Superfund: EPA Could Further Ensure the Safe Operation of On-Site Incinerators

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-03-05.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                 United States General Accounting Office

GAO              Report to Congressional Requesters

March 1997
                 EPA Could Further
                 Ensure the Safe
                 Operation of On-Site

                   United States
GAO                General Accounting Office
                   Washington, D.C. 20548

                   Resources, Community, and
                   Economic Development Division


                   March 5, 1997

                   The Honorable Jerry Lewis
                   The Honorable Louis Stokes
                   Ranking Minority Member
                   Subcommittee on VA, HUD,
                     and Independent Agencies
                   Committee on Appropriations
                   House of Representatives

                   The Honorable James M. Talent
                   The Honorable Barney Frank
                   House of Representatives

                   The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has used incineration—that
                   is, controlled, high-temperature burning—to clean up some of the most
                   toxic forms of contamination at the nation’s most severely contaminated
                   hazardous waste sites, known as Superfund sites. However, local
                   community groups, concerned that incinerators could emit hazardous
                   substances, have often protested the choice of incineration as a cleanup
                   remedy. EPA is responsible for ensuring that incinerators used at these
                   sites burn hazardous waste in a manner that protects human health and
                   the environment.

                   Because of the public’s concerns about the use of incineration at
                   Superfund sites, you asked us to examine (1) what safeguards EPA uses to
                   promote the safe operation of incinerators at these sites and (2) whether
                   EPA has fully implemented its planned system of safeguards.

                   EPA relies upon four main methods to promote the safe operation of
Results in Brief   incinerators used at Superfund sites. These methods are (1) required
                   site-specific standards for an incinerator’s emissions and performance,
                   (2) engineering safety features built into the incinerator’s systems, (3) air
                   monitoring to measure the incinerator’s emissions, and (4) on-site
                   observation of the incinerator’s operations. EPA sets standards, such as
                   minimum contaminant destruction levels and maximum emission levels,
                   after it studies each site’s characteristics (e.g., the type and concentration
                   of contamination present). In addition, each incinerator is designed with
                   safety features intended to stop its operation if it fails to meet the
                   specified operating conditions. Air monitors are placed in the incinerator’s

                   Page 1                                                GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund

             stack and around the site’s perimeter to measure the incinerator’s
             emissions. Furthermore, at the three Superfund sites with ongoing
             incineration projects at the time of our review, EPA had arranged for
             24-hour, on-site oversight from either the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or
             a state government to ensure that the incinerator was operating properly.

             In addition to the four methods discussed above, EPA managers intended to
             use two other techniques—inspections and applications of lessons
             learned—to encourage safe operations, but neither was fully implemented.
             First, EPA has not used inspectors from its hazardous waste incinerator1
             inspection program to evaluate the operations of all Superfund
             incinerators as it required in a 1991 directive. Only one of the three
             incinerators we visited had received such an inspection. That incinerator
             had received two inspections, but one was conducted when the
             incinerator was shut down for maintenance. EPA regional staff responsible
             for hazardous waste incinerator inspections were unaware that the
             Superfund incinerators were supposed to be inspected; and EPA
             headquarters officials were unaware that the inspections were not
             occurring. Second, EPA managers did not follow through on their intention
             to systematically apply the lessons learned from incineration at one site to
             other sites. They had intended to prepare documents describing problems
             and solutions at each incineration project for use in designing and
             operating other projects and to hold periodic conference calls with the
             managers from incineration sites to discuss issues of common interest.
             Both of these methods of transferring information were dropped for
             various reasons, including the demands of higher priorities. We found that
             the lessons learned from the problems experienced at the sites we visited,
             such as how to prepare for storm-related power outages, could benefit
             other sites. EPA headquarters officials told us that they encouraged
             Superfund project managers to share their experiences with incineration
             but had not facilitated this exchange in a structured way.

             With the enactment of the Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Background   Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) in 1980, the Congress created the
             Superfund program to clean up the nation’s most severely contaminated
             hazardous waste sites. The Congress extended the program in 1986 and
             1990 and is now considering another reauthorization. Under CERCLA, EPA
             investigates contaminated areas and places the most highly contaminated

              Hazardous waste incinerators include commercial facilities in business to burn hazardous waste from
             various industrial and other sources as well as private facilities that industries use to destroy their own

             Page 2                                                                    GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund

sites on the National Priorities List (NPL) for study and cleanup. As of
December 1996, there were 1,210 sites on the NPL.

