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Just What Is “Proper Disposal?”

A family watches a TV news story about a traffic accident involving a chemical spill. The reporter closes by explaining that hazmat crews cleaned up the spill and sent the material off for proper disposal.

A homeowner packs the trunk of her car with boxes of old paint cans, pool and yard chemicals, plus cleaners and solvents that she no longer wants. She drives to a household hazardous waste collection event sponsored by her community. She is satisfied that her old household chemical products have been collected for proper disposal.

A high school chemistry teacher gets ready for another school year by cleaning out and organizing the chemicals in the school’s laboratory. He sends an email to the principal that the lab’s inventory is stored safely, and that the old and unwanted chemicals were shipped out for proper disposal.

For many, the story about proper disposal of hazardous waste ends there.

Without question, our modern society has increased living standards and lengthened life spans. It grows and thrives based on a dynamic economy that produces many goods and services. The production and use of many common, everyday products leave chemical residues that may harm health and the environment if they are not managed properly. That description, essentially, is the definition of a hazardous waste. It takes a specialized industry to manage these materials in an environmentally responsible manner.

For decades, chemical wastes were stored haphazardly, buried, dumped, or burned indiscriminately because they were in the way. Well-known examples of mismanaged hazardous waste, led to the abandonment of a suburban neighborhood in Love Canal, New York, and an oil fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio.

Things began to change following the passage of landmark federal legislation in 1976. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, known as RCRA, committed the nation to identifying hazardous wastes and developing a program to manage them in a responsible manner. RCRA mandates the proper types of treatment for each type of hazardous waste. This treatment might be chemical neutralization, physical separation of the hazardous chemicals, or possibly thermal treatment to destroy the hazardous compounds. EPA dictates the types of treatment by waste type, thus ensuring proper disposal.

Despite the efforts and policy mandates for people and industry to reduce, reuse or recycle waste, there will always be a chemical residue that must be disposed of in a permitted landfill or be treated by high-temperature incineration with strict controls for air emissions.

So the next time you see a news story about an environmental cleanup, participate in a community household hazardous waste collection, or perform an experiment in a school chemistry lab, think about what “proper disposal” means. You can rest assured there are companies like Heritage that have the experience and know-how to protect health and the environment from the hazards of hazardous wastes.

Watch for future blogs about various waste and treatment types and how the environmental industry helps to assure proper disposal.

You know the phrase “you learn something new every day?” I sometimes wonder about that. I saw a card once that reflected my feelings pretty perfectly. It said something like, “I disagree with the idea that you learn something new every day. I think there are some days when I learn nothing at all, and in fact, forget some things.” But I am happy to say that today was one of those days when I did learn something!

Now for some of you this will probably not be new news but hopefully I will still provide you with some helpful information about what I learned. So, to alleviate the suspense (assuming you didn’t guess from the title of this post) I learned today that there is a difference between “empty” and “RCRA empty.”

Now I realize that regular hazardous waste generators may be thinking to themselves, “Yeah, we knew this…” But I found it pretty interesting and decided to look into it a little more. Generally, we think of something as empty when it appears empty to the naked eye. However, hazardous containers that are defined as ‘RCRA empty’ are not subject to EPA regulation even when residue remains.

So what makes a container RCRA empty? I learned that there are two general (common) answers as well as a third less common condition. To begin, we will determine if the waste was acutely hazardous.

What is an acutely hazardous waste?

An acutely hazardous waste is one that is P listed or designated with the sub-code H. In layman’s terms, acute hazardous waste is waste that is considered to present a substantial hazard whether managed properly or not. If your waste is acutely hazardous, there are a few ways you can make the container RCRA empty.

How do I make a container holding acutely hazardous waste RCRA empty?

The first way is applicable if your container has an inner liner. If it does you just need to remove it and you’re good to go (in terms of your container being empty, you still need to properly dispose of the liner). If your container doesn’t have a liner you need to triple rinse the container with an appropriate solvent. If triple rinsing is inappropriate you must check with the EPA and local government to determine an alternate method.

What if the waste is not acutely hazardous?

If the waste in your container is not acutely hazardous you can use practices that are commonly employed, industry-wide, to empty them to EPA regulated levels. Common methods for emptying are pouring, pumping, and draining. When emptying there are a few rules that constitute “empty.” Firstly, there can be no more than 1” remaining, no more than 3″ waste for small containers and no more than .3″ for large containers.

