Number of Potentially Responsible Parties at Superfund Sites Is Difficult to Determine Gao ID: RCED-96-75 March 27, 1996

Parties responsible for contaminating Superfund sites are liable for the costs of cleaning them up. De minimus parties--those who have contributed only a small amount of low-toxicity waste at a location--can incur legal expenses that may exceed their share of a site's cleanup costs. In addition, parties associated with municipal codisposal landfills--landfills that have received both municipal solid waste and industrial hazardous materials--can incur high legal expenses when disputes over allocating costs arise at these sites. Congress is now considering proposals that would provide relief from liability for site cleanup costs for de minimus parties and parties associated with municipal codisposal landfills. GAO found that determining with any degree of certainty the number of both types of parties is difficult because the Environmental Protection Agency's data on the number of parties at many sites are incomplete. On the basis of the limited information in EPA's database, GAO estimates that as many as 25,000 de minimus parties can be found at 175 nonfederal Superfund sites and that as many as 40,000 potentially responsible parties can be found at 245 nonfederal codisposal landfill sites. Because EPA's data are incomplete, GAO's estimates are likely to be understated.

GAO found that: (1) EPA data collection limitations and reliance on project managers' judgment to identify parties make it difficult to accurately determine the number of de minimis or potentially responsible parties; (2) at least 8,500 to more than 25,000 de minimis parties were associated with 175 nonfederal NPL sites; (3) about 15,000 to more than 40,000 potentially responsible parties were associated with 245 nonfederal municipal co-disposal landfill sites; and (4) the estimates may be understated because of the data limitations and because they do not include sites that may be added to NPL.

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