After a site is placed on the NPL, EPA extensively studies and evaluates the
site to determine the appropriate cleanup remedy for it. The remedy
selected depends upon the site’s characteristics, such as the types and
levels of contamination, the risks posed to human health and the
environment, and the applicable cleanup standards. The site’s cleanup can
be conducted by EPA or the party responsible for the contamination, with
oversight by EPA or the state.

Through fiscal year 1995, the latest period for which EPA has data, EPA had
selected incineration as a Superfund cleanup remedy 43 times, or in about
6 percent of the decisions on remedies it had reached through that date.2
At the time of our review, three incinerators were operating at Superfund
sites—the Bayou Bonfouca site in Louisiana, the Times Beach site in
Missouri, and the Baird and McGuire site in Massachusetts.3 As of
October 1996, EPA planned to use incineration at four additional sites.

Incineration is the burning of substances by a controlled flame in an
enclosed area that is referred to as a kiln. Incineration involves four basic
steps: (1) wastes, such as contaminated soil, are prepared and fed into the
incinerator; (2) the wastes are burned, converting contamination into
residual products in the form of ash and gases; (3) the ash is collected,
cooled, and removed from the incinerator; and, (4) the gases are cooled,
remaining contaminants are filtered out, and the cleaned gases are
released to the atmosphere through the incinerator’s stack. (See fig. 1.)

 EPA derived the number of instances in which incineration was selected as a remedy from an analysis
of the remedy decision documents for each Superfund site. The decision documents contain
information only on the initial remedy chosen and do not reflect later changes. Consequently, the
actual use of incineration at Superfund sites probably falls somewhat short of the 43 instances
indicated by the documents.
 During fiscal year 1995, EPA selected remedies for 110 sites.

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Figure 1: Typical Incinerator Processes, Rotary Kiln

                                           Source: EPA.

                                           Incinerators may be fixed facilities that accept waste from a variety of
                                           sources, or they may be transportable or mobile systems. Fixed facility
                                           hazardous waste incinerators are required by the Resource Conservation
                                           and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA) to obtain an operating permit from EPA.
                                           RCRA regulates all facets of the generation, transportation, treatment,
                                           storage, and disposal of hazardous wastes in the United States. RCRA
                                           requires that fixed facility hazardous waste incinerators be operated
                                           according to EPA’s regulations and be inspected by EPA every 2 years.

                                           Incinerators used to clean Superfund sites are generally “transportable,”
                                           that is, they are transported to the site in pieces, assembled, and removed
                                           when the cleanup is complete. These incinerators are constructed and

                                           Page 4                                               GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund

                          operated by contractors. CERCLA exempts any portion of a cleanup action
                          conducted entirely on-site, including incineration, from the need to obtain
                          any permit. However, CERCLA requires EPA to apply legally applicable or
                          relevant and appropriate environmental standards from other federal laws,
                          including RCRA, to Superfund cleanups. Accordingly, EPA requires
                          incinerators at Superfund sites to meet RCRA’s substantive requirements,
                          such as the act’s standards for emissions.

                          EPA relies on four principal methods to ensure the safe operation of
EPA Relies Upon a         incinerators used to clean up Superfund sites. These methods are
Variety of Methods to     (1) setting site-specific standards for emissions and operations,
Promote the Safe          (2) incorporating safety features into an incinerator’s emergency systems,
                          (3) monitoring emissions at the incinerator’s stack and along the site’s
Operation of              perimeter, and (4) providing 24-hour on-site oversight. (See app. I for more
Superfund                 details on the safeguards at the three incinerators in operation at the time
                          of our review.)
Incinerator’s Operating   EPA establishes specific cleanup standards for each incinerator used at a
Conditions Are Set on a   Superfund site. These standards are based on studies of the site’s
Site-Specific Basis       characteristics (e.g., the type and concentration of contamination present)
                          conducted during the incinerator’s design and construction. Standards can
                          be adopted from other environmental programs or laws, such as RCRA or
                          the Toxic Substances Control Act.4 Typically, RCRA’s standards for fixed
                          facility hazardous waste incinerators are applied. RCRA’s standards govern
                          the extent to which an incinerator must destroy and remove contaminants
                          and set limits on emissions from the incinerator.

                          EPA  establishes the operating parameters needed for the incinerator to
                          achieve the emissions standards and tests the parameters through a “trial
                          burn” required under RCRA. The operating parameters can include the
                          temperature of the kiln, the minimum oxygen levels needed to break down
                          contaminants in the kiln, and the maximum carbon monoxide levels that
                          may be produced. Although not required by EPA’s regulations, a trial burn
                          plan was reviewed by a RCRA expert at all the sites we visited to determine
                          whether the proper operating conditions were being tested. According to
                          EPA officials, if the incinerator operates within the parameters established
                          at the trial burn, the incinerator will be operating safely.

