The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently issued a report claiming that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could better prevent water pollution from industrial sources by focusing more on treatment technologies during its regular review of Clean Water Act (CWA) effluent guidelines. The report claims that from 2003 to 2010, EPA missed guideline improvement opportunities when more than one-half of the industrial categories with effluent guidelines did not advance beyond the screening phase in any year. It also found that EPA’s initial ranking of human health and environmental hazards might not be accurate because only some pollutants must be reported to EPA and not all permitted facilities are included in the report.

According to the report, EPA’s limited staffing resources have inhibited a more detailed analysis of existing risks and potential solutions. As a result, the agency’s two-step process for reviewing wastewater regulations has purportedly overlooked some industries that warrant new or revised effluent guidelines. The report thus urges EPA to develop a more thorough and integrated screening approach that uses improved hazard data and considers information on treatment technology.