oversight

Superfund Program: Activities of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Department of Justice

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-03-18.

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

                 United States General Accounting Office

GAO              Report to Congressional Requesters




March 1999
                 SUPERFUND
                 PROGRAM
                 Activities of the
                 Agency for Toxic
                 Substances and
                 Disease Registry and
                 Department of Justice




GAO/RCED-99-85
      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      Resources, Community, and
      Economic Development Division

      B-281999

      March 18, 1999

      The Honorable John H. Chafee
      Chairman, Committee on Environment
        and Public Works
      United States Senate

      The Honorable Robert C. Smith
      Chairman, Subcommittee on Superfund,
        Waste Control, and Risk Assessment
      Committee on Environment and Public Works
      United States Senate

      The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and
      Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) created the Superfund program to clean up
      the nation’s most hazardous waste sites. While the Environmental
      Protection Agency (EPA) has primary responsibility for administering the
      Superfund program, other federal agencies also play important roles.
      These include the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for
      Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the Department of
      Justice (Justice).

      CERCLA authorized the establishment of the Agency for Toxic Substances
      and Disease Registry to implement its provisions relating primarily to
      public health. The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of
      1986 expanded the agency’s health-related responsibilities to require,
      among other things, that it conduct a public health assessment at each site
      proposed for or on the National Priorities List. Justice is responsible for
      conducting all Superfund litigation involving the cleanup of hazardous
      waste sites. EPA reimburses both of these agencies for their
      Superfund-related costs.

      You asked us to evaluate the use of Superfund resources by the Agency for
      Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and Justice. Specifically, we
      examined (1) the amount and purpose of Superfund money provided to
      the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry for fiscal years 1996
      and 1997 and the processes this agency follows to ensure that Superfund
      funds are used for authorized activities, (2) the ways in which EPA uses the
      Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s health consultations
      and assessments in making cleanup decisions for Superfund sites, and
      (3) the amount and purpose of Superfund money provided to Justice in




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                   fiscal years 1996 and 1997, and the processes Justice follows to ensure that
                   Superfund funds are used for authorized purposes.


                   EPA provided the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry with
Results in Brief   about $59 million in Superfund funds in fiscal year 1996 and $64 million in
                   fiscal year 1997. These funds were used to conduct health assessments at
                   Superfund sites, provide consultations on health issues unique to a site,
                   and research the health effects of hazardous substances. The Department
                   of Health and Human Services’ Inspector General annually audits the use
                   of these funds and has reported that these resources were generally used
                   in accordance with applicable requirements.

                   EPA regional officials told us that many of the Agency for Toxic Substances
                   and Disease Registry’s products and services were useful in EPA’s efforts to
                   clean up hazardous waste sites, especially the consultations that EPA
                   requests to address unique health concerns at sites, such as sampling
                   surface and groundwater for toxic chemicals, and other services, such as
                   attending public meetings and conducting blood tests. However, these
                   officials also said that the health assessments had little or no impact on
                   EPA’s cleanup decisions because they were not issued when needed and
                   were not conclusive about the health effects of Superfund sites. Superfund
                   legislation requires the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
                   to conduct health assessments at all sites proposed or listed on the
                   nation’s list of the worst hazardous waste sites. Recognizing the problems
                   with assessments, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
                   undertook an initiative to address these concerns. Although EPA and
                   Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry officials believe that
                   the initiative has resolved some of the problems, they questioned the
                   continuing need for the legislative requirement that full health
                   assessments be prepared for all Superfund sites. They also believed that
                   the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s resources could
                   be used for consultations or other services that better meet EPA’s and other
                   users’ needs.

                   EPA  provided Justice with about $32 million in fiscal year 1996 and about
                   $30 million in fiscal year 1997 to represent the federal government in
                   litigation involving the cleanup of hazardous waste sites. Justice’s actions
                   included negotiating with responsible parties to compel the cleanup of
                   Superfund sites and recovering the federal government’s costs when EPA
                   cleans up sites. Justice’s annual Inspector General audits have found no
                   major problems in Justice’s use of Superfund resources during the 1990s.