                           EPA has issued regulations governing the incineration of polychlorinated biphenyls under the Toxic
                          Substances Control Act.

                          Page 5                                                                GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund

Incinerators Include       Besides establishing standards for emissions and operations, EPA requires
Built-In Safety Measures   engineering controls to prevent the standards from being exceeded. In
                           addition, incinerators at the three sites we visited had built-in safety
                           features unique to each model to prevent excessive emissions of
                           contaminants in the event of an emergency shutdown.

                           RCRA’s regulations, which EPA applies at Superfund sites, require that
                           incinerators have devices, called automatic waste feed cutoffs, that will
                           stop contaminated waste from being fed into an incinerator when the
                           operating conditions deviate from the required operating parameters. The
                           waste feed would be cut off, for example, when a change in pressure or a
                           drop in temperature occurred that could compromise the kiln’s effective
                           incineration of the contaminants. These cutoffs are set with a “cushion” so
                           that the waste feed shuts down before the incinerator operates outside the
                           established parameters. The number and type of waste feed cutoffs will
                           depend on the requirements for each site. According to EPA officials, some
                           cutoffs are routine, to be expected during the normal course of an
                           incinerator’s operations, and a sign that the safety mechanisms are
                           working properly. For example, cutoffs can be triggered by expected
                           changes in pressure within the kiln brought on by variations in the waste
                           input stream. However, other cutoffs, especially repeated cutoffs, can be
                           signs of problems.

                           At the three sites we visited, all of the incinerators had some additional
                           safety measures, not required by regulation, in the event that a critical part
                           of the incinerator failed. At the Times Beach and the Bayou Bonfouca
                           sites, the incinerators have emergency systems that fully shut down the
                           incinerator and decontaminate the gases remaining in the system at the
                           time of the shutdown. These systems seal off the gases and expose them to
                           a high-temperature flame to destroy any residual contamination. At the
                           Baird and McGuire site, the emergency system ensures that metals and
                           particulates are removed before gases are emitted from the kiln. The most
                           common reason for activating the emergency systems at the three sites
                           was a shutdown caused by a power outage.

                           EPA continuously monitors the air in the vicinity of an incinerator to ensure
EPA Monitors Air to        that emissions from the stack and from areas where soil is being
Detect Any Release of      excavated before being put into the incinerator do not exceed the
Contaminants               maximum permitted levels. Air monitoring at the sites involves measuring
                           conditions in real time and performing detailed laboratory analyses of
                           samples that are collected over a longer period of time. For example, at

                           Page 6                                                GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund

                           the Baird and McGuire site, stack emissions are monitored continuously to
                           measure key indicators of combustion, such as the oxygen levels in
                           exhaust gases, to ensure that the incinerator is operating properly. For
                           organic contamination,5 a more detailed laboratory analysis is carried out
                           during the trial burn to provide additional assurance that dioxin, a
                           cancer-causing substance produced by the burning of organic substances,
                           is not excessively emitted. The Baird and McGuire site also has nine air
                           monitors at its perimeter, each of which is hooked up to alarms that sound
                           if emission levels approach the established parameters. These monitors,
                           which are intended primarily to detect possible emissions from the on-site
                           excavation of contaminated soil, monitor and record data every minute.
                           According to the incineration contractor’s project manager at the Baird
                           and McGuire site, the air monitors picked up elevated levels only once
                           during an excavation, when a drum of chemicals was removed. In a
                           situation such as this, the excavation is slowed to bring emissions down to
                           required levels. According to EPA’s reports for the three sites we visited,
                           emissions from the incinerators’ stacks never exceeded the permitted

On-Site Observation of     Although 24-hour oversight is not required by regulations or formal EPA
Incinerators’ Operations   policy, Corps of Engineers or state officials continuously observed the
Occurred                   operations of the incinerator at each of the sites we visited. For the two
                           cleanups that EPA managed (at the Baird and McGuire and Bayou
                           Bonfouca sites), EPA had contracted with the U.S. Army Corps of
                           Engineers for on-site oversight, while at Times Beach, where a responsible
                           party was conducting the cleanup, a Missouri state agency provided
                           oversight. At the time of our visit, these sites had staff to cover operations
                           24 hours a day.6 For example, at Baird and McGuire, 12 Corps of Engineers
                           staff were assigned to monitor the incinerator’s operations.

