Ten RCRA Hazardous Waste Compliance Issues

The federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) sets regulations to:

  • Protect human health and the environment from the potential hazards of waste disposal
  • Conserve energy and natural resources
  • Reduce the amount of waste generated
  • Ensure that wastes are managed in an environmentally sound manner

Many people who work in environmental management or with natural resources have seen or read presentations on the “top 10 RCRA violations.” These are issues that could result in formal enforcement action, such as a Notice of Violation (NOV) or civil administrative actions, that may lead to fines and penalties. In a different approach to looking at RCRA, I have come up with a list of 10 RCRA (hazardous waste) compliance issues that could trip up businesses in the manufacturing and painting industries, hospitals, chemical processing plants and other hazardous waste generators.  I can easily think of ten other compliance issues to add to this list, but I won’t at this time.

This list has a bit of overlap with common RCRA violations, but these are ten issues that hazardous waste generators might overlook during their routine inspections or audits. They are common issues I observed or noted during my almost 30 years of inspections and audits as a regulator with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. I recently presented these issues in an eight-minute overview at the 2014 Mid-America Environmental Compliance Conference in Overland Park, Kansas, and in much more depth at the 2014 Greater Ozarks Environmental Summit in Springfield, Missouri. Above, you can see the slides from my eight-minute overview.

10 RCRA Hazardous Waste Compliance Issues

  1. Waste Determination: This is not to be confused with “failure to determine,” which is possibly the number one RCRA violation.  This is concerning using Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), formerly Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), for determining if a waste might be hazardous. Safety Data Sheets include information such as chemical properties, health hazards (physical, health, and environmental), protective measures and safety precautions for handling, storing, and transporting chemicals. Safety Data Sheets generally list constituents in percentages, while hazardous waste determinations are made using parts per million (ppm). The important ratio to remember is that 1 percent of a chemical constituent is equal to 10,000 ppm. In terms of waste determination, that means a Safety Data Sheet may not list a constituent because it is less than 1 percent, but the material may contain several thousand ppm of a contaminant, causing it to be a hazardous waste.
  2. Employee Training: Large quantity generators (LQGs), those generating more than than 2,200 pounds of hazardous waste per month, are required to have a training plan and program in place. The requirements and documentation for these plans and programs are laid out in the RCRA regulations.  Small quantity generators (SQGs), those generating between 220 and 2,200 pounds of hazardous waste per month, are not required to have a formal training plan in place, but they must “ensure that all employees are thoroughly familiar with proper waste handling and emergency procedures, relevant to their responsibilities.” If a regulator noted a problem with waste handling while conducting an inspection, it is considered a violation of this requirement.
  3. Ignitable Waste 50 Feet from Property Lines: Most facilities try to store ignitable waste as far from the operations as they can, but large quantity generators are required to store ignitable hazardous waste at least 50 feet or further from property lines. This can be a challenge due to varying sizes and shapes of properties, but generally 17-20 steps from a property line will allow for the required 50-foot distance.
  4. Storage of Incompatible Waste: Incompatible wastes, those that can produce harmful effects to humans and the environment when combined, must be segregated or separated to prevent unwanted reactions such as fires, explosions, gases and fumes. Appendix V of 40 CFR 265 lists wastes that are of concern, battery acid being one of them.
  5. Aisle Space: Large quantity generators must provide adequate aisle space to “allow the unobstructed movement of personnel, fire protection equipment, spill control equipment, and decontamination equipment.” If a drum dolly cannot easily be maneuvered within the waste storage area, aisle space is probably not adequate.
  6. Container Inspection: At least weekly, the owner or operator must inspect areas where containers are stored” looking for potential problems such as corrosion, leaks and drums in poor condition.  If containers are stored outside and exposed to precipitation, more frequent inspections are required.
  7. Post Emergency Information Near Phones: Small-quantity generators much post the following emergency information near phones in waste generation areas and offices, as required by 40 CFR 262.34(d)(5)(ii):
    • The name and telephone number of the emergency coordinator
    • Location of fire extinguishers, spill control material and fire alarms
    • Fire department telephone number, unless the facility has a direct alarm
  8. Waste Minimization: If you sign a hazardous waste manifest, chances are you are certifying that you have complied with the waste minimization requirements.  Section 3002 of the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1976 required a certification statement be added to manifests for both large and small-quantity generators.  The generator must demonstrate compliance through waste generation records or written procedures for reducing and minimizing the amount of waste generated.
  9. Updated NORWA Form: Inspectors will generally use a copy of a generator’s Notification of Hazardous Waste Activity (NORWA) form when they prepare for and start their inspection. While regulatory requirements for updating this form vary by state, it’s important that both large- and small-quantity generators update it whenever there is a change as described on page 4 of the Notification of RCRA Subtitle C Activity Instructions and Form, such as:
    • Change of ownership
    • Change in site activity
    • Change in site contact
  10. Orphan Waste: Generators need to be aware of places that hazardous waste can occur outside of typical spaces.  Three of the worst locations that I had found in my years as a regulator were in cabinets, under stairwells and in lofts above offices in a manufacturing area.  Those areas seem to be magnets for improperly handled hazardous waste, especially old fluorescent lamps.

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