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                    Over the last several years, the Congress has provided EPA with an average
Background          of about $1.5 billion annually for the Superfund program. The nation’s
                    worst hazardous waste sites, those on EPA’s National Priorities List,
                    generally undergo long-term comprehensive cleanup actions, called
                    remedial actions. A remedial action starts with a detailed study of the
                    contamination, including assessing the risks to the environment and
                    human health posed by a site. After this, alternative cleanup methods are
                    reviewed, and EPA, or the parties responsible for the contaminated site,
                    design and conduct the cleanup. The Superfund program also addresses
                    immediate health threats from hazardous substances by actions such as
                    removing the hazardous waste. These shorter-term measures are referred
                    to as removal actions. EPA has the authority to compel parties responsible
                    for the contaminated site to perform the cleanup, or it may pay for the
                    cleanup and attempt to recover the costs. EPA’s cleanup and enforcement
                    activities are financed through a trust fund, commonly called the
                    Superfund.


                    EPA provided ATSDR with $59 million in fiscal year 1996 and $64 million in
ATSDR’s Superfund   fiscal year 1997 for products and services that were related to the human
Activities          health effects of exposure to the hazardous substances at hazardous waste
                    sites. Recent audits performed by the Department of Health and Human
                    Services’ Inspector General showed that ATSDR is generally complying with
                    applicable laws, regulations, and other requirements in its spending of
                    Superfund money.

                    Many of ATSDR’s products and services are useful to EPA in its efforts to
                    clean up hazardous waste sites, according to EPA regional officials. These
                    include ATSDR’s (1) consultations, which are typically issue-specific,
                    short-term efforts addressing unique health issues at sites;
                    (2) participation at public meetings about sites; and (3) collection and
                    analysis of blood samples from residents near sites. However, EPA officials
                    said that ATSDR’s health assessments, which are typically long-term,
                    extensive efforts, generally had little or no impact on EPA’s cleanup
                    decisions because they duplicated or were inconsistent with EPA’s
                    information, were not issued when EPA needed them, and did not take
                    definitive positions about the health effects of hazardous waste sites.
                    Recognizing the need to improve its health assessment process, ATSDR
                    began a health assessment enhancement initiative in 1994, which EPA
                    officials believe has addressed several of their concerns. However, both
                    agencies believe that the requirement that ATSDR conduct a full health




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                                assessment at all Superfund sites may not make the best use of ATSDR’s
                                funds.


ATSDR Uses Superfund            To carry out its responsibilities, ATSDR is organized into the following four
Funds for a Variety of          divisions:
Health-Related Activities
                            •   The Division of Health Assessments and Consultations. This division
                                prepares health assessments and/or consultations for individual hazardous
                                waste sites. To complete an assessment, ATSDR reviews available
                                information about the (1) nature and extent of contamination, (2) ways in
                                which humans are exposed to the contamination, (3) size and
                                susceptibility of the community exposed, (4) exposure limits for the
                                substances involved, and (5) diseases associated with the observed levels
                                of exposure. This division also performs health consultations, which are
                                usually requested by EPA or the communities near waste sites and are more
                                focused than health assessments. Consultations address specific health
                                issues at sites and are provided on an as-needed basis throughout the
                                cleanup process.
                            •   The Division of Toxicology. This division prepares and updates the
                                toxicology profiles of the 275 hazardous substances on the CERCLA Priority
                                List of Hazardous Substances. These profiles interpret available
                                toxicological and epidemiological information in order to identify
                                exposure levels that are harmful to humans. According to ATSDR, state and
                                local health agencies, as well as EPA, use the profiles to estimate the
                                potential human health risks that may result from exposure to hazardous
                                substances.
                            •   The Division of Health Studies. This division performs and supports
                                health studies that evaluate the relationship between exposure to a
                                hazardous substance and adverse health effects. For example, one study
                                looked at the long-term effect of lead exposure on the health of women
                                who worked in a lead smelter facility. The division also maintains a
                                national registry of persons exposed to hazardous substances as an aid in
                                assessing the long-term health consequences of this exposure.
                            •   The Division of Health Education and Promotions. This division
                                conducts and supports health education activities, such as working at
                                specific sites to develop and promote strategies to mitigate the health
                                impacts of exposure to hazardous substances at specific Superfund sites.
                                For example, ATSDR works with the medical professionals near hazardous
                                waste sites to improve their ability to identify, evaluate, and treat persons
                                who have been exposed to the site’s hazardous substances. ATSDR often