                           On-site observation involves visual inspections and record reviews to
                           ensure that the incineration companies are meeting the operating
                           conditions specified by EPA. At the sites we visited, Corps of Engineers or
                           state officials were responsible for checking the operating parameters
                           displayed on computer screens in the incineration control rooms and
                           inspecting measurement devices on incineration equipment to verify that
                           they were working properly. For example, at Times Beach, a state official
                           monitored operations from an on-site computer screen, while a state RCRA
                           employee obtained the computerized information from his office in the

                            Organic compounds are composed of carbon, hydrogen, and sometimes other elements.
                            In July 1996, the state agency cut back on-site oversight to about 12 hours per day at Times Beach.

                           Page 7                                                                  GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund

                              state capitol to ensure that the conditions of the state’s RCRA permit were
                              being met.7 At Bayou Bonfouca, Corps officials examined operation log
                              books and talked to incinerator operators to look for any problems and
                              oversaw the procedures for testing and sampling emissions from the
                              incinerator. The officials were also responsible for reviewing the
                              air-monitoring reports and operation summary reports required of the
                              incineration company and reporting their findings to EPA.

                              In addition to the safeguards discussed above, EPA planned two additional
EPA Has Not                   methods to promote the safe operation of Superfund incinerators but
Implemented Two               never fully implemented them. First, EPA issued a directive requiring
Planned Methods for           inspectors from its hazardous waste incinerator inspection program to
                              periodically evaluate Superfund incinerators. This requirement had not
Promoting the Safe            been followed at two of the three incinerators operating at the time of our
Operation of                  review. Second, EPA has not carried out its intention to systematically
                              ensure that the lessons learned about an incinerator’s operations in one
Incinerators                  incineration project are applied to subsequent projects. EPA is relying upon
                              informal communication to transfer “best practices” from one incineration
                              project to the next.

EPA Has Not Implemented       In 1991, EPA issued a directive requiring that the same type of inspections
Its Policies for Inspecting   that are conducted at RCRA-permitted hazardous waste incinerators be
Incinerators                  conducted at Superfund incinerators. In 1993, EPA issued interim guidance
                              on how to perform these inspections at Superfund incinerators. This
                              guidance required that inspectors in EPA’s regional offices review the
                              operating records for Superfund incinerators and examine the units to
                              ensure that they were operating within their established parameters. Only
                              one of the three incinerators we visited had received such an inspection.
                              That incinerator received two inspections, one of which was conducted
                              while the incinerator was shut down for maintenance. EPA regional staff
                              we talked to were unaware of the directive and guidance on these
                              inspections. EPA headquarters personnel told us that they were unaware
                              that the inspections were not taking place but confirmed with the regions
                              that only one region was inspecting Superfund incinerators. EPA officials
                              attributed the lack of inspections to the higher priority given to other
                              enforcement demands and a reorganization of enforcement functions,
                              which muddied the responsibility for inspecting the incinerators.

                               This is the only Superfund site that has a RCRA permit, which specifies specific operating conditions.
                              (See app. I for further information.)

                              Page 8                                                                  GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund

Headquarters officials said they would encourage the regions to do the
inspections in the future.

According to officials from EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance
Assurance (OECA), who are responsible for implementing the inspection
program, RCRA incinerator inspectors had visited Superfund incinerators
when the guidance was first issued in 1993. However, these inspectors said
their inspections were hampered because they did not have a site-specific
document containing the requirements for each incinerator’s operations
that they could use to evaluate these operations. At Superfund sites where
transportable incinerators are used, EPA may specify standards, operating
parameters, emergency controls, and requirements for air monitoring and
on-site oversight in various documents, such as a contract with the
operator of the incinerator, a court-approved consent decree with the
responsible party, or a work plan for the site. In contrast, fixed facility
hazardous waste incinerators require a RCRA permit, which documents the
conditions under which an incinerator must operate. Inspectors use the
conditions specified in the permit as criteria for evaluating the
incinerator’s operations. For Superfund incinerators, however, an
operating permit is not required. The 1993 interim guidance for inspecting
Superfund incinerators recognized the need for a single document
specifying site-specific operating requirements and procedures and stated
that such a document would be developed. However, no such document
was developed because, according to EPA officials, other priorities
intervened. EPA officials attributed the lack of recent Superfund
incinerator inspections, in part, to the lack of a consolidated list of

