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Characteristics of Hazardous Waste

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.

Substantive Vs. Procedural: Top Ten Hazardous Waste Violations

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like it has really been a while since I last blogged. I hope everyone had a good holiday/new year and that we all can be ready to jump into 2013. In an attempt to start things strong, I want to write another post about something I learned at the RCRA training seminar in December.

I have written in the past about different things that are often viewed as “common hazardous waste violations.” You may remember the post about Hazardous Waste Reduction Plans or the one about Avoiding Weekly Hazardous Waste Inspection Violations. Today, however, I want to discuss the US EPA’s list of the top 10 violations. In particular, I will write about whether the issues are substantive or procedural and what those classifications mean.

To begin, we need to identify the difference between these types of requirements:

  • Substantive Requirements – Either provide material reduction in risk or materially increase environmental protection.
  • Procedural Requirements – Have an indirect impact on risk reduction but are significant in terms of regulatory agency assessment of compliance.

Both types are important and neither can be ignored if you and your company want to ensure EPA and RCRA compliance.

So now we can look at how the top ten violations can be seperated into these two categories.

Substantive Violations from the EPA Top 10 Waste Violations

  • Lack of proper waste determination
  • Container violations
  • Inadequate aisel space
  • Incompatible wastes in close proximity
  • Inadequate inspections*
  • Inadequate training*

Procedural Violations from the EPA Top 10 Waste Violations

  • Inadequate inspections*
  • Inadequate training*
  • Accumulation time exceedances
  • Satellite container issues
    • location, volume, marking
  • Inadequate contingency plan
  • LDR notice issues

As you can see, inadequate inspections and inadequate training can fall under both categories. This means they can both provide material reduction in risk or materially increase environmental protection and be significant in terms of regulatory agency assessment of compliance. Perhaps the most important take-away from this post is that while common violations can fall into two categories, both must be considered and followed in order to ensure RCRA complience.

For more information about common violations, look for our Top 10 Hazardous Waste Violations eBook coming soon.

Mercury Export Ban Act: What Will it Mean for You?

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.

How to Avoid Hazardous Waste Weekly Inspection Violations

Sometime in the next couple of months we will be publishing a new eBook about some common hazardous waste generator violations and how you can go about avoiding them. To tide you over until that comes out though, I’d like to take our post today to write about weekly inspections of hazardous waste storage areas and what these inspections should include.

Inspections should be done once a week on the same day. Mondays and Fridays are typically not good choices because they are often spent catching up from the weekend or readying for the weekend respectively. So, once you pick your inspection day you will need to have both a designated inspector and a back-up because you want to do everything possible to ensure you will never miss a week. Record your weekly inspections in an inspection log.

Inspections should consist of the following at a minimum:

1. Is the area free of debris and other materials?

2. Is the ground clean and dry?

3. Are container tops free of spillage?

4. Is the area free of spills or leaks?

5. Are all of the containers in good condition? (Free of dents and corrosion, not bulging, or otherwise deteriorating?)

6. Are all containers properly closed?

7. Are containers labeled with hazardous waste labels?

8. Is the following information on the labels filled out?

    • Generator name and address
    • Accumulation start date
    • Contents
    • Physical state
    • Hazardous properties

9. Is the information on the labels legible?

10. Have wastes been disposed of within the allowable accumulation time?

11. Are the containers compatible with their contents?

12. Are incompatible wastes stored separately?

13. Is there adequate aisle space?

By making sure to check each of these things every week you will ensure that your company is not responsible for any hazardous waste accidents and ensures that you will not get in trouble with the EPA. Keep checking our blog for a link to the full eBook coming soon!

Costly Hazardous Waste Violations

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.

Things You Think You Know About Hazardous Waste – Pt. 3

This week we finish our things you think you know series contributed by Heritage Compliance Manager Mike Karpinski. The topic of this weeks post; as long as a business complies with EPA waste regulations they don’t have to worry about anything else.

Working at a national waste management company like Heritage, I often dream this was the case, but unfortunately there are many other federal agencies such as the Department of Transportation (DOT), Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), Department of Homeland Security, Drug Enforcement Agency and others that all have regulations pertaining to hazardous wastes and that’s not the end of it.

Each state (except for Iowa and Alaska) also has state specific regulations that are, at a minimum, equivalent to the federal regulations and may be stricter than the federal regulations.  Oftentimes, a state will have equivalent regulations, but different administrative requirements that cannot be ignored. For a company like Heritage that does business across all 50 states that means complying with a minimum of 196 different regulations relating to the proper management of hazardous materials (and I haven’t even mentioned all the city or county requirements yet…. I need an aspirin).

This reminds me, many of the statements made in the previous posts are based on general descriptions of federal regulations. Other Federal, State, or Local regulations may apply to your situation which may counteract these statements. This is one of the best reasons for working with a company like Heritage Environmental Services, LLC, we have experience dealing with these regulations and are trained to work closely with our customers to assist them in complying with these requirements.

Things You Think You Know About Hazardous Waste – Pt. 2

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.

Things You Think You Know About Hazardous Waste – Pt. 1

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.

What is Hazardous Waste?

The other day as I was brainstorming ideas to write about for the blog something occurred to me. Hazardous waste is a very broad concept. I realized that outside of a company that deals with theses items on a daily basis, there may be confusion about what even qualifies as hazardous. This being said, I decided to talk about what, exactly, hazardous waste is.

The EPA defines hazardous waste as, “waste that is dangerous or potentially harmful to our health or the environment.” They further break down these wastes into four categories:

– Listed Wastes: These are wastes that EPA has determined to be hazardous. These listed wastes include F-list, K-list, and P-and U-Lists.

– Characteristic Wastes: These are wastes that do not fit into any of the above listings but that exhibit ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity.

– Universal Wastes: This includes things like batteries, pesticides, mercury-containing equipment (e.g., thermostats, old fashioned thermometers, etc.) and fluorescent lamps.

– Mixed Wastes: These are wastes that contain both radioactive and hazardous waste components.

For all of these wastes it is vital to dispose of them in a manner that will not harm the environment. Luckily, current available technologies are able to remove toxicity and/or hazard from many of these items making them safe for reuse or disposal.