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                                          works with federal, state, and local health agencies to develop and
                                          implement these public health activities.

                                          In addition, ATSDR uses grantees and contractors to perform many of its
                                          Superfund activities. ATSDR has cooperative agreements with 23 state
                                          health agencies, referred to as Cooperative Agreement States, that it uses
                                          to address health-related issues at specific sites. Approximately 60 percent
                                          of ATSDR’s Superfund obligations for fiscal years 1996 and 1997 were for
                                          cooperative agreements, interagency agreements, and contracts.

                                          ATSDR reports its Superfund obligations by budget activities that are closely
                                          related to the four divisions described above. ATSDR’s Superfund
                                          obligations by budget activity for fiscal years 1996 and 1997 are shown in
                                          table 1.

Table 1: ATSDR’s Superfund
Obligations, by Budget Activity, Fiscal   Dollars in millions
Years 1996 and 1997                                                            Fiscal year 1996        Fiscal year 1997
                                                                                         Percent of               Percent of
                                                                                              total                    total
                                          Budget activity                      Dollars     funding      Dollars     funding
                                          Public health assessments, health
                                          consultations, and site-specific
                                          health activities                      $22.4         38.0       $25.2         39.4
                                          Scientific assessment, research,
                                          and information dissemination           16.0         27.1        13.9         21.7
                                          Surveillance/ epidemiologic/health
                                          studies and registries                  14.3         24.2        13.8         21.6
                                          Health education and promotion           6.3         10.7        11.1         17.3
                                          Total                                  $59.0       100.0        $64.0       100.0

                                          Audits performed by the Department of Health and Human Services’
                                          Inspector General for fiscal years 1994 through 1997 found that ATSDR
                                          generally administered Superfund funds in accordance with the federal
                                          government’s applicable laws, regulations, and other requirements.


                                          EPA regional officials told us that many of ATSDR’s products and services
EPA’s Use of ATSDR’s                      were useful in EPA’s efforts to clean up hazardous waste sites, especially
Health Consultations,                     the consultations that EPA requests to address unique health concerns at
Health Assessments,                       sites and other services, such as attending public meetings and conducting
                                          blood tests. However, these officials also said that ATSDR’s health
and Other Services                        assessments had little or no impact on EPA’s cleanup decisions because,




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                          among other things, they were not issued when needed and were not
                          conclusive about the health effects of Superfund sites. Recognizing the
                          problems with assessments, ATSDR undertook an initiative to address these
                          concerns. Although they believe that the initiative has resolved some of
                          the problems, EPA and ATSDR officials questioned the continuing need for
                          the legislative requirement that full health assessments be prepared for all
                          Superfund sites.


EPA Views Health          Superfund officials in EPA’s regional offices found ATSDR’s health
Consultations and Other   consultations very helpful in making cleanup decisions. ATSDR’s
Services as Useful        consultations range from a one-day, one-page summary of the latest
                          research on a certain chemical to months of work by a team of ATSDR
                          officials evaluating a specific health hazard at a site. EPA officials noted
                          that they relied on ATSDR to provide up-to-date expertise on the health
                          effects of many chemicals—expertise that some EPA regions may not have.