The Superfund, RCRA, and OECA officials we interviewed on this question
agreed that Superfund incinerators should be inspected. They stated that
experienced RCRA hazardous waste incinerator inspectors in EPA’s regional
offices have knowledge and experience that makes them well qualified to
evaluate the operations of Superfund incinerators. These officials believed
that an inspection by an outside, independent inspector was important
even if an incinerator had on-site oversight. RCRA officials told us that at
the few RCRA-permitted hazardous waste incinerators with on-site
inspectors, the inspectors are rotated every 6 months in order to maintain
their independence and objectivity. In addition, they said that experienced
incinerator inspectors would have more expertise than the Corps of
Engineers or state staff assigned to oversee the incinerators’ operations.
Although these staff do receive training, they are generally not experts on

Page 9                                               GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund

EPA Does Not Have a      Because EPA site managers may work on as few as one or two projects at a
Formal Mechanism for     time and because incineration is not a common remedy at Superfund sites,
Sharing Best Practices   managers may have limited experience with incineration. However, EPA
                         does not have any formal mechanism to share the lessons learned about an
                         incinerator’s operations. The need for information-sharing is illustrated by
                         experiences at two sites we visited. The Bayou Bonfouca site had a policy
                         to stop feeding waste to the incinerator during severe storms. This policy
                         was adopted to reassure the public that the incinerator would not suffer
                         an emergency shutdown during a storm-related power outage. The Times
                         Beach site, which was using the same incinerator model, did not formally
                         adopt this policy until after a severe storm had knocked out the power at
                         that incinerator, causing an emergency shutdown. The storm and power
                         outage caused the emergency emissions system and the perimeter air
                         monitors to fail. (See app. I for details.) The lessons learned from these
                         problems could be applied to future incineration projects to prevent
                         similar problems from arising. However, EPA has no formal mechanism to
                         ensure that other incineration projects can benefit from the Times Beach

                         EPA officials agreed that they should be sharing the lessons learned from
                         each site. According to officials, they had intended to do so by issuing fact
                         sheets, but the effort was dropped before any fact sheets were issued. The
                         officials stated that the fact sheets were not issued because of a fear that
                         information on problems with incinerators’ operations could be used
                         against them in litigation. In addition, they attempted to have monthly
                         conference calls with all of the managers of incineration sites, but the
                         effort soon faded away. However, EPA officials told us that they do
                         informally share lessons learned through discussions with regional staff
                         responsible for incineration sites. Also, they encourage site managers to
                         visit other incineration sites to learn from the experiences there; however,
                         they do not currently intend to revive their plans for preparing fact sheets.

                         EPA employs a number of techniques to encourage the safe operation of
Conclusions              Superfund incinerators. These techniques include mechanical features,
                         such as air monitors, as well as operational procedures, such as 24-hour
                         independent oversight. However, residents of the areas surrounding
                         incinerators frequently desire an extra degree of assurance that the
                         incinerators are operating safely. EPA has not followed through on other
                         opportunities to improve its oversight of incinerators and thereby provide
                         additional assurance to the public. First, EPA has not followed its own
                         policy of having RCRA hazardous waste incinerator inspectors inspect

                         Page 10                                               GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund

                         Superfund incinerators. Although these inspections would provide the
                         public with independent evaluations of the incinerators’ compliance, they
                         did not take place, in part, because consolidated lists were not made
                         available to inspectors of the standards, design requirements, and
                         operating rules for each site where incineration is used. Inspectors could
                         use such lists, just as they use the operating permits for fixed facility
                         hazardous waste incinerators, as an aid in evaluating compliance. Second,
                         EPA’s attempts to systematically share the lessons learned from site to site
                         were never fully implemented. Because incinerators are being used at
                         relatively few Superfund sites, EPA project managers may have little or no
                         experience with them. These managers would benefit from the
                         experiences of other managers of sites where incinerators have been used.
                         At the sites we visited, operational problems occurred that might be
                         avoided at other incineration projects if the knowledge gained was
                         preserved and shared.

                         To provide further assurance that incinerators at Superfund sites are being
Recommendations to       operated safely, we recommend that the Administrator, EPA,
the Administrator,
EPA                  •   implement the agency’s guidance for having RCRA hazardous waste
                         incinerator inspectors evaluate Superfund incinerators, including the
                         development of a single document specifying site-specific operating
                         requirements and procedures for these incinerators, and
                     •   document the lessons learned about safe operation from the experiences
                         of each Superfund site where incineration is used and institute a
                         systematic process to share this information at other sites where
                         incinerators are used.

