Posts

For sites that generate potentially hazardous wastes it is imperative that they make a hazardous waste determination for each and every waste generated. The determination process, also called the hazardous waste identification (HWID) process, is one of the first and perhaps the most important step for properly managing waste materials. To make a proper waste identification a generator must ask four questions:

  • Is the material a solid waste?
  • Is the waste specifically excluded from RCRA?
  • Is the waste a listed hazardous waste?
  • Does the waste exhibit a characteristic of hazardous waste?     

After answering each of these questions a generator will be prepared to facilitate compliant storage and disposal of any wastes generated.

Is the material a solid waste?

In order to answer the first question, 40 CFR Part 261.2 defines materials that are solid wastes and those that are not solid wastes. RCRA §1004(27) defines a solid waste as, “any garbage, refuse, sludge from a wastewater treatment plant, water supply treatment plant, or air pollution control facility, and other discarded material, including solid, liquid, semisolid, or contained gaseous material, resulting from industrial, commercial, mining, and agricultural operations and from community activities.”

Additionally, the EPA provides several tools, including a Definition of Solid Waste (DSW) decision tool that can help walk you through this first step.

Is the waste specifically excluded from RCRA?

There are some types of solid wastes that the EPA excludes from the definition of hazardous waste. These materials, regardless of meeting a listing or exhibiting a characteristic of hazardous waste, cannot be considered a hazardous waste. According to §261.4(b), excluded wastes include:

  • Household Hazardous Waste
  • Agricultural Waste
  • Mining Overburden
  • Fossil Fuel Combustion Waste (Bevill)
  • Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Wastes (Bentsen Amendment)
  • Trivalent Chromium Wastes
  • Mining and Mineral Processing Wastes (Bevill)
  • Cement Kiln Dust (Bevill)
  • Arsenically Treated Wood
  • Petroleum Contaminated Media & Debris from Underground Storage Tanks
  • Injected Groundwater
  • Spent Chloroflurocarbon Refrigerants
  • Used Oil Filters
  • Used Oil Distillation Bottoms
  • Landfill Leachate or Gas Condensate Derived from Certain Listed Wastes
  • Project XL Pilot Project Exclusions

Many of these exclusions are conditional and often specific to an industry or type of waste. Careful reading of the conditional exclusions is necessary when making these determinations.

Is the waste a listed hazardous waste?

The EPA has studied hundreds of different waste streams and listed the wastes accordingly. Listed wastes are described or listed on four different lists that can be found at 40 CFR 261, Subpart D. These four lists are:

  • The F list — The F list designates particular solid wastes from certain common industrial or manufacturing processes as hazardous. Because the processes producing these wastes can occur in different sectors of industry, the F list wastes are known as wastes from nonspecific sources. The F list is codified in the regulations at §261.31.
  • The K list — The K list designates particular solid wastes from certain specific industries as hazardous. K list wastes are known as wastes from specific sources. The K list is found at §261.32.
  • The P list and the U list — These two lists are similar in that both list pure or commercial grade formulations of certain specific unused chemicals as hazardous. Both the P list and U list are codified in §261.33.

Does the waste exhibit a characteristic of hazardous waste?    

There are four characteristics of hazardous waste. These characteristics help us understand what the waste is capable of/how it poses a danger. The four characteristics are ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and toxicity. Full definitions of these characteristics can be found here.

Good news, blog friends! We have a new eBook to tell you about today! If you are subscribed to our email newsletter you will have gotten early access to this last week; now it is available to everyone though!

You may be wondering what the new eBook is about so let me tell you! We’re calling it a Hazardous Waste Cheat Sheet and it lives up to its name. Within this short eBook you will find information on a few different basics of hazardous waste, including:

  • The Definition of Hazardous Waste
  • The Characteristics of Hazardous Waste
  • The Different Hazardous Waste Classes and
  • Common Hazardous Material/Waste Acronyms and Recognized Abbreviations

The cornerstone of a successful hazardous waste management system is the proper identification of hazardous wastes. RCRA regulations at 40 CFR 262.11 require that any person who produces or generates a waste must determine if that waste is hazardous. 262.11 also provides four steps for generators to utilize in the process of hazardous waste identification. These are:

  • Is the waste a “solid waste”?
  • Is the waste specifically excluded from the RCRA regulations?
  • Is the waste a “listed” hazardous waste?
  • Does the waste exhibit a characteristic of hazardous waste?

So, in order to properly identify hazardous waste, it stands to reason that we should work our way through those four points.

Is the waste a “solid waste”?

As with many things, the first step in hazardous waste identification is pretty intuitive. We must first determine if the material is a waste. After all, if it is not a waste it can’t be a hazardous waste. That said, determining whether or not something is a waste can get tricky. Take glass bottles for example, one person could see them as something to discard while another may see them as valuable due to their ability to be recycled.