                          Because consultations fill data gaps and ATSDR usually responds quickly,
                          EPA  regional officials reported that almost all consultations were useful.
                          They said that the extent to which they used ATSDR’s consultations
                          depended on the types of sites and the staff’s capabilities in the regions.
                          Regions may have ATSDR advise on the type of action needed to protect
                          human health or ways to implement that action. ATSDR also helps
                          determine (1) what the appropriate cleanup levels are for certain
                          chemicals and (2) whether site contamination is the cause for nearby
                          residents’ health problems. It may also help educate the public about a
                          site’s hazards. In emergency situations, such as train wrecks and chemical
                          plant accidents, some officials said they depend heavily on a quick
                          response from ATSDR on a number of issues. Emergencies often involve
                          chemicals that EPA is less familiar with, and officials need ATSDR’s advice
                          on the toxicity of the chemicals, their possible effect on human health, the
                          symptoms doctors might see in local residents, and the treatment of those
                          symptoms.

                          EPA regional officials also spoke highly of other types of ATSDR’s assistance,
                          such as its participation in public meetings that EPA conducts at various
                          stages of the hazardous waste cleanup process. Because ATSDR’s
                          representatives have medical expertise, the public often considers them
                          more credible than EPA on health issues. EPA regional officials also rely on
                          ATSDR to design blood tests for residents living near sites. For example, at
                          one site, lead screening for area children demonstrated that their blood
                          levels of lead were 20 to 30 times higher than the state average. ATSDR also



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                            worked with state and local health agencies to educate the public on how
                            to prevent the health hazards of lead. Some EPA regional officials said that
                            they would like ATSDR to expand these types of assistance at sites that have
                            effects on human health and at those where the issue of health effects is
                            controversial.


EPA Questions the Utility   In 1991, we reported that ATSDR’s health assessments generally had not
of Health Assessments       been useful to EPA and others because the assessments duplicated EPA’s
                            own information, did not add to EPA’s own analysis of site risks, and
                            recommended actions that EPA had already planned.1 We also reported that
                            EPA officials found ATSDR’s health consultations useful. During our current
                            work, we found that these observations have not materially changed. Most
                            EPA regional officials responsible for managing the cleanup of Superfund
                            sites continue to question the utility of ATSDR’s health assessments. EPA
                            regional officials said that while some health assessments have been
                            useful to EPA, most had little or no impact on its cleanup decisions because
                            they (1) duplicated or were inconsistent with EPA’s own health-related
                            information, (2) were not issued when EPA needed them, and (3) did not
                            take definitive positions about the health effects of hazardous waste sites.

                            Several regional officials stated that ATSDR’s health assessments often
                            included health information that duplicated the information that EPA
                            already had available. In other instances, regional officials said that the
                            health assessment information was inconsistent with the information that
                            EPA had already developed about the health effects of Superfund sites, thus
                            requiring EPA and ATSDR to reconcile the differences. For example,
                            according to officials in EPA’s regional office in New York City, ATSDR’s
                            health assessments were generally not useful because they duplicated the
                            health-related information that EPA already had in its own risk
                            assessments. They also said that inconsistencies between EPA’s risk
                            assessment and ATSDR’s health assessment can surprise and confuse the
                            public if the health assessment is prepared in a vacuum rather than in
                            cooperation with EPA.

                            The timing of ATSDR’s health assessments also limited their usefulness to
                            EPA in making cleanup decisions. According to EPA regional officials,
                            ATSDR’s health assessments were often completed after EPA had decided on
                            the appropriate cleanup measures for a site. In other instances, ATSDR
                            sometimes issued health assessments before EPA needed the information;

                            1
                              Superfund: Public Health Assessments Incomplete and of Questionable Value (GAO/RCED-91-178,
                            Aug. 1, 1991).



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                           in these cases as well, the health information in the assessments was not
                           useful to EPA. For example, officials in EPA’s regional office in Seattle
                           stated that sometimes ATSDR issued assessments too early, without
                           complete information, and therefore reached a conclusion about a site’s
                           adverse health effects that was different from the conclusion that it and
                           EPA might have reached with more complete information.


