In 2019, the EPA levied fines totaling $170,000 against three Southern California-based companies, namely, Coat Product, Inc., International Aerospace Coatings, Inc., and Goodwest Rubber Linings, Inc. These companies allegedly violated the federal Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) that oversees the proper management of hazardous waste.
Hazardous waste regulations compliance is complex, and businesses of all sizes find them significantly stringent to follow and comply with. If found guilty, the organizations are liable to pay huge fines that can financially wipe out small and mid-size organizations. This article can help businesses stay proactive about preventing hazardous waste violations.
Types of Hazardous Waste
Hazardous waste is any solid waste that is listed as a known hazardous waste or exhibits any characteristic among ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity. A known hazardous waste is categorized into four lists named F, K, P, and U lists.
The hazardous waste regulations differ based on the quantity of waste generated by your business.
- Large Quantity Generators – Businesses that monthly generate more than 1000 kg of hazardous waste or more than 100 kg of acute spill residue or soil, or more than 1 kg of acute hazardous waste.
- Small Quantity Generators – Businesses that monthly generate hazardous waste between 100 kg and 1000 kg.
- Very Small Quantity Generators – Businesses that monthly generate up to 100 kg of hazardous waste, or up to 100 kg of acute spill residue or soil, or up to 1 kg of acute hazardous waste.
After knowing your class of hazardous waste generators, let’s understand some of the common hazardous waste violations.
Common Hazardous Waste Violations
1. Lack of Proper Labelling
Proper labeling is critical for notifying government waste haulers, safety personnel, and your employees regarding the accumulated chemical, specifically in the event of an emergency and how long it has been accumulating onsite.
2. Improper Disposal
Businesses dispose of hazardous waste by illegally dumping it due to various reasons, including lack of time and efforts, avoid disposal fees, lack of knowledge about what constitutes hazardous waste, or understaffed or untrained workforce with lack of waste management procedures knowledge.
3. Improper or No Determination of the Waste
Many times, the generators fail to properly determine the waste by testing it or knowing its stream that can attract hefty fines.
4. Improper Management of Expired Waste
Expired chemicals can be extremely volatile and considered hazardous waste. These materials can be dangerous as they are no longer in their original containers and can become less stable or have decomposed due to aging. They are subject to hazardous waste generator requirements as well as the regulatory timeframes in which they can be disposed of or stored.
5. No or Inadequate Waste Manifests
Adequate paperwork is also critical when it comes to hazardous waste. After storing and labeling hazardous waste, you, as a generator, are mandated to complete the Hazardous Waste Manifest that outlines the type and quality of waste. Further, you need to mail its copy to the appropriate regulatory agencies such as EPA and DOT (Department of Transportation).
6. No or Inadequate Training for Employees
Inadequate employee training can lead to improper hazardous waste handling procedures that might result in treacherous spills, toxic chemical reactions, and spreading fire. Also, failing to wear protective gear can expose your employees to radioactive materials, fumes, and other hidden risks that can cost their lives. Not following proper updated standards for employee communication and training can result in hefty fines.
7. Lack of Contingency Plan
A generator should have a written Hazardous Waste Contingency Plan that can be implemented immediately during an emergency, including explosions, fires, and sudden unplanned release of hazardous waste. It’s designed to minimize hazards to the environment and human health during emergencies. Failing to have a contingency plan can result in significant fines.
8. Improper Management of Mercury
Mercury and its products are incredibly toxic and can cause chronic and acute poisoning and severe illness if mishandled. Improper management of mercury attracts hefty fines as it can lead to spills and evaporation, risking human lives and the environment.
9. Open Containers
Not closing the containers containing hazardous waste is among the common violations and can be a cause of accidents and physical injuries that can be avoided with a few precautions.
10. No or Infrequent Weekly Inspections
All hazardous waste generators are compelled to perform a weekly inspection of their hazardous waste container storage areas. It’s also a common violation that can be easily avoided by the implementation of standard procedures and compliance maintenance.
How to Prevent Hazardous Waste Violations
Hazardous waste violations and the associated hefty fines can be avoided by implementing standard procedures and giving due diligence during generating, storing, transporting, and disposing of hazardous waste.
- Follow rigorous labeling of containers with hazardous waste including name and address of your facility, accumulation start date, source or identity of waste, characteristic of waste, mentioning what makes it hazardous, and physical state of the waste.
- Keep in mind proper licensing and know your waste generator requirements.
- Understand the “cradle to grave” requirements by RCRA.
- Comply with hazardous waste management training requirements by providing on-the-job as well as classroom training to your employees on hazardous waste management, storage, and disposal procedures.
- Contract with a reputed and properly licensed hazardous waste company that will provide proof of proper disposal along with adequate documentation. Closed top mini frac tanks can be ideal for hazardous waste disposal as they ensure safe transportation of chemicals and other volatile substances.
- Properly determine your waste streams with the Hazardous Waste Identification process.
- Check if it is solid waste.
- Check if it’s particularly excluded from RCRA.
- Check if it’s listed as hazardous waste.
- Check if it exhibits hazardous waste characteristics.
- Conduct regular audits. Keep track of expired chemicals to dispose of them properly. Have a centralized purchasing and inventory process for effective organization and inventory management of chemicals.
- Fill out and double-check the Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest correctly.
- Create an adequate contingency plan based on your company’s waste generator status. The plan should include contact information of emergency coordinator, emergency equipment location, emergency phone numbers, and more.
- Conduct regular audits and weekly inspections of the storage area and containers and keep them closed at all times. Maintain a log record. Ensure that the storage area is free from debris and other materials, container tops are free from spillage, containers are in good condition and free from spills and leaks, and the ground is clean and dry. Make sure that the waste is stored in compatible containers.
Stay in the Know About EPA Regulations
Besides knowing the common hazardous waste violations and how to avoid them, here are some of the critical EPA laws and regulations you should know if you are dealing with hazardous waste.
- Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) – The act is aimed to protect human health and the environment from waste disposal hazards.
- Clean Air Act (CAA) – Its goal is to enhance and protect the country’s air quality.
- Clean Water Act (CWA) – It intends to prevent, reduce, and eliminate pollution in groundwater and navigable waters.
- Toxic Substance Control Act (TCSA) – It aims to protect human health and the environment from potentially hazardous chemicals by restricting their manufacture, processing, and use.
Hazardous waste violations are taken extremely seriously, and the associated fines can spell financial doom for small and mid-sized companies. However, well-thought procedures, a disciplined, proactive approach, and routine inspections can help you stay compliant.