Superfund: EPA's Estimated Costs to Remediate Existing Sites Exceed Current Funding Levels, and More Sites Are Expected to Be Added to the National Priorities List Page: 2 of 81
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Accountability Integrity* Reliability
Highlights of GAO-10-380, a report to
Why GAO Did This Study
At the end of fiscal year 2009, the
Environmental Protection Agency's
(EPA) National Priorities List
(NPL) included 1,111 of the most
seriously contaminated nonfederal
hazardous waste sites. Of these
sites, EPA had identified 75 with
unacceptable human exposure, 164
with unknown exposure, and 872
with controlled exposure that may
need additional cleanup work. EPA
may fund remedial actions-long-
term cleanup-from its trust fund,
and compel responsible parties to
perform or reimburse costs of the
cleanup. GAO was asked to
determine (1) the cleanup and
funding status at currently listed
nonfederal NPL sites with
unacceptable or unknown human
exposure; (2) what is known about
EPA's future cleanup costs at
nonfederal NPL sites; (3) EPA's
process for allocating remedial
program funding; and (4) how
many NPL sites some state and
EPA officials expect to be added in
the next 5 years, and their expected
cleanup costs. GAO analyzed
Superfund program data, surveyed
and interviewed EPA officials, and
interviewed state officials.
To better identify potential NPL
sites, GAO recommends that the
EPA Administrator determine the
extent to which EPA will consider
vapor intrusion in listing NPL sites
and its effect on the number of
sites listed in the future. In
commenting on a draft of this
report, EPA agreed with GAO's
recommendation and noted that
the report contains substantial
View GAO-10-380 or key components.
For more information, contact John
Stephenson at (202) 512-3841 or
EPA's Estimated Costs to Remediate Existing Sites
Exceed Current Funding Levels, and More Sites Are
Expected to Be Added to the National Priorities List
What GAO Found
At over 60 percent of the 239 nonfederal NPL sites with unacceptable or
unknown human exposure, all or more than half of the work remains to
complete the remedial construction phase of cleanup, according to EPA
regional officials. By the end of fiscal year 2009, EPA had expended $3 billion
on the 75 sites with unacceptable human exposure and $1.2 billion on the 164
sites with unknown exposure. Despite the relatively high level of expenditures
at sites with unacceptable exposure, EPA officials told GAO that, in managing
limited resources, some sites have not received sufficient funding for
construction to be conducted in the most time and cost efficient manner.
EPA's future costs to conduct remedial construction at nonfederal NPL sites
will likely exceed recent funding levels. EPA officials estimate that EPA's
costs will be from $335 to $681 million each year for fiscal years 2010 to 2014,
which exceed the $220 to $267 million EPA allocated annually for remedial
actions from fiscal years 2000 to 2009. In addition, these cost estimates are
likely understated, since they do not include costs for sites that are early in
the cleanup process or for sites where a responsible party is currently funding
remedial construction but may be unable to do so in the future. Also,
according to EPA officials, EPA's actual costs are often higher than its
estimates because contamination is often greater than expected.
EPA allocates funds separately for preconstruction activities-such as
remedial investigation and remedial design-and remedial actions. EPA
headquarters allocates funds for preconstruction activities to the regions for
them to distribute among sites. For remedial actions, headquarters works in
consultation with the regions to allocate funds to sites. EPA officials told GAO
that EPA prioritized sites to receive the $582 million in American Recovery
and Reinvestment Act funds in a manner similar to the way EPA prioritizes
sites for remedial actions. Limited funding has delayed preconstruction
activities and remedial actions at some sites, according to EPA officials.
EPA regional officials estimated that from 101 to 125 sites-about 20 to 25
sites per year-will be added to the NPL over the next 5 years, which is higher
than the average of about 16 sites per year listed for fiscal years 2005 to 2009.
Most of the 10 states' officials GAO interviewed also expect an increase in the
number of sites listed from their states. However, neither EPA regional
officials nor state officials were able to provide cost estimates for cleaning up
many of the sites. In addition, the number of sites eligible for listing could
increase if EPA decides to assess the relative risk of vapor intrusion-
contaminated air that seeps into buildings from underground sources-a
pathway of concern among EPA regional officials and state officials
interviewed. Although sites with vapor intrusion can pose considerable
human health risks, EPA's Hazard Ranking System-the mechanism used to
identify sites that qualify for NPL listing-does not recognize these risks;
therefore, unless a site with vapor intrusion is listed on some other basis, EPA
cannot clean up the site through its remedial program.
United States Government Accountability Office
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Superfund: EPA's Estimated Costs to Remediate Existing Sites Exceed Current Funding Levels, and More Sites Are Expected to Be Added to the National Priorities List, report, May 6, 2010; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc301176/m1/2/: accessed November 16, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.