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Cleaning up the waste

Murray Weidenbaum's assertion that government's toxic waste cleanup effort would be better served if Congress appropriated less money (``It's time to mesh hazardous-waste strategy,'' July 10) is off the mark. The ``Superfund'' toxic waste cleanup program has been in effect for five years, yet only six of the 800 priority sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency have ``completed'' the cleanup process. In a report by the Sierra Club last month, ``Superfund or Superstall? The EPA and Toxic Waste Cleanup,'' every EPA senior manager interviewed in the offices which actually supervise Superfund cleanups said that money is their biggest constraint.

The author cites three reasons EPA cannot utilize even the $10 billion being proposed for Superfund cleanups over the next five years:

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It will take time for industry to develop and install the equipment to reduce the influx of currently generated hazardous waste. But this problem was addressed by congressional legislation last year restricting continued land disposal of hazardous wastes and increasing incentives to reduce the amount of wastes generated.

EPA does not have the capacity to clean up more than 130 toxic-waste dumps per year. However, this would be solved if EPA hired more technical experts in the field. Managers agree there is help available if EPA pays competitive salaries. In the Sierra Club survey, all 10 field offices complained of delays of 45 days in getting often unreliable lab results. Toxic sites in out-of-the-way locations should be provided with mobile labs, while contract labs should be paid competitive rates to insure that th ey handle EPA work on a priority basis.

The public is unwilling to let the government relocate treated toxic waste ``in my backyard.'' This is why waste-destruction technologies, such as EPA's new mobile incinerator, are attractive alternatives. EPA should build copies for regional offices that burn soils and sediments, and the Superfund should encourage private industry to build them. EPA should provide grants for university research to discover economical ways of breaking down hazardous waste into harmless materials. John A. McComb, Conservation Director Sierra Club, Washington

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