                           In addition, according to EPA regional officials, some health assessments
                           were not definitive enough in quantifying or qualifying the adverse health
                           effects of hazardous waste sites, and other assessments did not have
                           enough health information for EPA to draw conclusions about the health
                           effects caused by a site. For example, according to officials in EPA’s
                           regional office in New York City, some health assessments were not useful
                           because they were inconclusive about the health risks from exposure to
                           hazardous substances. According to these officials, it would have been
                           better not to issue health assessments than to have inconclusive
                           information. According to officials in EPA’s regional office in San
                           Francisco, ATSDR seldom had enough information in the health
                           assessments to serve as the basis for EPA’s decisions about cleaning up
                           sites. Furthermore, according to officials in EPA’s regional office in
                           Chicago, the health assessments tended to oversimplify the issues because
                           the information was written to be understandable for all audiences,
                           including the general public, and therefore the information was not
                           specific enough to be useful to EPA.

                           EPA officials in most EPA regional offices noted that, because of the
                           problems with timeliness, completeness and other concerns about ATSDR’s
                           health assessments, the health information in the assessments often had
                           little or no effect on EPA’s final cleanup decisions for hazardous waste
                           sites. For example, officials in EPA’s regional office in Denver believed that
                           the health assessments did not add anything to the information the region
                           already had about the sites. Even though health assessments may not be
                           used directly in EPA’s cleanup decisions, some regional officials said that
                           the information was useful because it provided additional support for the
                           cleanup decisions that EPA had already made at some hazardous waste
                           sites.


ATSDR Recognizes the       EPA regional and ATSDR officials attributed the problems with health
Need to Amend the Health   assessments largely to inadequate communication between ATSDR and EPA
Assessment Process         and the statutory requirement for preparing full health assessments for all
                           sites listed or proposed for listing on EPA’ s National Priorities List. ATSDR



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officials also said that increased flexibility would allow them to provide
more focused or customized products, such as health consultations, that
may be more appropriate for a given site.

In December 1994, ATSDR began an effort—known as the Health
Assessment Enhancement Initiative—to revise its health assessment
process and better integrate it into EPA’s Superfund process. The initiative
was implemented as a pilot program at 24 hazardous waste sites. One of
the initiative’s key features was the use of site teams—composed of staff
from ATSDR and state health agencies—and the adoption of a
customer-oriented, phased approach for the health assessment process.
The teams focused their efforts on the specific circumstances at each
waste site and provided health-related products and services when EPA and
other stakeholders needed them rather waiting to issue a final health
assessment. The site teams preferred health consultations to assessments
because they considered consultations more focused, shorter, and more
responsive to EPA’s and other stakeholders’ needs. In contrast, many site
teams considered health assessments to be bulky, inflexible, and complex,
producing information that did not respond to many of the stakeholders’
needs in a timely manner.

EPA  regional officials generally told us that they had a positive impression
of the health-related products and services provided under the initiative,
such as consultations, blood testing, and participation at public meetings.
For example, officials in EPA’s regional office in Philadelphia believed that
the initiative had increased ATSDR’s level of involvement at hazardous
waste sites by making ATSDR a full partner in governmental efforts to
assess health hazards and address community concerns. Several other
regions stated that ATSDR was more timely and responsive in addressing
site-specific health issues. EPA regional officials also said that under the
initiative, communication between ATSDR and EPA officials had improved.
Nevertheless, most regional officials stated that if ATSDR had the flexibility
to prepare other health-related products and services in lieu of
assessments, EPA’s needs would be better met. Many of the EPA officials we
interviewed believed that ATSDR should have the option of preparing full
health assessments only when they are needed rather than requiring them
for each site.

According to its draft report, ATSDR has changed the health assessment
process as a result of the initiative to include (1) requiring site teams for
all sites and (2) keeping EPA, the public, and other stakeholders involved in




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                      and informed about the site teams’ activities and findings.2 Taken together,
                      the actions resulting from the initiative and EPA’s overall favorable reaction
                      to them indicate that a number of the past shortcomings for the health
                      assessment process are being addressed. Nevertheless, it is doubtful
                      whether the changes made by the initiative will address all of EPA’s
                      concerns about the overall health assessment process—specifically, the
                      statutory requirement that ATSDR prepare health assessments for all
                      Superfund sites.