                         We provided copies of a draft of this report to EPA for its review and
Agency Comments          comment. On January 29, 1997, we met with EPA officials, including a
                         senior process manager from EPA’s Office of Emergency and Remedial
                         Response and officials from EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance
                         Assurance and Solid Waste and Emergency Response, to obtain their
                         comments. EPA generally agreed with the facts, conclusions, and
                         recommendations in the report. However, while not disagreeing that the
                         lessons learned should be documented, EPA did question the benefits of
                         preparing voluminous site-specific studies on lessons learned, given the
                         decreasing use of incineration. We concur that the type of documentation
                         should be concise and the format useful. EPA also provided technical and
                         editorial comments, which we incorporated in the report as appropriate.

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              To examine EPA’s oversight of incinerators at Superfund sites, we visited
Scope and     the three Superfund sites with operating incinerators: the Baird and
Methodology   McGuire site in Massachusetts, the Bayou Bonfouca/Southern
              Shipbuilding site in Louisiana, and the Times Beach site in Missouri. At
              these sites, we spoke with EPA, state government, U.S. Army Corps of
              Engineers, and contractor officials to determine how the incinerators
              operate, what safety measures they employ to ensure safe operation, and
              what oversight activities occur. We also interviewed EPA officials in
              regions I, VI, and VII and in the headquarters offices of Solid Waste,
              Emergency and Remedial Response; Pollution Prevention and Toxics; and
              Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. In addition, we obtained and
              analyzed documents and data from EPA and from the relevant states,
              counties, and responsible parties when necessary. Our work was
              performed in accordance with generally accepted government auditing
              standards from February through December 1996.

              As arranged with your offices, unless you publicly announce its contents
              earlier, we will make no further distribution of this report until 10 days
              after the date of this letter. At that time, we will send copies of the report
              to other appropriate congressional committees; the Administrator, EPA; the
              Director, Office of Management and Budget; and other interested parties.
              We will also make copies available to others upon request. Should you
              need further information, please call me at (202) 512-6520. Major
              contributors to this report are listed in appendix II.

              Stanley J. Czerwinski
              Associate Director, Environmental
                Protection Issues

              Page 12                                               GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund
Page 13   GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund

Letter                                                                                         1

Appendix I                                                                                    16
                        The Baird and McGuire Superfund Site                                  16
Three Case Studies      The Bayou Bonfouca/Southern Shipbuilding Superfund Site               17
                        The Times Beach Superfund Site                                        19

Appendix II                                                                                   23

Major Contributors to
This Report
Figures                 Figure 1: Typical Incinerator Processes, Rotary Kiln                   4
                        Figure I.1: Kiln at Baird and McGuire                                 17
                        Figure I.2: Incinerator at Bayou Bontouca                             18
                        Figure I.3: Dioxin Contaminated Soil From Times Beach                 20


                        CERCLA    Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation,
                                       and Liability Act
                        EPA       Environmental Protection Agency
                        NPL       National Priorities List
                        OECA      Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
                        RCRA      Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

                        Page 14                                          GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund
Page 15   GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund
Appendix I

Three Case Studies

                    We visited the three Superfund incinerators that were in operation at the
                    time of our review: the Baird and McGuire site in Holbrook,
                    Massachusetts; the Bayou Bonfouca/Southern Shipbuilding site in Slidell,
                    Louisiana; and the Times Beach Superfund site near St. Louis, Missouri. A
                    brief description of the incineration project at each site follows.

                    The Baird and McGuire site, approximately 14 miles south of Boston, is a
The Baird and       former chemical manufacturing facility that operated for 70 years until it
McGuire Superfund   was shut down in 1983. This 20-acre site is contaminated with
Site                approximately 200,000 pounds of chemicals and metals, including
                    creosote, herbicides and pesticides, arsenic, lead, and dioxin. Chemicals
                    from the site have contaminated groundwater, a nearby river, and a nearby

                    EPA chose to incinerate soil and other contaminated material on-site
                    because it judged that this remedy would be the most protective of human
                    health and because complicating factors made other remedies, such as
                    covering the contaminated areas with a clay cap, inappropriate. These
                    factors included the location of part of the site in a 100-year flood plain,
                    the existence of wetlands on the site, and the potential for the
                    contamination to spread farther (via groundwater) if the site was not
                    effectively treated. In addition, dioxin is present at the site, leaving few
                    off-site treatment possibilities because regulations limit the locations at
                    which dioxin-contaminated material can be treated.8

                    The operation of the incinerator at the Baird and McGuire site began in
                    June 1995 and is expected to be completed in April 1997. The incinerator
                    was designed specifically to remediate the high levels of metal
                    contamination at the site. (See fig. I.1.) It is configured to capture the
                    metals (which cannot be destroyed by the incineration process and may be
                    present in the gases produced by the burn) in a pollution control device
                    before they are emitted into the atmosphere. The incinerator has 13
                    automatic waste feed cutoffs. In case the incinerator is totally shut down,
                    a diesel backup system will keep filtration systems running to prevent the
                    release of hazardous emissions. Emissions from the site are monitored
                    continuously from the incinerator’s stack and from nine locations along
                    the site’s perimeter.

