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Environmental consulting company WCM highlights changes to EPA’s rules for hazardous waste generators

Sept. 27, 2018
When does a product become hazardous waste, and thus subject to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations?

WHEN does a product become hazardous waste, and thus subject to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations?

Not until it’s removed from the tanker it rode in on.

Representatives from environmental consulting company The WCM Group touched on this pertinent issue, which is addressed in the EPA’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) manufacturing process unit exemption, and others during a regulatory update for tank wash operators at the National Tank Truck Carriers Safety & Security Council annual meeting in Reno, Nevada.

The session, which focused on the EPA’s updated rules for hazardous waste generators, also covered the proper identification and documentation of hazardous wastes, and for satellite accumulation areas (SAAs), how to establish approved contingency plans, and the closure of hazardous waste generators.

A key theme throughout was the importance of thorough recordkeeping.

“This is always critical,” said Donny Hearn, WCM’s executive vice-president. “The thing we find time and time again … is that recordkeeping is where it falls down. If you’re a small quantity generator or large quantity generator, you’re required to maintain records of how you determined your waste to be hazardous.

“So, any and all records you have, how you determined it to be hazardous, whether you had the medical data, or the flow chart or thought process you used, you need to document that and put that in your records.”

Generator status

The updated Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements rule, first proposed in 2015, signed by the EPA administrator October 28, 2016, and effective May 30, 2017, sought to clarify regulations, facilitate greater compliance and provide more flexibility, in part by altering generator terminology.

Facilities now fall into one of three categories: Very Small Quantity Generators (VSQGs) that generate 100 kilograms of waste or less per month, Small Quantity Generators (SQGs) producing more than 100 but less than 1,000 kgs, and Large Quantity Generators (LQGs), which make 1,000 kgs or more.

Hearn said most tank washes fall into the LQG category because of the variety of chemicals they handle.

“It’s basically the same thing,” he said. “It’s the same thresholds, they just renamed them to be consistent with what they thought was ambiguous language about conditional exempts.”

With many states still adopting the rule or developing their own more stringent guidelines, WCM is predicting an increase in activity, now or in the near future, in regard to enforcement of the rule.

That’s why it’s critical to catch up on changes and updates.

“The caveat I have with all of this is, when talking about the federal rule, always check your state rules,” Hearn said. “They can, and often will be, more stringent.”

Waste determination

The updated and reorganized waste generator rules, now combined in section 262, made some requirements, like waste identification, more stringent, while making others, like episodic generation, less so.

A key rule revised with greater stringency is hazardous waste determination and recordkeeping.

The EPA said generators failing to make accurate determinations, leading to the mismanagement of hazardous waste, is an all-too-common problem, with estimated non-compliance rates of 10% to 30%, and reasons varying from not understanding to not being aware of RCRA.

To try to improve those numbers, the agency made several clarifications designed to increase program efficiency and effectiveness, including placing greater emphasis on point of origin, acceptable knowledge and tests for making determinations, and the importance of tracking generator size.

Whereas before these issues were managed with guidelines, now they’re codified.

Per 262.11, hazardous waste determinations for each solid waste must be made at the point of generation, to ensure proper identification, handling and management from “cradle to grave” and compliance with LDRs (Land Disposal Restrictions), before any dilution or mixing with other wastes, and any time the waste changes properties as a result of exposure to the environment or other factors.

Acceptable knowledge of hazard characteristics includes process knowledge, knowledge of products or byproducts produced in the manufacturing process, and any testing that illustrates the waste’s properties.

“You do not actually have to use SW-846 methods, but you can use alternative methods that give you similar data,” Hearn said.

Small and large quantity generators must maintain records, including the results from any testing, that support their determinations for three years from the last time the waste was shipped off site, and perform a monthly hazardous waste count to determine the proper generator category.

“Your generator status can change every month, so it’s up to you to understand and define your status, at any point in time, because if you get involved in the higher small quantity generators and large quantity generators, there’s more training, records, and applicable requirements,” Hearn said.

Clear communication

With SAAs, which are any locations at or near a point of generation where waste is accumulated in containers, up to 55 gallons, that later are moved for consolidation or transport, the EPA placed more emphasis in the rules on clearly marking the containers for easier recognition.

“What they’ve asked now, for emergency responders and employees to recognize the dangers associated with the (waste), is to clearly label what’s in the container, (and) not only that it’s a hazardous waste, but what’s making it hazardous,” Hearn said. “Is it flammable, ignitable – what are the characteristics?”

Container and tank labels now must indicate the hazards of the contents in addition to including the words “hazardous waste,” and containment buildings require conspicuous signage with the same information, but the EPA allowed for greater flexibility by OK’ing several labeling methods.

Approved labels include DOT hazard communication and OSHA pictograms.

“(EPA’s) idea was, the more information we can give you, the safer we can make the workplace by everybody understanding what’s in the drum, not only the employees but also first responders,” Hearn said.

Along those lines, the agency also sought to improve emergency preparedness and planning.

Previously, ambiguity in how LQGs should involve the local emergency planning committee (LEPC) and first responders caused confusion. Under the new rule, the generator must “attempt” to coordinate a response.

“They didn’t go into detail on what those arrangements are, or how you should make arrangements, but it is clear you must have documentation that you at least attempted to make arrangements for them to respond,” Hearn said.

Also, for LQGs, and specifically tank washes, emergency contingency plans must be maintained on site and shared with the LEPC, and the EPA is asking generators to keep emergency responders better informed by preparing quick reference guides with a map of the facility and key locations.

Finding closure

Regarding closing facilities, the EPA’s final updated rule requires LQGs accumulating hazardous wastes in containers in a waste management unit to close as landfills if they can’t do so cleanly.

“They actually codified that,” Hearn said.

A notification identifying the unit’s location must be placed in the LQG’s records within 30 days after closing a waste accumulation area. Facilities closing must notify the EPA no later than 30 days prior to closure, and give notification that it complied with closure performance standards within 90 days after closing, with the possibility of an extension if requested within 75 days after closure.

Finally, falling into the less stringent category, are VSQG consolidation, the 50-foot rule and episodic generation.

Companies that want to consolidate waste from their own VSQGs at an LQG facility no longer need a RCRA permit to receive the waste if it’s consolidated under the control of the same person.

Also, LQGs can apply for a waiver of the rule requiring them to keep containers holding ignitable or reactive waste at least 50 feet from the facility’s property. The application is made with the jurisdictional authority over the fire code and granted if the LQG is taking proper precautions.

And for VSQGs, they now can maintain the lower generator status in an episodic event, or an event, planned or unplanned, that temporarily kicks them to a higher category, provided they comply with a set of requirements that governs notification, conclusion and frequency of occurrence.

“The rub is, when you submit your notification, and you have to tell them when it starts and when it ends, in 60 days, that 60-day clock is set in stone, regardless of when it actually occurred,” Hearn said.

“When you tell them that I’m going to finish on this date, you’ve got to be done.”

For more information, please visit www.epa.gov/hwgenerators/final-rule-hazardous-waste-generator-improvements.