Hazardous Chemical Waste Enforcement
Written by Steve Hudgik February 2013
What types of hazardous chemical waste regulations does the EPA enforce?
The EPA is responsible for overseeing the effective disposal of non-hazardous wastes, from common household garbage to large-scale industrial wastes and materials. These wastes and materials are not specifically hazardous, and have opportunities for reduction, reuse, and recycling.
The EPA is also responsible for regulating hazardous chemical wastes. A hazardous chemical waste is a waste with properties that make it potentially harmful to human health or the environment. This authority primarily comes from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
More than 20,000 hazardous waste generators produce over 40 million tons of hazardous chemical waste that regulated by RCRA each year. Many types of businesses generate hazardous chemical waste. Some are small companies that may be located in your community, such as dry cleaners, auto repair shops, hospitals, and exterminators. Some hazardous chemical waste generators are larger companies like chemical manufacturers, electroplating companies and oil refineries.
RCRA Hazardous Chemical Waste Defined
Hazardous chemical waste can be in many physical forms. It may be a solid, semi-solid, liquid, or even a contained gas. The RCRA law places hazardous chemical wastes into two categories:
- Listed Wastes: these are wastes that are included on one of the four hazardous wastes lists established by EPA regulations:
- The F-list wastes are from non-specific sources. These are wastes from common manufacturing and industrial processes. Solvents used in cleaning or degreasing operations are an example of the types of wastes included on the F list.
- The K-list wastes come from a specific source. That means these wastes are identified as coming from specific processes within specific industries. If a waste source is on the K list, it is considered as hazardous without regard to the chemical analysis of the waste.
- The P-list and the U-list cover discarded commercial chemical products. These lists include specific commercial chemical products in an unused form.
- Characteristic wastes: these are wastes which are not included on one of the above four lists, and which have at least one of four characteristics defined in 40 CFR Part 261 Subpart C. Those four characteristics are:
- Ignitability - wastes that:
- can create fires under certain conditions, or
- are spontaneously combustible, or
- have a flash point less than 60 °C (140 °F).
- Corrosivity - these are wastes such as battery acid. They are:
- Acids with pH less than or equal to 2, or
- Bases with a pH greater than or equal to 12.5, or
- Capable of corroding metal containers, such as storage tanks, drums, and barrels.
- Reactivity - these are wastes, such as lithium-sulfur batteries and explosives, that are unstable under "normal" conditions. They can cause explosions, toxic fumes, gases, or vapors when heated, compressed, or mixed with water.
- Toxicity - toxic wastes are harmful or fatal when ingested or absorbed. Examples are devices or materials that contain mercury or lead. When toxic wastes are disposed of on the land, contaminated liquid may leach from the waste and pollute ground water.
- Ignitability - wastes that:
Hazardous Chemical Wastes at Home
Household hazardous chemical wastes include paint, mineral spirits, batteries and used oil. The EPA does not regulate hazardous wastes that come from homes. However, that does not mean they are not dangerous. Many local communities provide collection centers or free pick-up of household hazardous waste. Local recycling centers or fire departments may be able to provide information about hazardous waste collection and disposal.
The best approach is for homeowners to use products that are non-hazardous or less hazardous. In addition, when using a hazardous material homeowners should use only the amount needed. Leftover materials can be shared with neighbors, donated to a business charity or government agency, or dropped off at a local household hazardous waste program collection site.
Hazardous Chemical Waste - Areas Of EPA Enforcement
The EPA's hazardous chemical waste enforcement program targets the most serious waste and chemical hazards. The objectiver is to and protects people from exposure to hazardous chemicals and wastes by:
- Preventing releases of hazardous chemicals.
- Pressing for cleanup of hazardous waste sites and that the polluter pays for the cleanup.
- Ensuring pesticides are properly registered and labeled, and that new chemicals are reviewed for unreasonable risks.
- Working to ensure communities are accurately informed about the releases to the environment that may impact their community.
The EPA establishes and enforces requirements for the safe handling, treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous wastes. Both the EPA and the states verify compliance through a monitoring program which includes inspecting facilities, reviewing records and taking enforcement action where necessary. The following is an overview of the EPA's areas of responsibility.