                    For further information see Superfund: EPA has Identified Limited Alternatives to Incineration for
                    Cleaning Up PCB and Dioxin Contamination (GAO/RCED-96-13, Dec. 29, 1995).

                    Page 16                                                                GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund
                                        Appendix I
                                        Three Case Studies

Figure I.1: Kiln at Baird and Mcguire

                                        Oversight is carried out by 12 staff from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
                                        who receive technical assistance from an engineering consulting firm.
                                        According to a Corps engineer at the site, the Corps staff complete
                                        inspection reports detailing on-site events 2 to 3 times per day and provide
                                        weekly summary reports for EPA’s review.

                                        The Bayou Bonfouca site includes 55 acres of sediment and surface water
The Bayou                               that were contaminated with wood-treating chemicals from an abandoned
Bonfouca/Southern                       creosote works plant. The main threats to human health at this site
Shipbuilding                            included direct contact with contaminated groundwater, the potential for
                                        contamination to spread to a nearby waterway during flooding, and the
Superfund Site                          potential for direct contact with concentrated hazardous material at the
                                        unsecured site. From February 1992 through September 1995, EPA
                                        incinerated contaminated soil and other material.

                                        After incinerating the waste from the Bayou Bonfouca site, EPA began to
                                        use the incinerator to burn similar wastes from the nearby Southern

                                        Page 17                                              GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund
                                   Appendix I
                                   Three Case Studies

                                   Shipbuilding Superfund site. (See fig. I.2.) This site was contaminated with
                                   110,000 cubic yards of sludge, containing mostly polycyclic aromatic
                                   hydrocarbons that were left from barge cleaning and repair operations.
                                   Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are chemicals formed during the
                                   incomplete burning of coal, oil, gas, refuse, or other organic substances.

Figure I.2: Incinerator at Bayou

                                   In addition to 15 automatic waste feed cutoff parameters to prevent the
                                   incinerator from operating outside the regulatory limits, the incinerator
                                   has an emergency stack venting system that further treats the gases from
                                   the kiln if the incinerator is totally shut down. In case of a power outage or
                                   another event that would cause the major functions of the incinerator to
                                   fail, this emergency system draws the kiln gases9 into an emergency stack
                                   where a flame further destroys contaminants. According to an incineration

                                    The gases from the kiln are one of two residual products (ash is the other) resulting from the
                                   incineration process. Although most of the contamination is destroyed in the kiln under normal
                                   operating conditions, the kiln gases would go through a secondary combustion chamber for further
                                   treatment. This emergency system provides additional treatment when the incinerator shuts down and
                                   the secondary combustion chamber is not operating.

                                   Page 18                                                             GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund
                  Appendix I
                  Three Case Studies

                  contractor official at the Bayou Bonfouca site, this emergency system
                  prevents the release of kiln gases that exceed emission regulations.

                  Oversight at the Bayou Bonfouca site is carried out by a team of nine
                  Corps of Engineers inspectors. These inspectors check the computer
                  screens in the incinerator’s control room every 2 hours to ensure that the
                  incinerator is operating within the regulatory parameters set during the
                  trial burn. The Corps team also inspects the incinerator’s machinery, is
                  present for all sampling and testing done by the incineration company, and
                  documents all of the automatic waste feed cutoffs. Corps officials review
                  monthly, quarterly, and yearly reports from the incineration contractor.
                  Air monitoring at the site includes continuous monitoring from the stack,
                  the excavation site, and other areas of the site, and samples are taken daily
                  for more complete chemical analysis. According to Corps officials,
                  emissions have never exceeded regulatory levels. In addition, EPA Region
                  VI had two RCRA inspections completed at the Bayou Bonfouca site.
                  However, the incinerator was shut down for maintenance at the time of
                  one of the inspections. This Bayou Bonfouca/Southern Shipbuilding
                  project was completed in November 1996.

                  The Times Beach Superfund site is a 0.8-square-mile area, 20 miles
The Times Beach   southwest of St. Louis, that was contaminated with dioxin. The
Superfund Site    contamination resulted from spraying unpaved roads with dioxin-tainted
                  waste oil to control dust. EPA decided to incinerate soil from Times Beach
                  and 26 other nearby sites that were contaminated in the same way. (See
                  fig. I.3.) EPA believed that incineration was the best remedy for the large
                  volumes of dioxin-contaminated soil and the large pieces of contaminated
                  debris to be treated. The incineration project at Times Beach began in
                  March 1996 and is expected to be completed in March 1997.

