Blog

07 Jan
EHS Trends 2022
EHS: Top Trends to Watch in 2022

As we’ve seen businesses manage their way through the pandemic over the past two years and a new Administration take hold in office, a number of environmental, health, and safety (EHS) trends are rising to the surface. Some of these may sound familiar, as certain challenges and opportunities in EHS remain ongoing. Some are just gaining traction as we move into the new year.

Here are the top EHS trends KTL’s EHS professionals are keeping watch on in 2022—and some advice on what you can do to prepare…

OSHA Enforcement: Happy 50th Birthday OSHA!

The Build Back Better Act (BBBA) introduced the first amendment to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act in nearly 20 years. This would include increased funding to make significant improvements in workplace safety protection for American workers, as well as significant increases in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) maximum penalties. While the future of the BBBA is uncertain, it provides a good picture of where OSHA is headed by enacting high enough penalties to significantly impact businesses that violate the law and injure or kill workers. While OSHA doesn’t have the resources to audit or fine everyone, the agency will likely make an example of a few major violators to deter others from non-compliance.

To prepare: Make sure you have the processes, programs, and systems in place—and documented—to ensure you are always protecting employees’ safety and health and meeting OSH Act requirements.

EPA Inspections and Enforcement: Focus on Ammonia Refrigeration

With the new Administration, 2021 brought a significant uptick in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) multi-media inspections, enforcement actions, and large penalties for violations, particularly related to anhydrous ammonia storage, risk management, and chemical accident prevention planning. Many of these violations have been uncovered as part of a National Compliance Initiative (NCI), which is working to enforce the regulatory aspects of the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) Chemical Accident Prevention Program, including Risk Management Plan (RMP) regulations (40 CFR Part 68), General Duty Clause (GDC) (CAA Section 112(r)), Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) (CAA Section 312), Process Safety Management (PSM) regulations (29 CFR 1910.119).

To prepare: If your facility uses anhydrous ammonia and you have not conducted a hazard analysis, you are at significant risk of incurring enforcement actions of fines. It is important you invest the time and resources required to:

  • Understand the hazards posed by chemicals at the facility.
  • Assess the impacts of a potential release.
  • Design and maintain a safe facility to prevent accidental releases.
  • Coordinate with local emergency responders.
  • Minimize the consequences of accidental releases that do occur.

PFAS/PFOA Contamination

Because of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances’ (PFAS) persistence in the environment and widespread use in firefighting foams and products that resist grease, water, and oil, PFAS contamination is an extremely complicated issue—and concern is mounting over its impacts and how to regulate these chemicals going forward. On October 18, 2021, EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced EPA’s comprehensive Strategic Roadmap to tackle PFAS contamination through increasing investments in research, leveraging authorities to act now to restrict PFAS chemicals from being released, and accelerating cleanup of PFAS contamination. More and more facilities are going to be directly impacted by mitigation efforts and future regulatory action.

To prepare: Proper usage strategies, a comprehensive environmental management system (EMS), and a forward-thinking Emergency Response Plan will remain vital tools for companies potentially dealing with PFAS to effectively manage the associated risks.

Resource Constraints and Compliance Efficiency Tools

There are a few trends we see time and again, which generally can be tied back to many EHS “departments” (which often consist of just one person) lacking the resources—financial and personnel—to manage the sheer number of EHS requirements they are required to comply with. Frequently, companies may not understand or have the resources to manage everything that needs to be in place to satisfy compliance requirements. This is an area where EHS compliance efficiency and tracking tools are becoming essential to allow companies to do more with fewer resources.

To prepare: A compliance management system (CMS) brings information technology (IT) and management systems together to coordinate, organize, control, analyze, and visualize information in such a way that helps organizations remain in compliance and operate efficiently. A CMS can help provide operational flexibility, generate business improvement, and prepare organizations to address these and other EHS compliance challenges that will continue to surface. 

