US toxic-waste laws called weak

While Congress rushes to investigate EPA's hazardous-waste cleanup efforts, a just-released report has concluded that US laws on hazardous waste are themselves inadequate, Monitor correspondent Peter Grier reports.

The report, produced by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment after a three-year study, says consistent, nationwide protection against toxic substances is not assured, because federal regulations don't ''effectively detect, prevent, or control hazardous releases, especially over the longer term.''

We don't really know enough about how much hazardous waste is produced in the United States every year, or how dangerous that waste is, the report says. In addition, gaps in the law allow several hundred million tons of toxic waste annually to escape control of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Up to 80 percent of hazardous waste that is regulated ends up in land dumps, says the report, a risky disposal method at best which may just be postponing cleanup costs further into the future.

''Superfund'' pays for cleanup at old hazardous-waste dump sites. The report says some progress is being made toward cleaning up the worst of these sites, but there will still be many dirty dumps needing attention when Superfund expires in 1985. The EPA won't even be able to finish scrubbing up the 418 sites on its priority list. In total, over 15,000 uncontrolled hazardous-waste dumps have now been identified.

Possible solutions suggested by the report include simple extension of federal controls, federal fees on waste generators, and a system of classifying wastes and dump sites by their degree of hazard.

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