Because of this ambiguity, the EPA developed a set of regulations to assist in determining whether or not a material is a waste. RCRA uses the term “solid waste” in place of “waste. Under RCRA, the term “solid waste” means any waste, whether it is a solid, semisolid, or liquid. The first section of the RCRA hazardous waste identification regulations focuses on the definition of solid waste and is a good place to look if you are confused about this step.

Is the waste excluded?

While solid wastes are rather abundant, just a small percentage of them qualify as hazardous wastes. You might think that distinguishing between hazardous and nonhazardous wastes is a simple matter of chemical and toxicological analysis. This, however, is not the case. We must first consider other factors before evaluating the hazard posed by the chemical composition of a waste.

Due to the fact that regulating some wastes may be impractical, unfair, or otherwise undesirable, the EPA has created exclusions. Household waste, for example, can contain dangerous chemicals, like solvents and pesticides, but making households subject to the strict RCRA waste management regulations would create a number of practical problems. Congress and EPA exempted or excluded certain wastes, like household wastes, from the hazardous waste definition and regulations.

Determining whether or not a waste is excluded or exempted from hazardous waste regulation is the second step in the RCRA hazardous waste identification process. Only after determining that a solid waste is not somehow excluded from hazardous waste regulation should the analysis proceed to evaluate the actual chemical hazard that a waste poses. Check 40 CFR to see if the waste you generate is excluded for any reason.

Is the waste a “listed” hazardous waste?

The EPA has studied hundreds of different waste streams and listed the wastes accordingly. Listed wastes are described or listed on four different lists that can be found at 40 CFR 261, Subpart D. These four lists are:

  • The F list — The F list designates particular solid wastes from certain common industrial or manufacturing processes as hazardous. Because the processes producing these wastes can occur in different sectors of industry, the F list wastes are known as wastes from nonspecific sources. The F list is codified in the regulations at §261.31.
  • The K list — The K list designates particular solid wastes from certain specific industries as hazardous. K list wastes are known as wastes from specific sources. The K list is found at §261.32.
  • The P list and the U list — These two lists are similar in that both list pure or commercial grade formulations of certain specific unused chemicals as hazardous. Both the P list and U list are codified in §261.33.

The third step in hazardous waste identification is determining which (if any) of these lists your waste belongs on.

Does the waste exhibit a characteristic of hazardous waste?

We’ve talked about the characteristics of hazardous waste before. There are four different characteristics; ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and toxicity. If you need a refresher on the definitions of these characteristics check out our “Characteristics of Hazardous Waste,” post or our infographic depicting them.

The final step in the hazardous waste identification process is determining if your waste displays any of the four hazardous waste characteristics.

In the past we’ve discussed what hazardous waste is defined as. Today, I’d like to focus on the different characteristics hazardous waste may possess. These characteristics help us understand what the waste is capable of/how it poses a danger. We discussed some aspects of these characteristics in our Household Hazardous Wastes eBook but today I hope to delve further into them.

There are four basic characteristics to look at; ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and toxicity.

Ignitability – According to the EPA, “Ignitable wastes can create fires under certain conditions, are spontaneously combustible, or have a flash point less than 60 °C (140 °F). Examples include waste oils and used solvents.” A flash point is the lowest temperature at which a substance can evaporate enough to produce sufficient vapor to form an ignitable mixture with the air.

Ignitable wastes can be broken down into two categories, solids, and liquids. As stated above, flash point is the most important things to remember when it comes to ignitable liquids. You have to consider other things with solids though. Non liquid ignitables are capable under standard temperature and pressure of causing fire through friction, absorption of moisture, or spontaneous chemical changes. If ignited, these wastes will burn so vigorously and persistently that they create a hazardous situation.

Corrosivity – According to the EPA, “Corrosive wastes are acids or bases (pH less than or equal to 2, or greater than or equal to 12.5) that are capable of corroding metal containers, such as storage tanks, drums, and barrels. Battery acid is an example.” A corrosive can cause skin damage to people and significantly corrode metal. A corrosive hazardous material can be either liquid or solid.

Reactivity – The EPA defines reactive wastes as, “wastes [which] are unstable under “normal” conditions. They can cause explosions, toxic fumes, gases, or vapors when heated, compressed, or mixed with water. Examples include lithium-sulfur batteries and explosives.”

Reactive wastes are, in themselves, unstable. They have the potential to form toxic gases, vapors, or fumes which can endanger human health. Some (D003) form potentially explosive mixtures with water. Reactive wastes are capable of detonation or explosive reactions.

Toxicity – Toxic wastes are defined by the EPA as wastes that are “harmful or fatal when ingested or absorbed (e.g., containing mercury, lead, etc.). When toxic wastes are land disposed, contaminated liquid may leach from the waste and pollute ground water.”

More information regarding these waste characteristics can be found in the 40 CFR §261.

Hazardous wastes will fall into one or more of these categories and it is important to know which ones you and/or your company’s wastes fall into so you can safely handle them. Additionally, it is vital to remember that “non-hazardous” does not mean non-dangerous or unregulated, always check with EPA guidelines and individual state laws to ensure compliance and safety.