Hazardous Waste Incineration Backlog

The changing hazardous waste market continues to create a fair amount of uncertainty regarding whether hazardous waste management capacity can actually meet demand. Many Large Quantity Generators (LQGs) and Small Quantity Generators (SQGs) are still experiencing a hazardous waste incineration slowdown, and most of the permitted transport, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs) are backlogged. EPA predicts that this backlog may not fully resolve until the end of the first quarter of 2022. EPA has offered multiple existing regulatory options for various regulated entities that generate and manage hazardous waste as temporary solutions to address the backlog.

To prepare: If you are in the situation where you are coming up against your time limits, contact your EPA Regional Administrator and ask for guidance on how to manage the situation. Keep very careful and accurate records of all hazardous waste information to demonstrate appropriate management.

Environmental Justice and Citizen Science

On January 27, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order (EO) 14008 – Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, amending EO 12898, which directed federal agencies to develop environmental justice (EJ) strategies to help federal agencies address disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their programs on minority and low-income populations. EO 14008 further directs Federal agency actions to support making EJ part of its mission by identifying and addressing the effects of all programs, policies, and activities on minority and low-income populations. As part of EPA’s EJ efforts, the Agency is charting a new pathway for the use of citizen science. Citizen science engages the public in identifying research questions, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, and developing technologies and applications to resolve environmental problems. Citizen science provides a resource in times of restricted budgets and to address dispersed or hyperlocal environmental issues.

To prepare: Equipment loan programs are available for anyone who would like to participate. KTL is aware of clients receiving money from the state to make equipment updates. In addition there are a number of EJ grants, funding, and other technical assistance available.    

Sustainability

As developing nations continue to industrialize and increase their material consumption, resource demands and pressures on our supply chains will only increase. The Biden Administration has committed to a net zero economy by 2050, and the number of net zero commitments from local governments and businesses continues to grow and push further down the supply chain. There are more incentives for businesses to find clean/renewable energy solutions and to manage waste more sustainably. As one example, Sustainable Material Management (SMM) considers the entire of a product and/or process to help create a circular economy.

To prepare: Consider the following sustainability activities as part of your company’s business strategy:

  • Conduct a lifecycle analysis (LCA) to identify and quantify the inputs and outputs in a process and use data to assess the potential environmental impacts across the lifecycle.
  • Check with your local utility to have an energy audit completed of your facilities.
  • Get input from employees on what initiatives are important to them by enacting a sustainability committee or adding sustainability to your EHS agenda.

Set Your Goals for 2022

With these trends toward more regulations, more enforcement, and more focus on sustainability, EHS management needs to play a more integral role in company strategy. Companies must take the time to be informed, be prepared, and be proactive. Establish company-wide EHS priorities and goals and commit the appropriate resources to ensure the required programs and systems are in place for 2022 and beyond.

If you would like help evaluating your currently EHS risk level and assessing your priorities for 2022, please contact KTL. 

01 Dec
bioforward member blog
BioForward Member Blog: KTL Building Scalable Systems to Help Businesses

BioForward Wisconsin closely follows news stories about its members and invites them to contribute blogs and profiles to inform and advance the Wisconsin biohealth community. Read the recent BioForward Wisconsin member blog on KTL’s scalable systems for helping companies manage compliance business processes more efficiently and effectively.

26 Oct
PFAS
Paying Attention to PFAS

There are currently more than 4,700 known per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—more commonly known as PFAS—and these numbers are growing as industry continues to invent new PFAS chemicals.

Because of their persistence in the environment, persistent nature, and widespread use in firefighting foams and products that resist grease, water, and oil, PFAS are found in the blood of people and animals all over the world. In fact, a 2011-2012 report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found PFAS in the blood of 97% of Americans tested.

As of August 2021, 2,854 locations in 50 states and two territories are known to be contaminated with PFAS (Environmental Working Group (EWG)). Because of the sheer magnitude of chemicals that fall into this category and its persistence in the environment, PFAS contamination is an extremely complicated issue to regulate and manage—one that no single agency will be able to address alone. And one that industry must pay attention to, because it is not going away.  

