Hazardous Waste Management

Does Your RCRA Permit Contain Comprehensive Facility Information for Emergency Responders?

Moreover, state RCRA permitting authorities should require that new permits for TSDFs contain explicit requirements to make sure that the full range of emergency response entities possess information about hazardous wastes at TSDFs to ensure that any explosion, fire, or other accidental release can be quickly controlled and that harm to the public, the responders, and the environment is avoided or kept to a minimum. 

Those are the main messages in a March 2010 memo from EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery to the RCRA directors of EPA’s 10 regional offices.  The memo followed an investigation and 2008 report by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) on emergency response to a fire at a hazardous waste facility in Apex, North Carolina, in 2006.  The CSB found that response teams were unaware of the types, quantities, and locations of the hazardous materials on-site.  Because of the unknown nature of the burning chemicals and exploding drums, the incident commander chose to take only “defensive actions,” reported CSB.  Basically this meant that nearby residents were evacuated, traffic on roads leading to the facility was controlled, rail traffic into the town was stopped, and air space above the facility was closed.  Responders did not attempt to enter the facility or extinguish the fire, which was allowed to burn itself out. 

Environmental Compliance in [Your State] gives you expert analysis of your state environmental regulations, along with instant comparisons between federal and state environmental protection agency regulations. Every key 40 CFR topic is at your fingertips. Get Your Free Trial

The CSB pointed out that RCRA TSDF preparedness and prevention regulations at 40 CFR Parts 264 and 265 require owners and operators to make arrangements with local authorities for potential emergency response, but the provisions are vague.  “Although this requirement mandates that the facility operator familiarize local authorities with the facility, its layout, and its hazards,” said the CSB, “the requirements do not explicitly state what information must be shared, if the information must be written, or if updates are necessary.” The CSB recommended that the EPA take measures to ensure that permitted TSDFs provide all the information needed by emergency responders to actively control a fire or other dangerous release involving hazardous materials. 

EPA’s Guidance

Subsequently, the EPA wrote to the CSB that it intended to develop the guidance to comply with the recommendation.  The Agency said it would also determine whether a regulatory change was needed to require that TSDFs provide the requested information.  Eventually, the EPA concluded that the existing regulatory framework provides sufficient authority and that the most effective and timely means to address the CSB recommendation is through guidance that is contained in the memo.

The memo draws attention to a possible gap in the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (ECPRA).  EPCRA requires that facilities with threshold amounts of hazardous chemicals submit material safety data sheets (MSDS) or a list of all hazardous chemicals present at the facility as well as an annual inventory report to local authorities and the fire department.  EPCRA imposes those requirements only on facilities that must keep MSDSs on their hazardous chemicals in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (HCS).  But OSHA excludes hazardous wastes from the HCS requirements, including MSDS requirements. “Therefore, unlike most industrial facilities, a TSDF is not required to submit a list of waste chemicals on-site nor an annual inventory of hazardous materials to local authorities,” states the CSB.  (This EPCRA exclusion for TSDFs may not apply in certain states.) 

State environmental compliance is probably your biggest job challenge—the regulations and laws are so complex and they change so fast! Take a free trial of Environmental Compliance in [Your State] and see why thousands of companies have relied on the Environmental “Red Book” for over 16 years. Get Your Free Trial

In the guidance, the EPA points out that TSDF preparedness and prevention regulations (40 CFR Parts 264 and 265 Subpart C) require that owners and operators of a TSDF must attempt to make “arrangements” for the type of waste handled at the facility and the potential need for local authorities to provide emergency response.  Specifically, the TSDF must:

  • Familiarize police, fire departments, and emergency response teams with the layout of the facility; properties of the hazardous waste present and associated hazards; places where facility personnel would normally be working; entrances to and roads inside the facility; and possible evacuation routes.
  • Develop agreements to designate the primary emergency authority to specific police and specific departments where more than one police and fire department might respond to an emergency; also develop agreements with any others to provide support to the primary emergency authority.
  • Develop agreements with state emergency response teams, emergency response contractors, and equipment suppliers.
  • Make arrangements to familiarize local hospitals with the properties of hazardous waste handled at the facility and the types of injuries or illnesses that could result from fires, explosions, or releases at the facility. 

See tomorrow’s Advisor for more EPA guidance on augmenting TSDF permits to provide current and specific information for emergency response providers.