What is the third condition?

The third condition refers to gas cylinders. Containers holding compressed gasses are considered empty when the pressure in the container approaches atmospheric pressure.

What happens to residues in a container?

Residues which are removed from a container (like liners) are fully subject to RCRA and may or may not be considered hazardous based on waste determination. Residues in the container, however, are considered exempt and are non-regulated.

And as always, this information may not be all-inclusive and it is always best to check 40 CFR and your state regulations for the most up-to-date information.

40 CFR defines solid waste as “any discarded material that is not excluded under §261.4(a) or that is not excluded by a variance granted under §260.30 and §260.31 or that is not excluded by a non- waste determination under §260.30 and §260.34.” Additionally, discarded material is, “any material which is: (A) Abandoned… (B) Recycled…(C) Considered inherently waste-like, …or (D) A military munition identified as a solid waste in §266.202.” This makes everything perfectly clear, right? Relative fuzziness aside, what I want to talk about today is the 40 CFR 261.2 recycling exemptions as they relate to solid wastes.

There are five types of material that can be considered for recycling exemptions:

  1. Spent materials – The EPA defines spent materials as “any material that has been used and as a result of contamination can no longer serve the purpose for which it was produced without processing.”
  2. Sludges – According to the EPA, a sludge is “any solid, semi-solid, or liquid waste generated from a municipal, commercial, or industrial wastewater treatment plant, water supply treatment plant, or air pollution control facility exclusive of the treated effluent from a wastewater treatment plant.”
  3. Byproducts – “A byproduct is a material that is not one of the primary products of a production process and is not solely or separately produced by the production process. Examples are process residues such as slags or distillation column bottoms. The term does not include a co-product that is produced for the general public’s use and is ordinarily used in the form it is produced by the process.”
  4. Commercial chemical products – These products are not being used but have not been spent for an intended purpose.
  5. Scrap metal

These five materials can have recycling exemptions in four different ways:

  1. Use constituting disposal – Used in a manner constituting disposal
  2. Burning waste or waste fuels for energy recovery or using wastes to produce a fuel.
  3. Reclamation of wastes – According to the EPA, “A material is reclaimed if it is processed to recover a usable product, or if it is regenerated. Examples are recovery of lead values from spent batteries and regeneration of spent solvents.”
  4. Speculative accumulation – This is one of the more detailed recycling exemptions.  According to the EPA, “A material is accumulated speculatively if it is accumulated before being recycled. A material is not accumulated speculatively, however, if the person accumulating it can show that the material is potentially recyclable and has a feasible means of being recycled; and that—during the calendar year (commencing on January 1)—the amount of material that is recycled, or transferred to a different site for recycling, equals at least 75 percent by weight or volume of the amount of that material accumulated at the beginning of the period.” More information about this can be found in 40 CFR §261.1.

Recycling exemptions are just a small portion of possible exceptions. Always check 40 CFR and state regulations for full information.

On January 1, 2013, the prohibition of the export of elemental mercury becomes effective as required by the Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008 (MEBA) which prohibits the export of elemental mercury from the United States to other countries.

Use of mercury in the world market has continued as a result of the free trade of commodity grade elemental mercury. Much of this mercury is used in “artesian” gold mining operations in countries without health and environmental standards found in the United States. The U.S. Congress intended to reduce mercury availability worldwide by banning the export of U.S. mercury. The export ban will result in a surplus of commodity mercury exceeding domestic demand. A provision in MEBA requires the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to provide for the long-term storage of the surplus produced domestically from mercury recycling programs and companies.

After January 1, 2013 storage will be at a select few commercially operated facilities that are granted permission to store beyond the one-year limit typically imposed by land ban regulation. Long-term storage of elemental mercury will eventually be conducted at a facility constructed and operated by the Department of Energy (DOE). Under MEBA, the DOE is allowed to assess a storage fee that can be increased annually. The location, design, and long term storage fees associated with the DOE facility have not been determined by the federal government.

What does MEBA mean for Heritage Environmental Services, LLC customers?

