- WASHINGTON, DC (ENS)
- Maybe 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
- 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 (AWWA). 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,"
- "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.
- Most 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
- "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
- "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
- "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
- Regulatory officials and environmentalists alike admit
the EPA's underground injection control program is weakly enforced and
- "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,"
- "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
- "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.