Interior Dept. faulted for slow waste cleanup


WASHINGTON -- The Interior Department continues to make poor progress in locating and cleaning up hazardous wastes on hTC the 440 million acres of public lands over which it has stewardship, the department's inspector general has concluded.

In a recently completed report, the auditor said Interior agencies have been "inordinately slow in cleaning up contaminated sites," such as landfills and abandoned mines, and have made unsatisfactory progress in trying to find and evaluate sites that .. could potentially endanger human health or natural resources.

The department has identified 422 suspected hazardous waste sites on its lands, the report said, but "the potential number of sites is believed to be in the tens of thousands."

The Interior Department does not train its employees well enough in the handling of hazardous materials, the report said. More than 700 department employees have been injured or made ill by exposure to such materials since 1988, according to the report.

The department's Office of Environmental Affairs acknowledged the need to do better on hazardous waste cleanup but said it lacks the money or staff to do the more aggressive monitoring of Interior agencies recommended by the audit report.

The report said the various Interior agencies have allocated $63.7 million this year for hazardous materials control compared with $9 million in 1988. But it noted that cleanup costs for a single major contaminated site can exceed $100 million.

Robert Walker, an Interior Department spokesman, said the administration will study the new audit report "and see if additional funding is part of the answer."

The department has authority over a far-flung domain of national parks, wildlife refuges, grazing lands and mining sites.

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