Heritage will continue to transport and accept mercury containing materials as Universal Waste or Hazardous Waste in its many forms; elemental, contained in devices and products such as fluorescent light bulbs, amalgams, contaminated debris and soil, mercury salts, and aqueous solutions containing mercury. Once collected and/or concentrated, Heritage sends this material to retort facilities for further processing which is a requirement under the land disposal restrictions imposed by Resource Conservation and Recovery Act for mercury containing waste material exceeding 260 mg/Kg of mercury. Retort results in mercury being converted back to its’ elemental form, which as previously mentioned, is primarily exported out of the United States. As a result, most all mercury managed by Heritage is affected by MEBA to one extent or other.

What are the known impacts at this time?

  • Providers to Heritage of retort and other processing services have indicated that they will be imposing storage fees for any elemental mercury received after December 31, 2012. These fees are of indefinite duration.
  • Treatment prices for hazardous waste streams containing mercury or devices contaminated with mercury will increase beginning on January 1, 2013, because elemental mercury produced by the retort process will be subject to the export ban. While we cannot fully quantify the price increases at this time, we will provide updates based on your mercury-containing waste streams as soon as possible and/or provide information as you interact with your Account Representatives and Account Coordinators.
  • It is possible that recycling activities associated with mercury containing materials may no longer be considered recycling under EPA regulatory programs.

What is unknown to Heritage?

  • The date that the DOE will have completed construction and begin operation of the long-term storage facility.
  • The fees imposed by the DOE for long term storage of elemental mercury now and into the future.

What are some of the common materials likely affected by MEBA?

  • Elemental mercury
  • Elemental containing devices; switches, barometers, relays, thermometers.
  • Elemental mercury containing medical devices.
  • Fluorescent lights, CFL, and mercury vapor bulbs
  • Batteries
  • Amalgams and alloys
  • Chemical compounds and solutions such as; Oxides, chlorides, and nitrates.
  • COD test reagent
  • Pharmaceuticals containing mercury
  • Fungicides and disinfectants
  • Laboratory reagents and waste
  • Spill related debris and soil

*Despite being exempt from the ban, many of these materials will be subject to higher prices for treatment beginning in 2013.

For starters, I want to apologize for missing a day of blogging last Thursday. I attended a Heritage RCRA refresher course in downtown Indianapolis and was without internet for most of the day. On the plus side, attending the course gave me ideas for several different blog posts!

Over the coming weeks, I will be singling out some of what I learned and sharing it on here. To begin, I will go over the basic federal requirements set forth by RCRA. It is always important to remember, however, that each state likely has additional requirements that must be met.

The first thing you will want to do is make some basic determinations. On an ongoing basis you should be asking and answering the following questions:

  • In relation to identifying waste streams –
    • What are all the wastes being generated at my facility?
    • What are the different departments generating?
  • In relation to hazardous waste determination –
    • According to the regulatory definitions, which of the wastes being generated are classified as hazardous?
  • In relation to determining regulatory categories –
    • How much waste do you have on site and what is done with it? (see form 8700-12)

Next, you will want to make sure your containers are up to standard. It must be ensured that containers are:

  • In good condition (not rusty, no corrosion, no leaking)
  • Compatible with the waste (you want to make sure the waste will not react with the container)
  • Labeled or marked “hazardous waste”
  • Marked with an accumulation start date
  • Kept closed (as a rule of thumb this means you could tip it over and it wouldn’t leak)
  • Managed to avoid damage and releases
  • Kept free of incompatible wastes; incompatible wastes must never be placed in the same container

The third thing to check is that you are following regulations regarding accumulation areas. For this section you will need to make sure:

  • Ignitable and reactive wastes are at least 50 feet from the property line
  • “No Smoking” signs are posted
  • Incompatible wastes are separated or protected from each other
  • Emergency equipment is available
  • There is adequate aisle space maintained (at least 2½ feet)

Additionally, someone needs to:

  • Inspect container accumulation areas weekly
  • Inspect emergency equipment at least monthly
  • Make shipments every 90 days if you are a large quantity generator
  • Make shipments every 180 days if you are a small quantity generator

Lastly, you must follow the compliance documentation rules. These rules include:

  • Having a contingency plan
  • Having personnel training program and records
  • Documentation of inspections
  • Manifests and LDR forms
  • Biennial Reports
  • Waste analyses/determinations
  • Documented waste minimization program on site

Remember, these guidelines are just a starting point. To ensure compliance you must look into all regulations as they apply to your business, both at federal and state level. Keep checking the blog in the coming weeks for more information about RCRA.

