevent releases of hazardous materials," it said.
The report cited the example of New York State's infamous Love Canal, where it said disposal of the waste dumped there decades ago would now cost $2 million. The Love Canal cleanup is expected to cost more than $100 million, and $2 billion in personal damage lawsuits are pending.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats introduced two bills in response to another conclusion of the report, which said that the $1.6 billion Superfund, created in 1980 to help clean up the worst of the nation's toxic dumps, will not come close to paying for the job.
One, introduced by presidential candidate Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), would create a $15.2 billion, 10-year Superfund. A less sweeping version offered by Sens. Bill Bradley and Frank R. Lautenberg, both New Jersey Democrats, would extend the fund at the same level until 1990.
The report said it would cost from $10 billion to $40 billion to clean a "substantial fraction" of the more than 15,000 inactive dump sites that have been identified.
It also said some of the Superfund cleanups may "prove ineffective in the long term" because cleanup standards are vague and "there is an incentive to minimize initial costs." As a result, wastes are often transferred from one landfill to another, which may require its own cleanup in the future.