                      The Acting Assistant Administrator of ATSDR told us it would be beneficial
                      if ATSDR had more flexibility to decide which health-related products and
                      services would best meet EPA’s and other users’ needs for each Superfund
                      site. In fact, in 1998, ATSDR proposed amending CERCLA to allow it more
                      flexibility in designing the appropriate response to individual sites. ATSDR
                      noted that because sites vary in their physical, chemical, and demographic
                      characteristics, other health-related activities—such as health
                      consultations, health education, and health studies—may be more
                      appropriate than health assessments. Furthermore, persons living near a
                      Superfund site would benefit by a more timely and appropriate response
                      than would be feasible with the time required for a health assessment.
                      Finally, the proposal said that increased flexibility would be cost
                      beneficial, potentially reducing the average unit cost of ATSDR’s
                      involvement at individual sites.


                      As the litigator for EPA, Justice conducts work in a wide variety of areas
Justice’s Superfund   associated with the Superfund program, from compelling responsible
Activities            parties to clean up hazardous waste sites to defending EPA in lawsuits
                      concerning EPA’s implementation of the program. Justice received about
                      $32 and $30 million from EPA in fiscal years 1996 and 1997, respectively, to
                      conduct this work. To help ensure that the Superfund funds it receives are
                      used only for authorized Superfund litigation, Justice uses an independent
                      accounting firm to allocate costs to cases and bill EPA. Moreover, CERCLA
                      requires Justice’s Inspector General to audit Justice’s Superfund
                      expenditures annually to determine the adequacy of Justice’s internal
                      controls. These audits have revealed no material problems during the
                      1990s.


Justice Carries Out   EPA begins the enforcement process at hazardous waste sites by
Litigation for EPA    identifying the parties responsible for the contamination and collecting

                      2
                       “Public Health Assessment Enhancement Initiative Close-Out Report” (draft), Agency for Toxic
                      Substances and Disease Registry, Jan. 11, 1999.



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evidence to show that the government has a valid claim against them. EPA
then refers cases to Justice for initiating a lawsuit or negotiating a
settlement. Once a case is referred, EPA attorneys continue to support the
case, but Justice takes the lead in negotiating and settling or litigating the
case.

Justice’s Superfund efforts include three major areas. First, Justice
negotiates with responsible parties about performing cleanups. Justice
attempts to settle the case by having the responsible parties agree to
conduct and/or finance cleanup activities and pay the government’s
cleanup costs. If the negotiation is successful, EPA and the responsible
parties must sign a consent decree—that is, a legal document filed in court
that sets forth the requirements for cleanup and/or payment. Because
these cases often involve many responsible parties and complex technical
issues, they are resource-intensive, consuming a significant percentage of
resources on Justice’s Superfund docket.

Second, when EPA has cleaned up sites because the responsible parties
were unwilling or unable to do so, Justice files suit against the responsible
parties, when practicable, to recover EPA’s cleanup costs. These cases
range from very small cases of emergency removals to very large cases
with many responsible parties. This area of work currently constitutes the
largest number of Superfund cases on Justice’s docket.

Third, to support its attempts to locate responsible parties and establish
liability at hazardous waste sites, EPA has the authority to request financial
or other records from responsible parties. EPA also has the authority to
enter properties to, among other reasons, perform cleanups, inspect
contaminated sites, and obtain pertinent records. Justice handles cases
involving EPA’s exercise of these authorities.

Justice also conducts other types of work for EPA using Superfund
resources. For example, the parties responsible for a contaminated site
may challenge EPA’s decision to list the site on the National Priorities List.
In addition, Justice prosecutes criminal violations of CERCLA, which may
occur when a person fails to notify relevant officials of hazardous
substance releases into the environment. According to Justice officials,
these cases always include additional charges under other statutes, such
as the Clean Water Act. To facilitate reimbursing Justice for its Superfund
work, EPA and Justice annually negotiate an interagency agreement, which
establishes the type of activities EPA expects Justice to perform and an
annual estimated amount of funding for Justice.