Hazardous Chemical Waste - Materials, Processes, Equipment and Air Pollution
Mining and mineral processing: The EPA works to protect communities and the environment from the effects of waste from high risk hazardous waste operations at mineral processing facilities using phosphoric acid.
Underground Storage Tanks: Subtitle I of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) has requirements for preventing, detecting, and cleaning up releases from underground storage tanks.
Lead-based paint: The Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act requires that contractors working in pre-1978 housing, or child-occupied facilities, must follow lead-safe work practices. This includes notifying owners, tenants, and child care facilities about the presence of lead, and providing them with lead-based paint information. The owners and landlords of pre-1978 residential housing must give tenants a lead-based paint warning pamphlet and notify the tenants of known lead-based paint in the housing. Sellers are subject to similar requirements.
Asbestos: The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) includes regulations on how to respond to asbestos in schools. The EPA enforces those regulations, as well as worker protection standards for state and local government employees who are not protected by OSHA asbestos standards.
Accidental Hazardous Releases: The EPA enforces the requirements of Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act. Owners and operators of sources producing, processing and storing extremely hazardous substances must identify the hazards associated with an accidental release. In addition they must:
- Design and maintain their facility to ensure safety.
- Prepare a Risk Management Plan (RMP).
- Minimize the consequences of any accidental releases that do occur.
EPA conducts inspections and and reviews facility RMPs to verify compliance and ensure the quality of the overall preparedness, prevention and responses.
Hazardous Chemical Waste
Pesticides: The Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) regulates the distribution, sale and use of pesticides. The EPA enforces regulations on the distribution and sale of:
- Unregistered pesticides.
- Registered pesticides with a composition that differs from that submitted at registration.
- Registered pesticides that are incorrectly branded or adulterated.
The EPA also has the authority to stop the sale of and pesticide products which do not meet FIFRA requirements.
The EPA, in partnership with the states, verify FIFRA compliance through a compliance monitoring program. This includes inspecting facilities, reviewing records and taking enforcement action when necessary.
Toxic Chemicals: The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) regulates the introduction of both new and existing chemicals. It requires that chemical manufacturers and importers do reporting, record-keeping and testing of the chemical substances.
Working together, the EPA and the states verify TSCA compliance through monitoring that includes facility inspections, reviewing records and taking enforcement action as necessary.
PCBs: The TSCA prohibits the manufacture of polychlorinated biphenyls (known as PCBs). It also controls the phase-out of their existing uses, and regulates their safe disposal. The EPA has the responsibility for enforcing compliance with the TSCA PCB requirements.
Emergency Planning and Community Right to Known (EPCRA): The EPCRA requires that facilities be prepared for chemical emergencies and that they report any releases of hazardous and toxic chemicals. In addition, it requires that people be informed about toxic chemical releases in their area. The requirements include industrial plants putting out an annual report about the releases and transfers of toxic chemicals.
The EPA, in partnership with the states are responsible for verifying EPCRA compliance.
Hazardous Chemical Waste - Cleanup Enforcement
The purpose of the EPA's cleanup enforcement program is to protect human health and the environment by getting those responsible for a hazardous waste site to either clean up or reimburse EPA for thec lean costs. EPA has authority under a number of laws that can be used independently and in combination to address specific cleanup situations.
- Superfund: The official name of the Superfund law is the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Under this law the EPA has the authority to finds the party(s) responsible for the contamination of a site. The EPA then enters into negotiations for the clean up the site or to obtain payment for others to clean up the site.
- Corrective Action: When solid or hazardous waste is not being properly managed and contamination results at a facility regulated by the RCRA, the EPA has the authority to step in and oversee the cleanup.
- Leaking Underground Storage Tanks: The RCRA authorizes the EPA to ensure that hazardous releases from leaking underground storage tanks are cleaned up and that the owners or operators responsible for the underground storage tank comply with all RCRA requirements.
- Brownfields and Land Revitalization: A brownfield is a former commercial or industrial site. This area of EPA responsibility involves the reuse of previously contaminated property.
In 2010, EPA established the Integrated Cleanup Initiative (ICI). This is a three-year program whose goal is to identify and implement improvements to the EPA's land cleanup programs. The ICI includes a focus on enforcement activities compels responsible parties to clean up contaminated sites, thereby preserving Superfund monies so they can be used to clean up sites where viable responsible parties cannot be found.