Preparing for the Perfect PFAS Storm

All the various impact studies, regulatory actions, and legislative efforts are coming together to form a perfect PFAS storm, and industry must be ready to respond. Consider the following questions and best management practices (BMPs):

  • Have you considered the risk(s) of introducing PFAS to your site—or do you know what PFAS you currently have on your site (either in current use or due to historical contamination)?
  • Do you have an environmental management system (EMS) to help identify, manage, and prevent the risks associated with PFAS? Is PFAS included as part of your aspects and impacts analysis?
  • Do you have the appropriate operational controls and training in place to prevent or minimize a fire at your facility?
  • Do you have an Emergency Response Plan?
    • Have you contacted your local emergency responders to discuss the potential for using PFAS-containing aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) at your facility in the event of a fire?
    • Do you have an emergency response checklist? Does it include inquiring about the foam being used to fight a fire?
    • Have you evaluated when and how to use PFAS-containing foams considering likely fire hazards; properties of the foam; nature of the emergency; risks to life, public safety, and property; and potential environmental, public health, and financial liabilities?
    • Do you conduct any emergency response testing that includes the use of AFFF?
    • Do you have controls in place (e.g., floor drain covers) and adequate supplies to keep foam runoff from leaving your site in the event of a fire?

PFAS Primer

PFAS are a group of manmade chemicals that have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries since the 1940s. PFAS can be found in:

  • Food packaged in PFAS-containing materials, processed with equipment that used PFAS, or grown in PFAS-contaminated soil/water
  • Commercial household products (e.g., stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products)
  • Firefighting foams (i.e., aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF))
  • Industries such as chrome plating, electronics manufacturing, oil recovery, automotive
  • Drinking water, typically associated with a manufacturer, landfill, wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), firefighter training facility, etc.

PFAS are made of chains of carbon and fluorine linked together. This carbon-fluorine bond is one of the shortest and strongest bonds in nature. It does not easily break down under natural conditions—hence the reason PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals”. Correspondingly, PFAS are very persistent in the environment and the human body, where they bioaccumulate in blood and organs over time.

Scientific studies have begun to show that exposure to some PFAS may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals, including developmental delays, reproductive health issues, neuroendocrine issues affecting the kidneys and liver, cancer, thyroid imbalances, and cardiovascular concerns.

Most PFAS exposure comes through ingesting food and water that becomes contaminated with PFAS when it migrates into soil, water, and air during use and/or disposal. Disposal of PFAS-containing items into municipal solid waste landfills can be a significant source of PFAS transport and contamination since PFAS can migrate into the leachate collection system. Since wastewater treatment does not remove PFAS, the subsequent use of wastewater biosolids as fertilizer, etc. may further distribute PFAS into the soil, surface water, and groundwater.

Focus on Firefighting Foam

Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) is highly effective foam for fighting high-hazard flammable liquid fires that has garnered a lot of attention for its role in contributing to PFAS contamination. AFFF are Class B commercial firefighting foams historically produced with PFOS or polyfluorinated precursors that break down to PFOA—the two most extensively produced and studied PFAS chemicals. Long-chain PFAS like PFOS and PFOA are of particular concern because they are recognized as persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT).

When used, AFFF has the potential to create adverse environmental impacts, particularly if the foam is uncontrolled and reaches drinking water sources, groundwater, or surface waters. Many states and companies have been forced to deal with the aftermath of PFAS used to extinguish fires. State legislatures are considering not only how to remediate the chemicals found on these sites, but also who is responsible for the associated cleanup.

Regulatory Actions

Federal regulatory action related to the management of PFAS contamination thus far has been limited. However, on October 18, 2021, EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced EPA’s comprehensive Strategic Roadmap to tackle PFAS contamination. According to the EPA press release, the Roadmap is centered on three guiding strategies:

  1. Increase investments in research.
  2. Leverage authorities to act now to restrict PFAS chemicals from being released into the environment.
  3. Accelerate cleanup of PFAS contamination.

