Ask the Expert, Hazardous and Solid Waste, Hazardous Waste Management, Hazardous Waste Operations

Might the EPA Consider a Cell Phone an Appropriate Device to Meet the Communication Device Requirement for LQG 90-Day Areas?

Q. Can a cell phone be used to meet the communication device requirement for LQG 90 day areas?

A. Under the federal rules, large quantity generators (LQGs) must comply with the “preparedness and prevention” requirement that “Whenever hazardous waste is being poured, mixed, spread, or otherwise handled, all personnel involved in the operation must have immediate access” to an “internal alarm or emergency communication device, either directly or through visual or voice contact with another employee, unless such a device is not required.” (emphasis added). This is the source of the requirement to which you refer in your question.

The “otherwise handled” language can include storage of hazardous waste in the LQG 90-day storage area. This regulation requires “immediate access” by “all personnel” to an “internal alarm or emergency communication device” either “directly or through visual or voice contact”. According to the federal rules concerning “required equipment”, all facilities must be equipped with “An internal communications or alarm system capable of providing immediate emergency instruction (voice or signal) to facility personnel.” This language would suggest that EPA had in mind an internal alarm or emergency communication device that could alert everyone in the facility at once. A cell phone would not meet that description.

It’s possible that EPA might consider a cell phone to be an appropriate means by which one could through “voice contact” immediately alert another employee to access the internal alarm system. However, that would presume that a call via a cell phone would always be immediately picked up and that “all personnel involved in the operation” have a cell phone. Immediate response seems to be the driving force in this regulation’s requirements. Because cell phones were not available at the time the regulation was originally written, but were at the time it was revised, the EPA probably intends “voice contact” to mean shouting at a nearby co-worker.

Note that the requirement for the “internal alarm or emergency communication device” is not needed if “such a device is not required” by the regulation. To make that determination you would have to consider whether “none of the hazards posed by waste handled at the facility” could require an internal alarm or emergency communication device.