Have you heard the term “universal wastes?” I’ll admit, the first time I did I didn’t know what it meant. For me, the word “universal” really made it seem like it could be anything. Luckily for all of us, I have since learned what it really means.

The EPA has designated four specific wastes that are known as “universal wastes.” These are batteries, pesticides, mercury-containing equipment (like old thermometers), and lamp bulbs.

Both the EPA website and 40 CFR detail the universal waste definitions of each of these waste types. Additionally, they provide regulations that generators of these wastes must adhere to. For reference, these are the EPA definitions of each of these waste types:

  • Batteries – “Battery means a device consisting of one or more electrically connected electrochemical cells which is designed to receive, store, and deliver electric energy. An electrochemical cell is a system consisting of an anode, cathode, and an electrolyte, plus such connections (electrical and mechanical) as may be needed to allow the cell to deliver or receive electrical energy. The term battery also includes an intact, unbroken battery from which the electrolyte has been removed.” [1]
  • Pesticides – “Pesticide means any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest, or intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant…” [2] There are some exceptions which can be seen in detail on the EPA website here.
  • Mercury-containing Equipment – “Mercury-containing equipment means a device or part of a device (including thermostats, but excluding batteries and lamps) that contains elemental mercury integral to its function.” [3]
  • Lamp Bulbs – “fluorescent light bulbs and other mercury-containing bulbs…” [4]

As mentioned above, each of these waste types has specific federal regulations associated with it (and possible individual state regulations). The links back to the EPA site will take you to more information about the regulations set out in 40 CFR.

Additionally, a good place to start out with your company is to ensure that all employees are properly trained in universal waste handling regulations and that there is a clear understanding of the different regulations. Doing this will help your company avoid potentially dangerous and costly universal waste violations.

According to the EPA, “the National Waste Minimization Program supports efforts that promote a more sustainable society, reduce the amounts of waste generated, and lower the toxicity and persistence of wastes that are generated.” The program focuses on 31 separate “priority chemicals” found in many of our nation’s wastes and products. The primary focus is on eliminating or reducing the quantity of these chemicals that are produced with a secondary focus on recycling them when reduction or elimination cannot be achieved.

There are a few different tools and methods that can be used to aid in the reduction and elimination of these wastes including, “lean manufacturing, energy recovery, Environmental Management Systems (EMS), and green chemistry.” More information about each of these methods can be found on the Heritage website.

A major player in the minimization game is the hazardous waste reduction plan. A hazardous waste reduction plan (often referred to as a waste minimization plan) is required for all hazardous waste generators. General requirements include:

  • Corporate policy statement of support for pollution prevention
  • Description of your pollution prevention planning team(s) makeup, authority, and responsibility
  • Description of how all of the groups (production, laboratory, maintenance, shipping, marketing, engineering, and others) will work together to reduce waste production and energy consumption
  • Plan for publicizing and gaining company-wide support for the pollution prevention program
  • Plan for communicating the successes and failures of pollution prevention programs within your company
  • Description of the processes that produce, use, or release hazardous or toxic materials, including clear definition of the amounts and types of substances, materials, and products under consideration
  • List of treatment, disposal, and recycling facilities and transporters currently used
  • Preliminary review of the cost of pollution control and waste disposal
  • Description of current and past pollution prevention activities at your facility
  • Evaluation of the effectiveness of past and ongoing pollution prevention activities
  • Criteria for prioritizing candidate facilities, processes, and streams for pollution prevention projects

These Hazardous Waste Reduction Plans should be updated annually and there should always be a copy onsite. Additionally, while the points above cover national requirements, many states have additional criteria that must be met. By making sure to keep this plan up-to-date and available you can help prevent EPA violations for your company.

Information recently released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirms that three metal finishing companies in Southern California are paying the (hefty) price for improperly disposing of hazardous waste. Collectively, the three companies will be paying fines of more than $196,650.

