The problem is 35 acres of Kingston, N.H., a dumping ground for more than 30 years for some of the most hazardous industrial wastes, including five cancer-causing chemicals, which have contaminated the land, the local drinking water supply and a stream.

The remedy is extraction and destruction of 19,000 cubic yards of the most polluted soil, treatment of polluted ground water and a ground cover.

For the Environmental Protection Agency, the New Hampshire site was the first cleanup project under the tougher, $9 billion Superfund program authorized by Congress last year in a renewed commitment to reclaim America's poisoned earth.

According to three environmental groups, however, the cleanup typifies how the EPA is "systematically ignoring" key provisions of the new law.

Instead of the "permanent" remedies favored by Congress to the maximum extent practicable, the EPA plan would leave large tracts of contaminated soil containing such carcinogens as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at levels twice

as high as the agency permits for

unrestricted areas, the groups said.

Instead of restoring the environment to the quality assured by health-based standards as required by Congress, the groups said the plan would leave higher levels of carcinogens in the water.

"The policies and decisions which we have reviewed appear more responsive to the concerns of the polluter, i.e., to hold down costs, than they are concerns related to public health, the environment and fidelity to law," concluded a study of Kingston and other sites by the Clean Water Action Project (CWAP), National Campaign Against Toxic Hazards (NCATH) and U.S. Public

Interest Research Group (PIRG).

Congress, in raising Superfund's budget more than fivefold last year, set out to correct the most glaring deficiencies of a program that

completed cleanups of a mere

handful of the thousands of U.S. toxic waste sites in its first five years.

In the cleanups, the EPA generally applied one of two controversial strategies.

Hazardous wastes were dug up and transported to landfills elsewhere, which often began leaking into the ground water in a game known as "toxic leapfrog."

Or the poisons were contained by underground barriers and clay covers, which often eroded and gave way to slowly expanding chemical plumes.

Few of the cleanups satisfied environmentalists' demands for complete and permanent remedies.

A year after congressional approval of the new Superfund law, the three groups analyzed sites for which final cleanup decisions were made. Their principal findings were that:Only a third of the 74 cleanup decisions included permanent treatment of wastes. The EPA substitutes weaker standards for pollution cleanup -- those for which cost is considered -- in place of the health-based standards required by Congress. No regulations have been drafted for the grants provided by Congress to enhance community understanding of and participation in cleanup decisions. The EPA relies on inadequate data to assess the extent of pollution.

"This study demonstrates that hazardous waste cleanups today are not much different from the stopgap cleanups that Congress rejected when it added permanent treatment standards to the new Superfund law," said coauthor Bill Walsh, a PIRG attorney. "Prior

to passage of {the new law},

such decisions were shortsighted. Now they violate the law as

well."

Assistant EPA Administrator J. Winston Porter called the charges "overly simplistic" and "unfair."

Superfund managers, he said, aim for permanent remedies but must be guided by other factors, including cost-effectiveness and feasibility.

Porter said that health-based standards for cleanup are too costly to attain, that the EPA cannot gather every bit of data called for at Superfund sites because of pressure to begin cleanups, and that drafting regulations for community technical assistance grants is a "tedious process" that will be completed in February.

"What everybody is looking for is a simple cookbook," Porter said of cleanup strategies. "But they're all pretty doggone tough decisions involving economic tradeoffs and questions about implementability."

The report is illustrated with case studies. As examples of the agency's penchant for "Band-Aid solutions," the authors cited Kingston and a dump site in Wilder, Ky., filled with 800,000 cubic yards of hazardous materials including PCBs 10 times higher than safety levels. The 40-acre site lies 250 feet upstream from the river intake of a public water supply for 75,000 people.

Cleanup plans include monitoring of the ground water and collecting and treating wastes that migrate off site, a blueprint that the authors say leaves behind vast quantities

of poisons and thus falls short

of a complete, permanent solu- tion.

Congress emphasized its distaste for expedient remedies, favoring the more costly alternatives of incineration, chemical neutralization and other permanent disposal methods.

But the study cites an EPA survey of cleanup decisions showing that 34 percent involve treatment of wastes while most call for on-site containment.

"In order to reduce short-term costs, the EPA is willing to leave large volumes of hazardous wastes in sensitive environmental settings, such as flood plains and wetlands and near drinking-water supplies, putting communities at risk for generations to come," said coauthor Henry Cole, senior scientist for CWAP and NCATH.