In 1999, more than 40 million tons of hazardous waste were produced by 20,079 large quantity generators in the United States.1 That our country alone can generate this much hazardous waste is mind-boggling. The good news for the public and our environment is that there are fewer hazardous waste generators this year and there is a trend indicating a routine annual reduction in the tonnage produced. During 1991, for example, 23,426 large quantity generators produced 305 million tons of hazardous waste2 -- by 1999, that figure was down by 265 million tons.
Over the last decade, the definition of hazardous waste has broadened significantly.3 At the same time, regulations have tightened. Generators and transporters of hazardous waste must have government-issued identification numbers and comply with other regulations regarding the handling of hazardous waste. These handlers must also meet certain regulatory requirements, while treatment, storage and disposal (TSD) facilities must meet even more stringent requirements and hold permits to operate.
The lifecycle of hazardous waste can take many turns, yet accountability remains key to this country's system for managing it. It is important that generators and transporters know hazardous waste management processes thoroughly. Substantial fines of tens of thousands of dollars are a potential downside if regulations for handling hazardous waste are violated.
Tracking hazardous waste from cradle to grave is mandated by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)4 and is implemented at the state level for 48 states. These regulatory agencies work together to assure the safe handling and disposal of hazardous waste all across the country.
Based on the trends of the last decade, speculation for 2001 suggests a further decrease in the overall volume of hazardous waste and tighter guidelines for disposition.
In cooperation with the 48 states, EPA biennially collects information regarding the generation, management and final disposition of hazardous waste as regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA) and the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA) of 1984.5 The last biennial report cycle covered the 1999 calendar year. Based on the trends of the last decade, speculation for 2001 suggests a further decrease in the overall volume of hazardous waste and tighter guidelines for disposition. There is speculation that the decrease in hazardous waste volume is due, in part, to the possibility that generators are developing alternative methods of production.
The Hazardous Waste Manifest
Federal agencies keep generators fully informed of the procedures for tracking hazardous waste. The Hazardous Waste Manifest System (the manifest), required by the DOT and the EPA, is a form prepared by all generators who transport, or offer for transport, hazardous waste for off-site treatment, recycling, storage or disposal. It is used to track the movement of hazardous waste from the point of generation to the point of ultimate disposition.
Currently, the manifest is a paper document containing multiple copies of a single form (although there is a movement to change the process to electronic reporting). When completed, it contains information on the type and quantity of the waste being transported, instructions for handling the waste and signature lines for all parties involved in the disposal process. Each party that handles the waste signs the manifest and retains a copy for themselves. This ensures critical accountability in the transportation and disposal processes. Once the waste reaches its destination, the receiving facility returns a signed copy of the manifest to the generator, confirming that the waste has been received by the designated facility.6
The manifest process is more complex today than ever before due to the Toxicity Characteristic (TC) Rule. This rule, established in 1990 by RCRA, added 25 new hazardous waste codes and required more stringent analytical tests for the presence of toxic constituents in waste. As a result, the TC Rule broadened the scope of generators that are held accountable to state and federal statutes governing hazardous waste and the manifest process.
Management and Transportation
Not all hazardous waste generators are regulated in the same way - statutes are based upon the amount of waste produced.7 In addition, state criteria is sometimes more stringent than that imposed by the federal agencies and it may cover more types of wastes and generators. Ultimately, the state is authorized to regulate hazardous waste.
The Toxicity Characteristic (TC) Rule added 25 new hazardous waste codes and required more stringent analytical tests for the presence of toxic constituents in waste.
The smallest category of generators is what EPA refers to as conditionally exempt small quantity generators (CESQGs). These generators include dry cleaners, auto repair shops, hospitals, exterminators, photo processing centers and other companies typically located right in the middle of communities. CESQGs may generate up to 220 pounds of hazardous waste per month or 2,640 pounds per year. To comply with EPA, they must do the following:
- Identify all of the hazardous waste they generate;
- Ensure that their hazardous waste is delivered to someone who is authorized to manage their waste; and
- Comply with accumulation time periods.
