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HAZARDOUS AND TOXIC WASTE DISPOSAL
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 28, 1979
U.S. SENATE, COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS, SUBCOMMITTEES ON ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION
AND RESOURCE PROTECTION,
Washington, D.C. The subcommittee met at 9:35 a.m., pursuant to call, in room 4200, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Hon. John C. Culver presiding.
Present: Senators Culver, Muskie, Bentsen, Stafford, and Chafee.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN C. CULVER, U.S. SENATOR
FROM THE STATE OF IOWA
I am pleased to welcome you this morning to the first of 2 days of hearings on hazardous and toxic wastes to be conducted jointly by the Subcommittee on Resource Protection and the Subcommittee on Environmental Pollution. These hearings are the first in a series over the next few months examining the serious and alarming problems that have developed because we, as a nation, have for too long paid little attention to the generation, distribution, and disposal of toxic and hazardous materials.
We now face the formidable task of trying to correct past errors. Some of these errors, as we will learn, cannot be corrected: The damage to human life and to the environment is in some instances irreversible.
I am reminded of the statement by the philosopher George Santayana who said that those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. I would paraphrase that, however, to say a society that ignores the environmental and health effects of its chemical wastes is doomed to pay an enormous premium later.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, passed by Congress in 1976, requires that future hazardous wastes be contained more safely and effectively. There are, however, several major gaps in that act, largely because there was little recognition at that time of the significant number of abandoned disposal sites which contain hazardous and toxic substances. Now, every week we read about chilling new examples of human suffering and environmental degradation resulting from inadequate disposal practices.
In my own State of Iowa, chemical waste leaking from one dump site spews hundreds of pounds of hazardous waste daily—including arsenic and benzene derivatives-into the Cedar River. Traces of some related chemicals have now been detected in the drinking
water of a city 140 miles downstream. The price tag to clean up this one site near Charles City may be several million dollars. However, if the waste spreads into the Cedar Valley Acquifer, this principal water supply for 330,000 Iowans—more than 10 percent of the State's population-would be contaminated. This is a health problem of the first magnitude which we cannot ignore.
We will hear today from people who have been directly and personally affected by several such abandoned dumps. In addition, we will receive testimony from scientific and medical experts on the long-term consequences of these environmental catastrophes. And, finally, officials from the Environmental Protection Agency will provide their perspective on the scope of the problem nationally.
In later hearings, the committee will consider a series of legislative proposals, including the establishment of a fund to provide some type of permanent containment or disposal for wastes in the abandoned sites. During this effort I look forward to working closely with Senator Randolph, the distinguished chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, Senator Muskie, the chairman of the Environmental Pollution Subcommittee, and Senator Chafee and other members of the Resource Protection Subcommittee. And, of course, the ranking committee member on the full committee, Senator Stafford.
I look forward this morning to the testimony of our witnesses. We thank them for taking the time to join us, and for their willingness to share their experiences with the subcommittees.
I would like, at this time, to enter Senator Randolph's statement into the record.
[The statement referred to follows:)
STATEMENT OF HON. JENNINGS RANDOLPH, U.S. SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF
WEST VIRGINIA Mr. Chairman, management and disposal of hazardous wastes and toxic substances may very well be one of the most pressing issues confronting the Congress
Certainly it will be among the most significant where public health and environmental factors are concerned-a fact already evident from the nature of emerging problems in those areas.
The subject clearly warrants immediate attention and the type of high priority you have assigned it in the joint hearings of the Environmental Pollution and Resource Protection subcommittees.
You are to be commended for your assessment of its importance and for your discernment in selecting witnesses qualified to focus on the situation from a wide variety of viewpoints.
They can contribute much to our understanding of the nature and scope of the problem with which we will be dealing. I look forward, as I am sure all of us do, with much interest and anticipation to their testimony.
It is not over-stating the case to suggest that the dimensions of the dilemma are awesome and that its implications are vast and far-reaching.
As I envirsion the task before us, we must device new and much more effective ways to protect health and safety in the storage, transportation, treatment and disposal of toxics and hazardous materials.
We must, I am convinced, also develop a system for compensating those who incur cleanup costs, loss or damage resulting from release by others of such materials in dangerous form or quality into the environment.
Those are clear-cut goals. Their attainment, however, will be a very formidable task. Yet it is one that we cannot shrug off or ignore.
I will cite few statistics to indicate what that will involve.
Better controls must be established for an estimated 275,000 generators of hazardous wastes, about 90 percent of whose output is now being disposed of in ways falling short of Federal standards.
Between 35 million and 50 million metric tons of industrial waste produced each year is now considered hazardous, with the total increasing at about three percent a year.
