Auditors fault EPA for lax chemical safeguards

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t do enough to stop hundreds of hazardous chemicals from getting into waterways via sewage plants, a watchdog report found.

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said the agency uses the Clean Water Act to regulate only 126 toxic chemicals that could flow to sewage plants, leaving about 300 chemicals that are considered hazardous under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

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“These regulations are not effective in controlling the discharge of hundreds of hazardous chemicals to surface waters such as lakes and streams,” the OIG concluded.

The Clean Water Act gives the EPA the authority to regulate any pollutant, but it hasn’t updated its list of chemicals to regulate in sewage plants since 1981.

Auditors also found that the EPA may not be consistently enforcing the requirement that industrial polluters file reports on the chemicals they discharge to sewage plants.

“Not only is there no database of the information, we found that no compilation of the notification forms was available in the regions and states we interviewed,” OIG officials said.

The OIG found regional variations in the chemicals that industries had to report to the EPA or states and that programs to monitor chemical treatments and permitting sometimes do not coordinate.

“As a result, sewage treatment plants may not be adequately treating wastewater entering their facilities and are at risk of discharging hazardous chemicals into receiving bodies of water such as rivers and streams,” the office said.

Auditors suggested that the EPA reevaluate which chemicals it regulates in sewage systems. They also recommended that the agency improve communications internally and externally and boost its compliance monitoring, among other changes.

The EPA told the OIG that it agreed with nearly all of the recommendations and would work to implement them within a year.