Groundwater wasted



Waste disposal in the U.S. has grown to serious proportions, and the EPA is now (finally) beginning a broad campaign to slow down, if not eliminate, the threat of industrial hazardous wastes to groundwater. In recent suits brought by the Justice Department and the EPA against the Hooker Chemical and Olin corporations for violations at Niagara Falls, N.Y., over $120 million is being sought. The suit is the largest ever filed for damage to the environment, according to the Justice Department. The areas at Niagara Falls include the now infamous Love Canal, into which chemicals have been dumped for over 30 years, since World War II. This joint action by Justice and EPA is just the beginning of what is planned to be an all out effort to protect fragile groundwater supplies. Two pieces of legislation, the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, are among the most recent of a number of government efforts to establish safeguards. In a recent special report on this legislation, a number of the most serious problems of determining the causes and effects are examined (Environmental Science and Technology, 14, 38–44, 1980). The conclusion of the report is that the key to the problem in the future is prevention. However, whether the regulations are being followed or not cannot be monitored adequately, and what of the cases such as the Love Canal, where the damage is already done? Will it be possible to reverse the hazards of a contaminated zone? Strict enforcement may be the only alternative, even though many features of groundwater and aquifers are not well understood, and the behavior of wastes themselves as solutes is yet to be evaluated in many instances.