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Audits Identify No Material   In fiscal year 1987, Justice initiated a cost accounting system for its use of
Problems With Justice’s       Superfund resources that was developed by an independent certified
Superfund Activities          public accounting firm. The accounting firm developed procedures to
                              ensure that all direct costs are allocated accurately to cases and a system
                              to fairly allocate indirect costs to cases. Since then, Justice has used this
                              accounting system to calculate charges to the Superfund. This accounting
                              system, as well as the costs charged to the Superfund and the
                              requirements of the interagency agreement, have been audited annually by
                              Justice’s Inspector General. Since the early 1990s, Justice has received
                              annual audit reports with no material findings.

                              In the early 1990s, EPA was concerned that Superfund resources were not
                              being used entirely for authorized Superfund activities in cases that
                              included alleged violations under CERCLA and other environmental statutes
                              (called mixed-count cases). At that time, Justice was charging all
                              mixed-count cases entirely to the Superfund. Because of EPA’s concerns,
                              Justice changed its accounting for these cases in 1995. Specifically, when
                              work for the Superfund counts can be separated out from work on the
                              other counts, Justice charges the Superfund only for work done for the
                              Superfund counts. However, when all the counts are factually linked
                              (work for the Superfund counts also supports the non-Superfund counts),
                              Justice charges the entire case to Superfund. Mixed-count cases charged
                              entirely to Superfund totaled $2.3 million in fiscal year 1997, or 8 percent
                              of Justice’s total Superfund resources for the year. EPA and Justice’s
                              Inspector General are satisfied with Justice’s current accounting approach
                              for mixed-count cases and have voiced no further concerns.


                              Concerns about the usefulness of ATSDR’s health assessments have
Conclusions                   persisted for almost a decade. Recognizing these concerns, ATSDR has
                              analyzed its process for conducting health assessments and made several
                              changes that, if properly implemented, should address a number of past
                              concerns. Nevertheless, ATSDR is still required to prepare health
                              assessments for all Superfund sites. Both ATSDR and EPA officials believe
                              that increased flexibility would allow ATSDR to produce alternative
                              products and services, such as health consultations that would be more
                              timely, effective, and cost beneficial in addressing the human health
                              effects related to Superfund sites. We believe that providing ATSDR with
                              greater flexibility would enable it to better use its resources for other
                              health-related products and services, such as health consultations, health
                              testing, and education.




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                    We recommend that the Congress amend the requirement that the Agency
Recommendation to   for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry conduct a detailed health
the Congress        assessment at each site proposed for listing on the National Priorities List
                    in order to provide the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
                    with more flexibility in choosing the appropriate health-related product or
                    service that will best meet EPA’s and other users’ needs.


                    We provided a draft of this report to the Agency for Toxic Substances and
Agency Comments     Disease Registry, EPA, and the Department of Justice for their review and
                    comment. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and EPA
                    both stated that they agree with our recommendation. The Agency for
                    Toxic Substances and Disease Registry also provided additional
                    information regarding its health assessment efforts. See appendixes II and
                    III, respectively, for the text of the Agency for Toxic Substances and
                    Disease Registry’s and EPA’s comments. The Department of Justice stated
                    that it fully concurred with both the description of its program and our
                    overall findings. (See app. IV.)


                    We conducted our review from July 1998 through February 1999 in
                    accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. See
                    appendix I for our detailed scope and methodology.

                    As arranged with your offices, unless you publicly announce its contents
                    earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report until 30 days after the
                    date of this letter. At that time, we will send copies to other appropriate
                    congressional committees, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
                    Registry, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of
                    Justice. We will also make copies available to others upon request.

                    If you have any further questions about this report, please call me at
                    (202) 512-6111. Major contributors to this report are listed in appendix V.




