Enforcement and Inspection, Hazardous Waste Management

RCRA Requirements: Know the Facts, Avoid Hazardous Waste Penalties

In March, the EPA announced a hazardous waste enforcement action settlement with a Pennsylvania-based chemical manufacturer. The company will pay a penalty in the amount of $44,800 and has now certified its compliance with Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requirements.

RCRA requirements, hazardous waste

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“EPA cited the company for violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the federal law governing the treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste,” according to the EPA. “RCRA is designed to protect public health and the environment and avoid long and extensive cleanups, by requiring the safe, environmentally sound storage and disposal of hazardous waste.… [T]he company violated RCRA rules including storing hazardous waste for more than 90 days without a permit, failure to properly mark hazardous waste containers, failure to keep hazardous waste containers closed, failure to make waste determinations and failure to provide annual RCRA training.”

Penalties such as these are a stark reminder of the importance of a clear grasp of RCRA regulations, which are complex and often confusing.

This first step in properly managing hazardous waste at your facility is to know your federal hazardous waste generator classification and, from there, develop a clear understanding of the applicable hazardous waste regulations. It’s important to note that states have their own regulatory requirements for generators, which can be more stringent than federal requirements.

Generator Classifications

Under RCRA, companies that produce hazardous waste are referred to as “generators” and are divided into the following categories based on the amount of hazardous waste they produce:

  • Very small quantity generators (VSQGs) are defined as those producing less than or equal to 220 pounds (lb) (100 kilograms (kg)) per month of hazardous waste, less than or equal to 2.2 lb (1 kg) per month of acute hazardous waste, and less than or equal to 220 lb per month of acute spill residue or soil.
  • Small quantity generators (SQGs) are defined as those producing more than 220 lb but less than 2,200 lb (1,000 kg) per month of hazardous waste, less than or equal to 2.2 lb per month of acute hazardous waste, and less than or equal to 220 lb per month of acute spill residue or soil.
  • Large quantity generators (LQGs) produce equal to or greater than 2,200 lb per month of hazardous waste, more than 2.2 lb a month of acute hazardous waste, or more than 220 lb a month of acute spill residue or soil.

Generator Requirements

Under RCRA, each generator category has specific applicable regulations.

  • VSQGs are not subject to any federal hazardous waste disposal regulations restricting the time limits allowed to accumulate hazardous waste on-site, provided they do not exceed their monthly allowed accumulation quantities. They are not required to obtain a unique EPA identification number. However, VSQGs must properly identify all hazardous waste generated and ensure it is transferred to a person or facility that is properly authorized to manage it.
  • SQGs may not have more than 13,200 lb (6,000 kg) of hazardous waste on-site at any time and are not required to obtain a permit as long as hazardous waste is not accumulated on-site longer than 180 days or more than 270 days if the waste is being transported more than 200 miles. SQGs are required to obtain an EPA identification number and must comply with applicable regulations outlined under 40 CFR 262, which include:
    • Training;
    • Basic contingency planning, preparedness, and prevention;
    • Pretransport requirements and manifesting of hazardous waste for transport; and
    • Recordkeeping and reporting.
  • LQGs have no limit to the amount of hazardous waste they can store on-site and may accumulate hazardous waste for up to 90 days without a hazardous waste storage permit, provided certain conditions are met.  However, if accumulation exceeds 90 days, they stop being mere generators and become subject to the restrictive hazardous waste management rules applicable to hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs), which include a permit. LQGs are required to obtain an EPA identification number and must comply with applicable regulations outlined under 40 CFR 262. Many of the requirements are similar or more stringent than SQG requirements. LQGs must comply with additional regulations, including those covering:
    • Air emissions from tanks and containers
    • Waste minimization programs
    • Biennial reporting of waste shipments

Avoid Enforcement

In recent years, new RCRA violations have steadily declined to a recent record low in 2020, according to the EPA’s ECHO database. But do not become complacent.  Over the last several years, enforcement may have been trending down, but a violation can still be very costly. Don’t let it happen at your facility. Know your generator classification, know the requirements that apply to your facility, and avoid common costly hazardous waste violations.