The small quantity generators (SQG) may generate up to 2,200 pounds per month or 26,400 pounds per year. No more than 2,200 pounds of hazardous waste may be generated in a given month.
Large quantity generators (LQGs) may generate more than 2,200 pounds per month, or 26,400 or more pounds per year. LQGs and SQGs are often larger companies such as chemical manufacturers, electroplating companies, pulp and paper mills, military installations and petroleum refineries. They both operate under the same requirements:
- Obtain an EPA identification number (contact state environmental office or EPA for number);
- Handle wastes properly before shipment (packaging, labeling, marking, placarding, accumulation time, etc.);
- Comply with the manifest system;
- Fulfill record-keeping and reporting requirements; and
- Comply with accumulation time periods.
Hazardous waste transporters provide an integral link in the manifest system. They also operate under very specific guidelines, which include:
- Obtain an EPA identification number;
- Comply with the manifest system;
- Respond appropriately to hazardous waste discharges; and
- Comply with both the RCRA requirements (40 CFR Part 263) and Department of Transportation regulations (49 CFR Part 171-179)8.
The Lifecycle of Hazardous Waste
Let's imagine that the "Acme" company is a facility that makes aircraft components. Through regularly scheduled truck shipments, Solvent X is delivered to Acme in 55-gallon drums. The shipments are received and staged at a dock in the chemical warehouse.
Once in the warehouse, Solvent X is transferred to a paint booth where aircraft wings are painted using paint guns. Solvent X is used to clean the lines and paint guns on a regular basis. Transfers are made from the 55-gallon drums of Solvent X to smaller, more manageable containers. The solvent is then removed directly from the smaller containers and used in the cleaning process.
The residual paint and Solvent X are collected as waste and placed into a different 55-gallon drum. At this point, Solvent X and the residual paint components have become waste. The next step for Acme is to identify the composition and characteristics of the waste and make a conclusion as to whether or not the waste is hazardous.
The questions the company must address in determining whether or not a waste is hazardous include:
- Is the original solvent categorized by EPA as a listed or characteristic hazardous waste (e.g. methyl ethyl ketone)?
- Is the waste ignitable, corrosive or reactive?
- Does a representative extract of the waste contain any of the listed contaminants in the TC Rule at a concentration equal to or greater than the toxicity characteristic?
If the answer to one or more of these questions is "yes," the waste is hazardous.
After concluding that the waste is indeed hazardous, Acme must properly label the drum to which it has been transferred. In addition to printing "hazardous waste" and applicable hazardous waste codes on the label, the date upon which the accumulation period begins must be placed on the drum as well.
Next, assume that after two weeks, this drum has been completely filled with hazardous waste. Once the drum is full, Acme has three days to move the drum to a RCRA hazardous waste storage area. The drum may remain in the RCRA storage area for 90 to 270 days, depending on how much hazardous waste is generated by Acme, and how far it is from a TSD.
EPA has proposed a new rule which will improve the manifest system by further standardizing the manifest form and by providing waste handlers with the option to complete, sign and transmit manifests electronically.
Eventually, Acme's Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Manager contacts the treatment, storage and disposal (TSD) facility and provides them with a waste profile for the Solvent X waste stream. Upon review, the TSD facility assigns a waste stream identification number. Then, the TSD (or the transporter) arranges to have a truck pick up the Solvent X waste stream from Acme. The driver of the truck has already received a hazardous waste manifest from the TSD facility.
Upon arrival at Acme, the driver delivers the manifest to the Environmental Health and Safety manager for the date and signature. The drum is then loaded onto the truck.
Upon receipt of the Solvent X waste stream, the driver signs and dates the manifest. From here, the first copy of the manifest goes to the EHS manager at Acme, while another is retained for the driver's record. The driver brings the remaining three copies of the manifest back to the TSD facility.
At the TSD facility, the Solvent X waste stream is received. The TSD facility signs and dates the manifest to indicate receipt. It keeps one copy of the manifest and forwards one copy to the state and the final copy back to the generator.
