The EPA has assessed approximately $84 million in hazardous waste material violations in the last 5 years, according to the Agency’s ECHO database. Risk managers are tasked with understanding and ensuring compliance with numerous EPA regulations. Failure to adhere to these regulations can result in expensive penalties and, in some cases, prison time.
“The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) gives EPA the authority to control hazardous waste from the ‘cradle-to-grave,’” according to the EPA. “This includes the generation, transportation, treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste. To achieve this, EPA develops regulations, guidance and policies that ensure the safe management and cleanup of solid and hazardous waste, and programs that encourage source reduction and beneficial reuse.”
There are three steps to determining if waste is hazardous. The first step is classifying materials as solid waste, which “can be garbage, refuse, sludge, or other discarded material (including solids, semisolids, liquids, and contained gaseous materials),” according to Enviro.BLR.com®. The second step is to determine if the waste is excluded from RCRA rules as defined in 40 CFR 261.4. The final step is detailed laboratory waste analysis or applying knowledge of the process used to generate the waste and the waste itself.
Once you have determined your company is dealing with hazardous waste, you’ll want to be sure you understand the myriad rules and complexities under RCRA and ensure you avoid common mistakes leading to penalties.
Improper Management and Disposal of Hazardous Waste
Put proper procedures and licenses in place for hazardous waste disposal. Ensure you contract with licensed and reputable hazardous waste disposal professionals.
Not Having or Having Inadequate Hazardous Waste Manifests
The Hazardous Waste Manifest is “a form required by EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation for all generators who transport, or offer for transport, hazardous waste for off-site treatment, recycling, storage or disposal. When completed, the form contains information on the type and quantity of the waste being transported, instructions for handling the waste, and signature lines for all parties involved in the disposal process,” according to the EPA. “Each party that handles the waste signs the manifest and retains a copy for themselves. This ensures critical accountability in the transportation and disposal processes. Once the waste reaches its destination, the receiving facility returns a signed copy of the manifest to the generator, confirming that the waste has been received by the designated facility.”
Common mistakes in filling out this form include:
- Incorrect waste codes, transporter identification (ID) numbers, or generator ID numbers
- Incorrect dates
- Incorrect information regarding the quantity, container, or unit weight
- Lack of verification of the information on preprinted manifests
Lack of Effective Contingency Plans and Emergency Procedures
Failure to have efficient emergency procedures could result in fines. Effective plans include emergency equipment, properly trained employees, posted emergency phone numbers, an emergency coordinator, and emergency evacuation plans.
Lack of or Improper Labeling
Hazardous waste must be labeled and contain the following information:
- Must say “HAZARDOUS WASTE”
- The name and address of the facility that produced the waste
- Starting date of the waste accumulation
- Source or identity of the waste
- Composition of the hazardous waste
- Classification of the hazardous waste (such as toxic, corrosive, flammable, or reactive)
- The physical state of the waste (such as liquid or solid)
Improperly Managing Waste Containing Mercury
Companies are advised to inspect their waste for products containing mercury, such as medical instruments, automotive, or lighting products, to ensure these items are disposed of properly. Waste containing mercury is expensive to clean up and is highly toxic.
Failure to Regularly Inspect Hazardous Waste Storage Areas
Weekly inspections are required, and companies are advised to keep an inspection log. It’s important to ensure the waste storage area is kept clean of debris and contaminants, there is no spillage on the tank tops, storage containers are closed properly and are not dented or corroded, and the proper containers are used for the type of waste being stored.
Open Hazardous Waste Containers
Tanks are required to be kept closed and latched unless it is for the purpose of adding or removing waste. Latches and tanks should be inspected to ensure there are no loose bolts or cracks in the container that could cause atmospheric exposure.
The EPA’s RCRA program manages 2.96 billion tons of solid, industrial, and hazardous waste in approximately 6,600 facilities across the United States. See the EPA’s RCRA site for more information on these regulations.