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Environmental cleanup efforts called a 'disgrace.'

Environmental Cleanup Efforts Called a 'Disgrace'

Between $50 billion and $60 billion has been spent in the last 10 years to clean up a mere 30 environmentally hazardous Superfund sites out of a total of 1,000 on the National Priorities List. That statistic was termed a "disgrace" by Robert Mason, vice president of operations for Environmental Strategies Corp. in Vienna, VA., during a seminar on environmental issues at the annual Florida Joint Educational RIMS Conference in Naples. Mr. Mason told attendees that transaction costs often far outweigh actual cleanup costs. "In fact, 60 percent to 70 percent of Superfund money goes to pay administrative expenses, which is just a euphemism for lining contractors pockets," he said.

According to Mr. Mason, government contractors view Superfund cleanups as annuities to be savored for their old age. "Therefore," he said, "every cleanup project must become a big project in their eyes."

Mr. Mason said a problem just as pervasive as mismanagement of funds is the fact that most Superfund cleanup managers tend to be young and inexperienced. "Each of them is responsible for $150 million in contracts, 15 sites and catching that 4 p.m. carpool back home," he said. "You have to be aware of this when dealing with them."

However, Mr. Mason said, employers should be mindful that most environmental problems are manageable. "But to avoid litigation, you must control the process by following several steps," he said. They include:

* Setting objectives. Once established, objectives should be maintained and periodically assessed to see if any environmental problems have occurred prospectively.

* Correcting the liability. This can be done administratively through use of proper air vents, concrete slabs for waste drums and developing manuals for staff.

* Not trading a liability. When buying or divesting property, make sure oil borings are made and soil samples are taken to assure protection from future liability.

Mr. Mason also encouraged employers to challenge all data. "If you are said to be liable, you could be the victim of some offsite contributory problem," he said. "Make sure that all data supports any assumption that you are liable."

Mr. Mason also cited the everlasting enmity that exists between state governments and the Environmental Protection Agency as a possible political tool savvy employers could use to their benefit. "You can sometimes play one off against the other," he said. But the best way to get rid of existing environmental liability, he said, is to deal with it immediately. "If you have a soil problem and wait three years before conducting tests, in the interim it could become a groundwater problem and therefore a third-party problem," he warned.
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Author:Johnson, Tom
Publication:Risk Management
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Words:438
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