Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, United States

April 14, 2011, 5:08 pm
Source: Crs
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Source: Canton Public Library, Michigan


The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 requires the Environmental Protection Agency to establish an Office of Pollution Prevention, develop and coordinate a pollution prevention strategy, and develop source reduction models. The act requires owners and operators of manufacturing facilities to report annually on source reduction and recycling activities, and authorizes EPA to collect data collection on pollution prevention.


Enactment of the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 marked a turning point in the direction of U.S. environmental protection policy. From an earlier focus on the need to reduce or repair environmental damage by controlling pollutants at the point where they are released to the environment — i.e., at the “end of the pipe” or smokestack, at the boundary of a polluter’s private property, in transit over public highways and waterways, or after disposal — Congress turned to pollution prevention through reduced generation of pollutants at their point of origin. Broad support for this policy change was based on the notion that traditional approaches to pollution control had achieved progress, but may in the future be supplemented with new approaches that might better address cross-media pollution transfers, the need for cost-effective alternatives, and methods of controlling pollution from dispersed or nonpoint sources of pollution.

Pollution prevention, also referred to as “source reduction,” is viewed by its advocates as the first in a hierarchy of options to reduce risks to human health and the environment. Where prevention is not possible or may not be cost-effective, other options would include recycling, followed next by waste treatment according to environmental standards, and as a last resort, safe disposal of waste residues. Source reduction is the preferred strategy for environmental protection because it often: is cost-effective; offers industry substantial savings in reduced raw materials, pollution control costs, and liability costs; reduces risks to workers; and reduces risk to the environment and public health.

In 1990, opportunities for source reduction appeared to be plentiful, but often were unrealized or rejected by industries without adequate consideration. The act was meant to increase interest in source reduction and encourage adoption of costeffective source reduction practices. The law was enacted as Title VI of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, P.L. 101-508, and is codified as 42 U.S.C. 13101-13109.


Section 6602(b) of the Pollution Prevention Act states that it is the policy of the United States that “pollution should be prevented or reduced at the source whenever feasible; pollution that cannot be prevented should be recycled in an environmentally safe manner, whenever feasible; pollution that cannot be prevented or recycled should be treated in an environmentally safe manner whenever feasible; and disposal or other release into the environment should be employed only as a last resort and should be conducted in an environmentally safe manner.”

Section 6603(5) defines source reduction as any practice which —

  1. reduces the amount of any hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant entering any waste stream or otherwise released into the environment (including fugitive emissions) prior to recycling, treatment, or disposal; and
  2. reduces the hazards to public health and the environment associated with the release of such substances, pollutants, or contaminants."

Section 6604 of the act required EPA to establish an Office of Pollution Prevention. The office must be independent of the “single-medium program offices,” but was given authority to review and advise those offices to promote an integrated, multi-media (i.e., air, land, and water) approach to source reduction. EPA was directed to develop and implement a detailed and coordinated strategy to promote source reduction, to consider the effect on source reduction of all EPA programs and regulations, and to identify and make recommendations to Congress to eliminate barriers to source reduction. EPA also must conduct workshops and produce and disseminate guidance documents as part of a training program on source reduction opportunities for state and federal enforcement officers of environmental regulations. EPA’s strategy, issued in 1991, identifies goals, tasks, target dates, resources required, organizational responsibilities, and criteria to evaluate program progress. In addition, the act requires EPA to promote source reduction practices in other federal agencies and to identify opportunities to use federal procurement to encourage source reduction.

To facilitate source reduction by industry, EPA is required under Section 6604 to develop, test, and disseminate model source reduction auditing procedures to highlight opportunities; promote research and development of source reduction techniques and processes with broad applicability; establish an annual award program to recognize innovative programs; establish a program under Section 6605 of state matching grants for programs to provide technical assistance to business; and disseminate information about source reduction techniques through a clearinghouse established in Section 6606.

The act also includes provisions to improve data collection and public access to environmental data. Section 6604(b) directs EPA to develop improved methods of coordinating, streamlining and assuring access to data collected under all federal environmental statutes. An advisory panel of technical experts is established to advise the Administrator on ways to improve collection and dissemination of data. With respect to data collected under federal environmental statutes, Section 6608 directs EPA to evaluate data gaps and data duplication as well as methods of coordinating, streamlining, and improving public access.

Section 6607 requires owners and operators of many industrial facilities to report annually on their releases of toxic chemicals to the environment (under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986, Section 313). The Pollution Prevention Act requires these reports to include information about the facility’s efforts in source reduction and recycling. Specifically, reports must include:

  • the quantity of the toxic chemical entering any waste stream (or released to the environment) prior to recycling, treatment, or disposal;
  • the quantity of toxic substance recycled (on- or off-site);
  • the source reduction practices used;
  • quantities of toxic chemical expected to enter waste streams and to be recycled in the two years following the year for which the report is prepared;
  • ratio of production in the reporting year to production in the previous year;
  • techniques used to identify opportunities for source reduction;
  • amount of toxic chemical released in a catastrophic event, remedial action, or other one-time event; and
  • amount of toxic chemical treated on- or off-site.

All collected information is to be made available to the general public.

Section 6607(c) of the Pollution Prevention Act provides enforcement authority under Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (also known as the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act). Civil, administrative, and criminal penalties are authorized for non-compliance with mandatory provisions. Citizens are given the authority to bring civil action for noncompliance against a facility, EPA, a governor, or a State Emergency Response Commission.

Section 6608(a) requires EPA to file a report on implementation of its Pollution Prevention Strategy biennially. The required contents of the reports are specified in the statute.

Authorization for appropriations under the Pollution Prevention Act expired September 30, 1993, but appropriations have continued.

Further reading

  • National Pollution Prevention Roundtable. An Ounce of Pollution Prevention is Worth Over 167 Billion Pounds of Cure: A Decade of Pollution Prevention Results 1990 - 2000. Washington, DC, 2003. 53 pp.
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. Program Accomplishments: Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics 2000 - 2002. Washington, DC, 2002. 40 pp.

 Note: This article was extracted from from the Congressional Research Service Report RL30798, Environmental Laws: Summaries of Major Statutes Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency by David M. Bearden, Claudia Copeland, Linda Luther, James E. McCarthy, Linda-Jo Schierow, and Mary Tiemann (October 8, 2010).


Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the Congressional Research Service. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the Congressional Research Service should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.

Note: The first version of this article was drawn from material prepared for the Congressional Research Service by Linda Schierow.




(2011). Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, United States. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/155300


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