Toxic Substances

Status of EPA's Efforts to Reduce Toxic Releases Gao ID: RCED-94-207 September 22, 1994

To get industry to identify and voluntarily reduce the amounts of toxic substances released into the air, ground, and water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has undertaken several initiatives. The Toxic Release Inventory records the releases of more than 3000 toxic chemicals reported to EPA and to the state in which a releasing facility is located. Under the 33/50 Program, EPA has encouraged industry to reduce releases of 17 toxic chemicals by 33 percent before the end of 1992 and by 50 percent before the end of 1995. The Early Reductions Program seeks to reduce emissions into the air before EPA proposes emission standards by giving industry a six-year extension for meeting the standards as they are developed during a 10-year period. This report determines (1) the validity of the reductions in releases of toxic substances reported in the Toxic Release Inventory, (2) the progress of the 33/50 Program in meeting its targets for reductions in toxic releases, and (3) the status of participation in the Early Reductions Program.

GAO found that: (1) while the EPA Toxic Release Inventory shows that the volume of toxic substances released into the environment has been reduced by 1.7 billion pounds since 1988, it is difficult to determine whether these reductions are valid and permanent; (2) according to EPA data, the 33/50 Program has exceeded its interim target, having achieved a 40-percent reduction in toxic chemical releases and transfers, and EPA officials expect to realize a reduction of more than 50 percent by 1995; (3) not all of the reductions in toxic chemical releases could be attributed to the 33/50 Program, since 26 percent of the reductions were reported by companies not participating in the program, and 40 percent of the reductions took place before the program was established; (4) as of September 1994, EPA was reviewing and processing 40 applications for the Early Reductions Program; and (5) industry representatives believe that participation in the Early Reductions Program has been limited because participants are given insufficient time to comply with the emission standards in view of the costs and complex requirements of the program.

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