Water Pollution

Stronger Efforts Needed by EPA to Control Toxic Water Pollution Gao ID: RCED-91-154 July 19, 1991

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) and states' efforts to implement the Clean Water Act (CWA) requirements for controlling water pollution, focusing on: (1) their efforts to identify waters impaired by toxic pollutants and to develop strategies to control discharges into U.S. waters; and (2) the extent to which existing water pollution control programs and activities control all types and sources of toxic pollution.

GAO found that: (1) EPA and states failed to identify and target many of the nation's waters for cleanup due to such factors as ineffective monitoring, the lack of an all-inclusive priority pollutant list, and outdated cleanup strategies for impaired waters; (2) EPA targeted less than 3 percent of the 18,770 waters it identified as impaired for more stringent regulatory controls or cleanup; (3) while EPA requires states to establish monitoring methods and procedures, EPA lacks an enforceable requirement that specifies a toxic monitoring method or how often such monitoring should be done to identify toxic pollution; (4) EPA has been slow to develop and revise effluent guidelines for categories of industrial discharging toxic pollutants; (5) criteria developed by EPA and used by states to establish numeric discharge limits only covered a limited number of toxic pollutants which were not updated; (6) few states adopted numeric discharge limits for toxic pollutants in their water quality standards and discharge permits; (7) more stringent toxic pollution controls could increase noncompliance with permit requirements and make the enforcement burden greater; (8) although at least 30 states use such alternative financing mechanisms as fees to generate revenue to support their programs, the revenue is only a small fraction of the funds needed; (9) some states were reluctant to use or rely on alternative financial mechanisms because they believed that the added cost of pollution control would result in industries moving to states without such mechanisms; and (10) EPA and some states have emphasized prevention strategies to correct pollution, but a number of barriers hinder greater use of such practices.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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