Capitol Alert

Audit blasts toxics agency for uncollected bills

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control has racked up almost $194 million in cleanup costs since 1987 for which it has either not billed polluters or collected payment, and the department may never recover a portion of that money, the state auditor said Thursday.

In a scathing report, state Auditor Elaine Howle blamed the department that oversees contaminated property cleanups for “inadequate procedures, incomplete documentation, and miscalculation of certain sites in its database.”

“These issues are so pervasive that the department has not yet determined the exact amount it may be able to recover,” the audit said.

According to Howle, the Department of Toxic Substances Control as of March had more than 1,600 projects with outstanding costs totaling almost $194 million. Of that amount, nearly $142 million was unbilled, and almost $52 million was billed but uncollected.

According to the department, the statute of limitations for cost recovery has expired for 76 projects totaling about $13.4 million in outstanding costs, the audit said.

The audit’s release comes after DTSC officials last year acknowledged the billing problem publicly, and Howle credited the department for progress on the issue. However, she said DTSC “still lacks processes for tracking and monitoring the statute of limitations on contaminated sites and for tracking the progress and resolution of its settlement agreements.”

DTSC said in a written response to the audit that it concurred with recommendations made by Howle and “will reassess its reform efforts” to improve collections.