                  Page 19                                              GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund
                                       Appendix I
                                       Three Case Studies

Figure I.3: Dioxin Contaminated Soil
From Times Beach

                                       The Times Beach site is unusual because EPA obtained a RCRA permit to
                                       operate the incinerator. A permit is generally not required at Superfund
                                       sites, and the process of obtaining it resulted in some delays in beginning
                                       operations. However, EPA regional officials obtained the permit to provide
                                       nearby residents with additional assurance that the incinerator would
                                       operate safely and would be removed after the project was completed,
                                       rather than being kept in place to burn contaminated material from other
                                       sites. As required by the permit, the Times Beach incinerator has 17
                                       automatic waste feed cutoffs. In addition, the incinerator includes the
                                       same emergency system that is used at Bayou Bonfouca.

                                       Oversight at Times Beach is handled primarily by the Missouri Department
                                       of Natural Resources. State officials monitor operations on-site and via
                                       computer in the state capitol. Three on-site state employees originally
                                       provided oversight 24 hours a day. Currently, the state has oversight
                                       officials at the site 11-1/2 hours each weekday and 9 hours a day on the
                                       weekend. In addition, they conduct unannounced random visits to the site
                                       during off hours.

                                       Page 20                                              GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund
Appendix I
Three Case Studies

To supplement the state’s oversight, St. Louis County inspects operations
and tracks the results of air-monitoring testing to ensure that the
incinerator’s emissions are in compliance with the limits set in the
county’s air pollution permit.10 According to a county official, although
formal inspections are required about once every 2 years, the county
informally monitors the site more frequently. As with the other sites,
Times Beach has two levels of air monitoring: continuous monitoring and
a more detailed laboratory analysis. According to EPA officials, emissions
from the incinerator have never exceeded the permissible levels.

Despite extensive monitoring at the Times Beach site, incidents have
occurred. Once, when an unexpected storm interrupted electrical power
and caused a shutdown, the emergency system failed to fire. High winds
had blown out the pilot lights on this treatment system, which should have
fired after the power to the incinerator had been lost. Without the firing,
the emergency system did not further treat the kiln gases as it was
designed to do. Although EPA concluded that the event caused no
significant health effects, the agency could only estimate emission levels
during the shutdown because the air-monitoring equipment that would
have recorded the actual emission levels was on the same circuit as the
incinerator and, therefore, was not operating during the event. To prevent
future emergency shutdowns from storm-related power losses, the
incineration contractor hired local weather forecasting services to
improve storm warnings and formally adopted a standard operating
procedure to stop the waste feeds during severe weather. (This standard
operating procedure had already been in force at the Bayou
Bonfouca/Southern Shipbuilding Superfund site when the event occurred.)
In addition, other measures were taken to prevent the emergency system’s
pilot lights from being blown out and to decrease the number of power

Improper handling of the emission samples taken during a dioxin stack
test was alleged following the discovery that the test samples were taken
by a company that is a subsidiary of the incineration contractor. EPA
maintains that the incinerator operator followed all required procedures
for testing the samples. EPA has no regulation that prohibits the
incineration contractor or one of its subsidiaries from taking, transporting,
or analyzing the test samples. In addition, the time taken to deliver the
samples to the laboratory was questioned—8 days from the time the
samples left the site until they arrived at the laboratory. According to EPA

 EPA is also responsible for ensuring that the operating parameters are in compliance with the
emission levels specified by the RCRA permit.

Page 21                                                               GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund
Appendix I
Three Case Studies

officials, the samples are stable, making the time taken to get them to the
laboratory unimportant. State officials reviewed the testing and
determined that the results were valid. However, in December 1996, the
EPA Ombudsman issued a report on the allegations and recommended that
a new stack test be conducted to ensure public confidence in the cleanup.
EPA agreed to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendation.

Page 22                                             GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund
Appendix II

Major Contributors to This Report

               James F. Donaghy, Assistant Director
               Jacqueline M. Garza, Staff Evaluator
               Richard P. Johnson, Attorney Adviser
               William H. Roach, Jr., Senior Evaluator
               Paul J. Schmidt, Senior Evaluator
               Magdalena A. Slowik, Intern
               Edward E. Young, Jr., Senior Evaluator

(160357)       Page 23                                   GAO/RCED-97-43 Superfund
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