                    Peter F. Guerrero
                    Director, Environmental Protection Issues
                    Page 13                               GAO/RCED-99-85 Superfund Program Activities
Contents



Letter                                                                                              1


Appendix I                                                                                         16
Scope and
Methodology
Appendix II                                                                                        17
Comments From the
Agency for Toxic
Substances and
Disease Registry
Appendix III                                                                                       20
Comments From the
Environmental
Protection Agency
Appendix IV                                                                                        21
Comments From the
Department of Justice
Appendix V                                                                                         22
Major Contributors to
This Report
Table                   Table 1: ATSDR’s Superfund Obligations, by Budget Activity,                 5
                         Fiscal Years 1996 and 1997




                        Abbreviations

                        ATSDR     Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
                        CERCLA    Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation,
                                      and Liability Act of 1980
                        EPA       Environmental Protection Agency


                        Page 14                            GAO/RCED-99-85 Superfund Program Activities
Page 15   GAO/RCED-99-85 Superfund Program Activities
Appendix I

Scope and Methodology


             To determine the amount and purpose of Superfund money provided to
             the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the
             Department of Justice (Justice) for fiscal years 1996 and 1997, we
             reviewed the agencies’ financial statements and summary reports of actual
             expenditures. We also interviewed Justice, ATSDR and Environmental
             Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters officials about the activities that
             Justice and ATSDR performed with Superfund resources and reviewed
             agencies’ annual reports. We were unable to include complete fiscal year
             1998 data because of time lags in the agencies’ reporting of expenditures.

             To determine how EPA uses health assessments and consultations in
             making cleanup decisions, we conducted telephone interviews with
             remedial and removal officials in EPA’s 10 regional offices. We asked these
             officials about, among other things, the usefulness and timeliness of
             assessments and consultations that ATSDR completed for their regions in
             fiscal years 1996 and 1997. We also asked them about the effect of ATSDR’s
             enhancement initiative in their regions. We discussed these same issues
             with the EPA headquarters officials responsible for coordination with ATSDR
             and with ATSDR headquarters officials. In addition to EPA, other users of
             ATSDR’s products and services include the public, such as people who live
             near Superfund sites. We did not obtain information from other users
             about the usefulness of ATSDR’s products and services. We reviewed
             ATSDR’s draft report on the results of the enhancement initiative and
             discussed them with ATSDR and EPA officials.

             To determine the processes in place at Justice and ATSDR to help ensure
             that Superfund funds are used only for authorized activities, we reviewed
             the mandated annual Inspector General audits of Justice’s and ATSDR’s
             Superfund activities. We discussed these reports and the status of any
             corrective actions needed with officials in the Department of Health and
             Human Services and with Justice’s Office of Inspector General. We also
             discussed EPA’s implementation of its interagency agreements with Justice
             and ATSDR with the EPA officials responsible for negotiating and carrying
             out these agreements. Finally, we discussed Justice’s Superfund
             accounting system with representatives of Justice’s independent certified
             public accounting firm.

             We conducted our review from July 1998 through February 1999 in
             accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.




             Page 16                             GAO/RCED-99-85 Superfund Program Activities
Appendix II

Comments From the Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry




              Page 17      GAO/RCED-99-85 Superfund Program Activities
Appendix II
Comments From the Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry




Page 18                              GAO/RCED-99-85 Superfund Program Activities
Appendix II
Comments From the Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry




Page 19                              GAO/RCED-99-85 Superfund Program Activities
Appendix III

Comments From the Environmental
Protection Agency




               Page 20    GAO/RCED-99-85 Superfund Program Activities
Appendix IV

Comments From the Department of Justice




              Page 21      GAO/RCED-99-85 Superfund Program Activities
Appendix V

Major Contributors to This Report


                       Charles Barchok, Assistant Director
Resources,             Joseph L. Turlington, Evaluator-in-Charge
Community, and         Mary Pniewski Marca, Senior Evaluator
Economic               David A. Rogers, Assistant Director
Development Division
                       Richard P. Johnson, Senior Attorney
Office of General
Counsel




(160451)               Page 22                               GAO/RCED-99-85 Superfund Program Activities
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