New Law to Control Hazardous Wastes, End Open Dumping, Promote Conservation of Resources

[EPA press release - December 13, 1976]

Under a new law enacted October 21, 1976, the handling and disposal of hazardous wastes, which are generated mainly by industry, will come under Federal/State regulation. The law also requires that open dumping of all solid wastes be brought to an end throughout the country by 1983.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (P.L. 94-580) also calls for research, demonstrations, studies, training, information dissemination, and public participation activities to enlarge the base of knowledge and public involvement necessary for developing strong State and local programs.

Partly as a result of pollution controls that keep wastes out of the air and water, growing amounts of solid wastes are being generated and deposited on the land. Disposal on land has gone largely uncontrolled, resulting in numerous instances of serious effects on human health and environmental quality. The contamination of groundwaters by substances leaching from disposal sites is a primary concern. The most urgent objective of the new law is to prevent this and other environmental effects of improper disposal.

In signing the law, President Ford cited the special threat in hazardous waste disposal, calling it "one of the highest priority environmental problems confronting the Nation." Under the law, EPA is required to identify and publish a list of hazardous wastes within 18 months and to set standards for the handling, transportation, and ultimate disposal of these wastes. Under guidelines to be developed by EPA, States are to establish regulatory programs; if States fail to do so, EPA regulations will apply.

Civil and criminal penalties are established for violation--up to $25,000 per day of noncompliance, a year in prison, or both.

To implement the open dumping prohibition, EPA is directed to establish criteria for identifying open dumps and for identifying sanitary landfills no later than October 1977, and the agency will conduct a national inventory of al open dumps within the 12 months that follow. Special grant assistance to help meet new requirements for land disposal facilities will be available for rural communities.

Other major provisions of the new law include:

  • A requirement that all Federal procurement agencies procure items composed of the maximum allowable percentage of recycled materials.

  • A requirement that public participation must be promoted in the development of all Federal and State regulations, guidelines, information, and programs under the act.

  • Permission for citizens to bring suits to obtain compliance with the law.

  • Requirement of a number of special studies, in areas such as sewage sludge management, low-technology means of resource recovery, measures to reduce the generation of waste, waste collection practices, management of mining and agricultural wastes, and economic incentives to promote recycling and waste reduction.