How to Follow the Most Important Regulations Dealing with Hazardous Waste at Your Facility


Among all the regulations that facility managers must follow, those dealing with hazardous waste are some of the most important… and the easiest to fall afoul of.

The main hazardous waste regulation that is often overlooked is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), a.k.a. the “cradle-to-grave” law. In simple terms, hazardous waste must be accounted for throughout its entire life cycle (generation, accumulation, transportation, treatment, disposal and post-disposal).

Seems easy enough. But there are some common issues that come up for clients we’ve worked with that often result in violations of RCRA, sometimes through no fault of their own.

1. You’ve “disposed” of your hazardous waste… or have you?

Many facilities think that after they’ve hired a transporter and disposal service to take waste off their property, they no longer have to worry about it.

That’s certainly not the case—cradle to grave, remember?

Yes, even if something happens off your site, where you have no control, you can be in violation. If a hazardous waste facility becomes a SuperFund site, where the waste facility requires remediation and the waste facility owners cannot pay for it, the USEPA often goes after everyone who disposed of waste at the facility to help cover the costs of remediation.

You can protect yourself from such exposures by taking great care when hiring a disposal facility or transporter. Here’s a quick checklist you can follow that will help you significantly reduce your potential future exposures and liabilities regarding your hazardous waste disposal activities. Before you hire a waste transporter or disposal facility to handle your wastes:

  • Make sure they have the proper licenses and certifications.
  • Make sure they have sufficient insurance coverages.
  • Check on their compliance history. If there are any significant violations in their record, steer clear.
  • Check their Dun & Bradstreet report. You don’t want to work with a company that is financially strapped and could shut down, leaving you on the hook.

2. What hazardous waste do you generate?

Another key element of RCRA is that you are responsible for identifying and accounting for all solid wastes that come out of your facility and determining whether or not they are hazardous. You must even show proof of that evaluation to a regulator during any inspection that might come up.

Unfortunately, nine times out of ten, a facility has not done these evaluations properly, if at all.

You can start with a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) to help determine if a waste may be hazardous. SDSs contain helpful information on chemical properties, health hazards, protective measures and safety precautions. But while many think that SDSs are enough, they are just a starting point. You see, SDSs list constituents in percentages and only typically show hazardous constituents that make up at least 1% of the material covered by the SDS.

The problem here, is that when determining if something is hazardous, you have to look at concentrations in parts per million of a contaminant or constituent in a material. Remember, one percent of something is the equivalent of 10,000 parts per million. In other words, a contaminant or constituent could make up way less than 1% of a material (and not be listed in a SDS), but that contaminant or constituent can cause the material to be hazardous because there are several thousand parts per million present in the material.

You can also use the generator’s knowledge of the waste material to help with this evaluation.

However, the best practice in this situation is to take a sample of the waste and send it to the lab. Tell them you need the material analyzed for RCRA hazardous constituents. The lab then sends back a report with all the concentrations listed and whether it’s hazardous or not. The bonus here is that you can use that lab report as your demonstration of proof that the waste evaluation was performed!

3. Are you taking the necessary last step in training?

Training is extremely important when it comes to hazardous waste—or really any activity—at your facility. It always yields a positive return in terms of safety and environmental impact.

Of almost equal importance to the training itself is the documentation of that training. Many facilities do not have a complete and thorough documentation system for employee training, and that puts them in violation. In the eyes of regulators, limited to no documentation means that the training didn’t happen.

This documentation should indicate who was trained, in what, when, why, who conducted the training, and whether the trainee completed the training. Many activities that require training, also require annual refreshers. Make sure you conduct the annual refreshers after the initial training is completed! All of your training has to be properly documented or the training is not in compliance.

4. Do you have this near your telephones?

One of the most common compliance issues we see, especially at small-quantity generators of hazardous waste, is actually quite easy to solve.

It’s a simple matter of posting emergency information near telephones that are in waste generation areas and offices. These notices should include the name and telephone number of the facility’s emergency coordinator, a map of the facility for evacuation purposes, and the number of the local fire department if the alarm system is not automatically integrated. These notices must be posted near every phone in your waste generation areas.

If you’re ever inspected and the regulator doesn’t see this posted, you’re starting the inspection off with a violation. The inspector will be concerned that you missed such a basic requirement and will likely spend the rest of the day looking very closely at your facility to determine what other regulatory requirements are not being addressed. This could make for a very long day for you!

Take care of your emergency notices and that’ll help the rest of the inspection go smoothly.

5. Have you labeled your hazardous waste correctly?

A big issue in hazardous waste regulations right now is the labeling of hazardous waste containers. Recent changes mean that the pre-printed labels you purchased last year may no longer be valid, and there is all-new information that has to appear on every label.

The grace period for this is over. It’s time to get up to speed.

To help you navigate these regulation changes, we’ve put together a special report on Recent Changes to Hazardous Waste Container Labels that you can download now.

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