by Donald Sutherland
(ENS) WASHINGTON --
it is not a secret, but nobody seems to acknowledge
that 60 percent of America's liquid hazardous waste is injected underground where it can contaminate
drinking water supplies.
A fact sheet issued by the University of South Florida says that nine billion gallons a year, about 60 percent of all liquid hazardous wastes that are land disposed, are injected into deep wells. The balance of the waste is either treated and released to the biosphere or incinerated.
This is a problem for utilities who must provide the public with safe drinking water. Regulations passed in 1996 require utilities to tell their customers about all sources of potential pollution of their drinking water.
But in some states the utilities are not informing their customers that hazardous waste injections are contaminating the drinking water, because a permitted grace period allows non-reporting before 2002.
On this, the 25th anniversary of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) hazardous waste underground injection control program and also of the Safe Drinking Water Act, industry tensions are rising over the coexistence of these two programs.
"Under the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act utilities don't have to report waste water violations," says Jack Sullivan, deputy executive director for government affairs of the American Water Works Association. This nonprofit organization represents 56,000 members, 200,000 public water systems and over 4,000 utilities serving 85 percent of people living in the U.S. and Canada.
"The EPA is duty bound under law to enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act, but since the EPA initiated permitting of Florida's Class 1 underground injection control program it raises the question -- did they violate their own laws," asks Sullivan.
The majority of these injection wells are located in Texas, Florida, and Louisiana. "The Safe Drinking Water Act violations from Class 1 UIC [underground injection control] wells contaminating underground sources of drinking water in Dade County, Florida are not uncommon conditions," says Sullivan.
"Overall, the EPA's underground injection control program needs a lot of looking into because there is some really toxic stuff going down these wells!" he warns.
of the companies using these hazardous waste injection wells are
Fortune 500 companies. DuPont alone injects over 1.5 billion gallons of
hazardous waste per year.
The Chemical Manufactures Association (CMA) believes the current EPA Class 1 UIC program is not a threat to underground sources of drinking water.
"We have 18 companies which own and operate 80 Class 1 UIC wells, and for these companies it is their sole source of disposal for hazardous waste," says David Mentall, manager of environmental issues and UIC staff executive for the Chemical Manufactures Association.
The firms include B.P.Amoco, Monsanto, Solutia, Cytec, and DuPont, which has the largest number of Class 1 UIC wells according to Mentall.
"We have no significant concerns from a regulatory standpoint, but there are a number of civil action suits still pending which we are watching very closely because they could set an astronomical monetary effect precedent," he says. One lawsuit involving DuPont is in Louisiana, and two other cases are before the courts in Texas.
But not all CMA members use Class 1 underground injection control wells.
"Back in the 1970s management did not believe Class 1 UIC wells for hazardous waste was right, and they developed a corporate policy against them," says Mike Rio, global director for environment, health & safety for operations at Dow Chemical.
"Our last hazardous Class 1 UIC well was closed in the early eighties, and we are now reliant on incineration, recycling, and our waste reduction program," he says.
For more than 18 years the not-for-profit Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation (LEAF) has legally challenged Class 1 UIC wells in the United States. The foundation maintains that underground injection of hazardous waste does not lend itself to pollution prevention.
"The EPA's UIC program is too easy a remedy when you have a disposal method putting a hazardous waste problem out of sight and out of mind," says Cynthia Valencic, vice president for programs at LEAF.
"We believe industry and municipalities should be looking for ways to reduce production incorporating closed loop systems and recycling as an alternative for Class 1 UIC waste disposal," she says.
officials and environmentalists alike admit the EPA's underground injection control program is
weakly enforced and poorly monitored.
"In many cases there isn't much monitoring of UIC wells for violations except where a problem potential is expected as in Florida)," says Bruce Kobelski, underground injection control team leader for the EPA Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.
A major stumbling block to handling violations is a jurisdictional problem -- federal versus state authority. "There are roughly 600 Class 1 hazardous waste wells in the U.S., but we at the EPA can't ban violating facilities because permits are in most cases a regional state function," says Kobelski.
"The Safe Drinking Water Act amendments in 1986 and 1996 have generated stricter Right-to-Know Provisions driving stricter reporting requirements, and we have a concern for all potential pollution of source drinking water supplies," explains Sullivan of the American Water Works Association.
Corporations are required to report to the public specific Class 1 injection releases and inventory under federal Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) regulations.
"But, there is nothing in TRI which requires monitoring of the wells," says Paul Orum, coordinator of the not-for-profit Working Group on Community Right to Know.
"The Chemical Manufactures Association would like to see status quo for UIC regulations, but when you have a Class 1 UIC well its very easy to dump everything down there and create a disincentive to pollution prevention," he says.
September 20, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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