Stunning report: The U.S. accepts an estimated 90,000 tons a year of hazardous wastes from at least 8 foreign countries, but the EPA doesn’t effectively control or monitor that waste, says a new federal report. As a consequence, it can’t say exactly what wastes are coming in and where they are disposed, even though it has recognized that “shipments of hazardous waste into the U.S. pose potential risks for the public health and environment of our country.”
Some shipments come in legally, but EPA doesn’t verify the amount or what’s in the shipment.
And even when shipments come in illegally, EPA rarely takes any enforcement actions, the report goes on to say. Instead, EPA managers said that the “appropriate response” would be communication with the government of the foreign country so that it may take enforcement action against its exporters. EPA said it would pursue enforcement, though in an Alabama case where an importer brought in partially empty containers of discarded pesticides with an ingredient that is acutely toxic.
EPA notes in its response that its enforcement office is at its lowest staffing level in 20 years, because of budget constraints. The report also notes that neither EPA nor U.S. Customs and Border Protection have explicit legal authority to prevent hazardous waste imports.
You might want to know why the U.S. accepts the imports. The report doesn’t say. Nor does it detail how they’re shipped and the sites where they’re taken. The U.S. also ships some of its hazardous waste to other countries, according to the EPA website. You can read about our international waste agreements here.