From there, the TSD will determine if and how the waste will be treated. Then, the choice will be made as to whether or not the waste will be disposed of or stored. Since storage is usually the most unwieldy option, a variety of disposal methods will be considered, such as incineration, burial in a hazardous waste landfill, injection into an underground well or thermal destruction and consequent fuel recycling.
The manifest holds the hazardous waste generator, transporter and TSD fully responsible and accountable. Because the paperwork starts and ends with the generator, the possibility of tampering with the composition of the waste is virtually eliminated.
The paperwork trail provided by the manifest is a proven and reliable process. The only challenge is that it can be inconsistent. Regulations, waste codes and manifest forms vary from state to state. Plus, there is always the potential for human error.
The EPA has proposed a new rule which will improve the manifest system by further standardizing the manifest form and by providing waste handlers with the option to complete, sign and transmit manifests electronically. The proposed revisions would save all associated with the management of hazardous waste time and money, while ensuring the continuous and safe management of hazardous waste.9 There is currently a trial group of generators utilizing the electronic manifest system proposed the EPA. These organizations, which are also required to comply with the existing manifest process, are exploring the economic implications and potential for consistent reporting on a nationwide basis.
Although the study is still in effect, there is already speculation that an electronic manifest would allow for the transmission of data between computer systems that might otherwise be incompatible. Improved speed and ease of access to data are also expected, as well as improved data quality. The most important potential benefit is the opportunity for businesses to integrate data collections across company programs, states and agencies, while eliminating time spent on routine program management functions.
Here to Stay
Consecutive Biennial RCRA Hazardous Waste Reports illustrate that hazardous waste is faced with increasingly tighter regulations. While the manifest process, mandated by the EPA and DOT, successfully tracks hazardous waste from generation to disposal, it runs the risk of being inconsistent from state to state. The current manifest process is also somewhat cumbersome due to the fact that its factor for success -- multiple paper copies -- is also a liability as it leaves room for inaccuracies and inconsistent reporting. The more budget-conscious process of electronic manifesting, which is currently being considered, offers the potential for consistent reporting practices and faster access to hazardous waste data.
Hazardous waste is here to stay. Every year, ways of making our hazardous waste practices more environmentally conscious and efficient are put into practice. By taking responsibility for the evolution of hazardous waste, generators, transporters and TSDs are taking responsibility for our future.
EPA Office of Solid Waste -- The National Biennial RCRA Hazardous Waste Report: 1999
EPA Office of Solid Waste -- www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/data/br93.htm
The increased categories of hazardous waste are in direct correlation with the Toxicity Characteristic (TC) Rule, established in 1990 by the Resource and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976. The TC Rule added 25 new hazardous waste codes (Table 1 of 40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)
Section 261.24 Table 1).
4 Federal Hazardous Materials Transportation Law (Federal hazmat law)
EPA Hazardous Waste Data - The Biennial Reporting System (BRS) is a national system that collects data on the generation, management and minimization of hazardous waste. BRS captures detailed data on the generation of hazardous waste management practices from treatment, storage and disposal facilities. These data are collected every other year and provide the ability to perform trend analyses. The data is reported by the facilities to EPA on even years about the hazardous waste activities of the previous year. -- www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/data
6 EPA Office of Solid Waste -- www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/gener/manifest/index.htm
EPA Office of Solid Waste -- 1993 National RCRA Hazardous Waste Biennial Report and www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/generate.htm
8 EPA Office of Solid Waste -- www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/generate.htm
EPA Office of Solid Waste -- Hazardous Waste Management System; Modifications of the Hazardous Waste Manifest System -- www.epa.gov/epaooswer/hazwaste/gener/manifest/mods.htm
RCRA FAQs --
Manifest FAQs --
DOT HAZ-MAT Overview --
This article originally appeared in the September 2001 issue of Environmental Protection, Vol. 12, No. 9, p. 14.
This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2001 issue of Environmental Protection.