Some of these charges include:

  • $74,000 in fines for failure to treat their industrial wastewater to federal standards before discharge.
  • $19,500 in fines for the improper management and treatment of hazardous waste.
  • $3,150 for failure to properly label hazardous waste containers.
  • An additional $100,000 will be spent by one of the companies in order to purchase a sludge dryer, which will reduce hazardous waste generated at the facility by 336 pounds a day.

“’The violation of federal regulations at metal finishing companies poses a risk to workers, as well as surrounding residents,’ said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest.”

Unfortunately, these are not the first violations for these three companies. In March of 2010, an EPA investigation discovered that the first facility had discharged industrial wastewater into the Los Angeles County sewer system. The wastewater tested above federal limits for several toxins such as chromium, cadmium, nickel, and cyanide; which was a violation of the Clean Water Act.

The second of the three was found violating EPA regulations in October of 2010, with violations such as failure to properly label and cover hazardous waste and conducting treatment of hazardous waste without a permit.

In 2011, the last of them was found to be improperly closing and labeling hazardous waste containers as well as failing to properly label, contain, and date used fluorescent lamps; which violates the federal regulations for universal waste.

That’s at least five previous individual violations! The story raises an important question, is your company doing everything it can to remain EPA compliant? It’s best to be vigilant now then to have to pay the price later.

Continuing our series of things you think you know about hazardous waste, this week Heritage Compliance Manager Mike Karpinski wrote about another common hazardous waste misconception. The idea that all non-hazardous wastes are “safe.”

This is the opposite side of last weeks post about all hazardous wastes being dangerous. As far as safety is concerned, it is even more important that people working with wastes understand that just seeing a “Non-Hazardous” or “Non-Regulated” sticker on a container does not mean it is not a dangerous material or is not subject to other regulatory programs.

These lables are simply regulatory classifications that guide the management of such materials. Often times, a material labeled “non-hazardous” can present an equal health or physical hazard to persons working with it as something marked hazardous (remember the story about the swimming pool from last week). Physical and chemical hazards associated with materials have thresholds established by the regulations for classification of waste.

For example, a liquid is considered hazardous waste when it has a flash point less than 140 degrees Fahrenheit by a specified testing protocol. A flashpoint is the temperature at which a particular organic compound gives off sufficient vapor to ignite in the air. Using the flashpoint criteria, gasoline would be a hazardous waste based on flash point, but used motor oil typically would not. That being said, we must note that both of these materials should be handled with care not only from an environmental perspective but from a fire hazard perspective.

Over the next few weeks we are going to be doing a series about things you think you know about hazardous waste (that are actually wrong). These posts have been contributed by our 10-year Heritage Compliance Manager, Mike Karpinski. So without further ado, our first common misconception:

All hazardous wastes are “hazardous”

One of the key thoughts we try to convey in employee safety training at Heritage Environmental Services, LLC is the fact that the terms “hazardous waste” and “non-hazardous waste” are simply regulatory terms. There are many stipulations in the regulations that can classify a very dangerous chemical as a non-hazardous waste and a relatively benign waste a hazardous waste.

For example, there is a part of the EPA hazardous waste regulation commonly called the “mixture rule” for listed hazardous wastes that essentially states “the mixture of any listed hazardous waste with any other solid waste will result in the entire mixture being a listed hazardous waste.”

Reasoning by analogy, this means that if you take a swimming pool of water and add a thimble full of a listed hazardous waste you have created a swimming pool of listed hazardous waste. The swimming pool is probably still very safe to swim in but the water is a listed hazardous waste nonetheless (The swim suit you used for your dip in the pool and the water you used to shower off with after your dip will also be listed hazardous wastes until properly disposed of at a permitted hazardous waste treatment/disposal facility).

Some other common materials that may qualify as hazardous wastes include:

– Nicotine Patches

– Finger Nail Polish

– Hand Sanitizers

– Mosquito Spray

– Silly String

– Windex/Formula 409

– Teeth Whitening Strips

– Pool chemicals

– Gasoline

– Oil based paint

– Rechargeable Batteries

– Fluorescent Lighting

But don’t worry; men in dark suits are not on their way to take you away if you have thrown any of these things out at your home. Households are excluded from the hazardous waste regulations. If you are a business disposing things like these though you should probably stop and call a company like Heritage to help you manage these materials properly.