Present estimates, about which we may be hearing more in the next two days, are that hazardous waste may be improperly buried in at least 1,200 sites around the country. There could be more. As you may already know, the EPA thinks it may take as much as $22 billion to clean up those already in their projection.
Obviously, it will require either amendment of existing legislation or development of a new management and disposal control package to deal with these and related conditions.
These hearings are a starting point for your deliberations on the sound course to follow.
Regardless of what course is followed, however, I suggest that it should address at least three basic goals.
Top priority must be assigned to devising procedures for cleaning up inactive or abandoned disposal sites, with recovery from former users or other responsible parties where identifiable.
I believe, too, that we must consider a funding mechanism based on contributions of generators, perhaps along the lines of the oil spill liability and compensation bill proposed in the Senate last year. We may be able to avoid sporadic, inadequate and after-the-fact responses to separate spill and damage situations and instead make advance preparations for orderly handling and effective remedies in cases of this type.
Finally, I suggest the need for more effective provisions for siting of approved hazardous waste disposal facilities with maximum exercise of State jurisdiction and incentives. We may also want to consider prohibiting generation or interstate transport of such waste or associated products where a State has not provided adequate waste management capacity within its own borders or by agreement with an adjoining State. An exception could be made where an affected industry had made its own arrangement for adequate and safe disposal.
Such provisions would be fully consistent with other objectives of the solid waste program and would, I believe, offer the best prospect of success.
These aims are ambitious, certainly, and will require full partnership and maximum consultation between Congress and industry if they are to be achieved in a practical and effective way. The basic principle will be the ultimate responsibility of the generator of hazardous wastes for their acceptable disposal.
That is the challenge and the obligation we face in fashioning any new legislation to address the hazardous and toxic management and disposal issue. We must not settle for less.
Senator CULVER. I wonder at this time if Mr. James Clark would come forward. But before he does that, I wonder if you, Senator Chafee, or you Senator Stafford, have a statement.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. ROBERT T. STAFFORD, U.S.
SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF VERMONT Senator STAFFORD. I have a short statement, Mr. Chairman. It is important to emphasize, I think, at the outset that these hearings deal with more than just the problem of abandoned hazardous waste sites. The orphaned site problem is important, and it is justly receiving a great deal of attentione. Not only are water supplies being contaminated, but untold numbers of innocent persons are exposed to extremely toxic and hazardous chemicals. Some places, such as Love Canal, have become environmental ghettos. But these hearings are to inquire into the universal problems caused by the release of toxics into the environment.
If these hearings were to deal only with the Love Canal or Toone, Tenn., we would be neglecting the radium sites in Denver. And if we were to deal with the Denver sites as well, we would still be neglecting PCB's in the Hudson River and PBB's in Michigan. If we restrict ourselves just to the waste, we will leave a large gap because in the chemical business one man's meat is literally another man's poison. Waste from one company is feedstock to another. What we must explore is the entirety of how and why toxics are entering the environment, whether they are injuring people, and if so, how. Then we must decide whether there should be a scheme to compensate victims, and if so, for what injuries. Ultimately the committee may decide that a legislative solution should be restricted just to the abandoned site problem or that a fund should pay only for cleaning up the Love Canal. But in the beginning, at least, we must take a broad view, not a restricted one.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. EDMUND S. MUSKIE, U.S.
SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF MAINE Senator MUSKIE. It is a very brief statement, Mr. Chairman.
I am sure that all that needs to be said has been said, but that has never prohibited Senators from saying more.
I would just like to say this, that I approach these hearings with a sense of urgency as well as a sense of hope.
We have a sense of urgency because the chemical horror stories across the Nation will not go away and, in their path, hazardous chemicals continue to seep into the environment with no parties clearly held responsible.
We have a sense of hope because this committee is resolved to address those problems.
Last week Senator Culver and his subcommittee held oversight hearings on the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and its solid waste regulations.
Today and tomorrow we seek more information on the problems of dangerous chemicals and hazardous waste which were not addressed in the solid waste regulations.
I commend Senator Culver for his commitment and interest in this very important subject. It seems to me we have three clear tasks.
First. We must begin the difficult chore of identifying and cleaning up the inactive or abandoned disposal sites in this country.
Second. We need to discuss the ramifications of a fund, based on contributions from the generators of hazardous waste, to provide compensation and liability so we may have an effective and orderly mechanism through which to resolve chemical catastrophes.
Third. We must begin to address the great difficulty in siting approved disposal facilities.
The problems we will explore in the next 2 days are not regional problems. The potential for disaster exists in every region and every State.
Today, we will hear from witnesses who have had personal contact or involvement with incidents involving hazardous chemicals in four States. Their testimony will be important. We need to know the scope of the personal suffering, the scope of economic hardships, and the personal loss which has been experienced, so we may determine how broad the legislative proposals should be. We also