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EPA: Managing Waste for Half-a-Century

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Agency Works with State, Tribal and Industry Partners to Prevent and Clean up Pollution Releases

PHILADELPHIA (July 24, 2020) – As part of a continuous effort to celebrate EPA’s 50th anniversary, the agency is highlighting the progress made on promoting responsible waste management, preventing contamination from hazardous waste, and cleaning up releases from underground storage tanks.

Signed into law in 1976, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) sets standards for responsible solid waste management and established safeguards for hazardous wastes, from generation to transportation, treatment storage and disposal.

“As business practices have evolved, EPA has continued to adapt, innovate and fine tune its solid and hazardous waste regulations,” said EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio. “We are committed to working with our state, tribal and territorial partners, as well as citizens and the regulated community, to fulfill our critical mission.”

RCRA was amended in 1984 to create the federal Underground Storage Tanks program and require cleanups at hazardous waste facilities. The program not only works with state and tribal partners to cleanup tank leaks when they occur, but also sets tank design standards, requirements for leak detection and spill and overfill controls, and an inspection program to reduce the frequency of leaks occurring.

Today, the RCRA waste management program manages over 2.5 billion tons of solid, industrial and hazardous waste resulting from the manufacturing and use of goods throughout the economy and oversees almost 4,000 cleanups across the country each year. In addition, approximately 546,000 underground tanks nationwide store petroleum or hazardous substances and are managed to safeguard against the contamination of groundwater – a source of drinking water for nearly half of all Americans.

Recent EPA waste management accomplishments include:

  • Recently, EPA added aerosol cans to the Universal Waste program which streamlines the management of commonly generated wastes such as batteries and fluorescent lighting. Aerosol cans account for nearly 40 percent of retail items that are managed as hazardous waste at large retail facilities. The rule promotes recycling while saving $5.3 million annually in regulatory costs.

  • Last year, EPA finalized cost-saving, streamlined standards for handling hazardous waste pharmaceuticals to better fit the operations of the healthcare sector while maintaining protections of human health and the environment. The rule protects drinking water by prohibiting sewering of these wastes while generating up to $15 million a year in cost savings.

  • EPA launched a national system for tracking hazardous waste shipments electronically on June 30, 2018. The e-Manifest system improves access to higher quality and more timely hazardous waste shipment data and will save state and industry users more than $50 million annually, once electronic manifests are widely adopted.

  • In 2018, EPA finalized regulatory changes for the safe management of recalled airbags which helped facilitate the urgent removal of defective Takata airbag inflators and producing an estimated cost savings of $1.7 to 13 million annually.

  • EPA finalized the first-ever coal ash disposal standards in 2015 while continuing to promote their beneficial use. In 2016, Congress provided EPA and the states authority to operate coal ash permit programs, and EPA is updating the regulations accordingly. EPA continues to update the regulations based on stakeholder feedback and on-the-ground experience.

EPA successes in the Underground Storage Tanks program include:

  • Since the inception of the Underground Storage Tanks program in 1984, EPA and states have cleaned up more than 493,000 releases from underground storage tanks nationwide, with 3,556 cleanups completed in the first half of fiscal year 2020.

  • EPA has worked with states and tribal partners to decrease the numbers of annual underground storage tank releases nation-wide from between 25,000-66,000 per year in the 1990s to a low of 5,375 in 2019.

  • From 2008 to 2019, states, EPA and credentialed tribal inspectors conducted over 1.1 million inspections at federally regulated underground storage tank facilities.

EPA works with its state, territorial, tribal and industry partners to clean up releases from Underground Storage Tanks. Left unattended, releases can contaminate soil, groundwater, surface water or indoor air. Cleaning up tank releases protects our environment and human health. EPA funds grants that encourage environmentally effective cleanups and the redevelopment of these areas.

 A few examples of successful redevelopment of Underground Storage Tank sites in the Mid-Atlantic Region include:

Read more about examples of successful redevelopment of UST sites in the Mid-Atlantic Region.

For more information, see a Timeline of Milestones in RCRA History.

For more information about EPA’s Underground Storage Tanks program, please visit:

EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management provides policy, guidance and direction for the agency's emergency response and waste programs.

Follow EPA throughout July on Twitter @EPALand for the latest information on what’s happening as “Cleaning Up America’s Land” month continues.

For more on EPA’s 50th Anniversary and how the agency is protecting America’s waters, land and air, visit:, or follow us on social media using #EPAat50.