Strategies are intended to advance more concrete actions that will address the entire lifecycle of PFAS chemicals. Per EPA, this specifically includes:

  • Aggressive timelines to set enforceable drinking water limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to ensure water is safe to drink in every community.
  • A hazardous substance designation under CERCLA, to strengthen the ability to hold polluters financially accountable.
  • Timelines for action on Effluent Guideline Limitations under the Clean Water Act (CWA) for nine industrial categories.
  • A review of past actions on PFAS taken under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to address those that are insufficiently protective.
  • Increased monitoring, data collection, and research so that the agency can identify what actions are needed and when to take them.
  • A final toxicity assessment for GenX, which can be used to develop health advisories that will help communities make informed decisions to better protect human health and ecological wellness.
  • Continued efforts to build the technical foundation needed on PFAS air emissions to inform future actions under the Clean Air Act (CAA).  

Along with the Roadmap, EPA has also announced a new testing strategy requiring PFAS manufacturers to provide EPA with toxicity data and information on categories of PFAS chemicals.

Congress has also been working to develop legislation in absence of federal regulations, with more than 80 pieces of legislation introduced within the 116th Congress. The fiscal year 2021 omnibus appropriations bill included nearly $300 million to address the regulation and cleanup of PFAS split among several federal agencies, including Department of Defense (DOD) – remediation efforts; EPA – scientific, regulatory, and cleanup work; and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – safety of PFAS in food packaging.

In addition, states are taking their own measures. In 2020, state legislatures considered over 180 bills related to PFAS, many of which have focused on efforts such as restricting PFAS in firefighting foam and consumer products, regulating PFAS in drinking water, and appropriating funds for remediation activities. For more information on state actions, visit:

Seeking Assistance

KTL does not see the challenges associated with PFAS going away any time soon. If anything, we anticipate more and more facilities will be directly impacted by mitigation efforts and future regulatory action. Proper usage strategies, a comprehensive EMS, and a forward-thinking Emergency Response Plan will remain vital tools for companies potentially dealing with PFAS to effectively manage the associated risks.

If you are facing challenges related to PFAS or would just like a fresh set of eyes to evaluate your current environmental risk level, please contact KTL. Our staff has hands-on experience assessing environmental risks and developing strategies to minimize them to the extent possible. Our team writes Emergency Response Plans and routinely works with LEPCs to coordinate emergency response efforts and exercises to keep communities informed and safe. In addition, we have a strong network of partners that can assist with testing and remediation strategies, when necessary.

Read the entire October 18, 2021 EPA press release: EPA Administrator Regan Announces Comprehensive National Strategy to Confront PFAS Contamination.

27 Sep
MECC KTL
MECC 2021: KTL Presentation on EPA Inspections

KTL will once again be sponsoring the Midwest Environmental Compliance Conference (MECC) held by live streaming video October 26-27. MECC takes a fresh, regional approach to the increasingly difficult task of environmental compliance, permitting, enforcement, and other critical environmental issues that impact Midwest facilities and institutions. KTL will a featured presenter as part of the technical agenda:

Preparing for U.S. EPA Inspections in Region 7
Tuesday, October 26
2:00 pm – 2:40 pm CT

In recent months, regulated facilities have experienced an uptick in U.S. EPA information surveys and multimedia inspections. KTL’s Becky Andersen will present guidance on steps you can take to prepare for inspections and minmize your risk of compliance findings and enforcment actions.

01 Sep
Lithium-ion batteries
Preventing Lithium-ion Battery Fires

Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) are powerful, relatively inexpensive, and lightweight energy sources that are used to power a vast assortment of electronics and portable tools. Given this, it is not surprising that the number of LIBs in circulation is continuing to increase at a near exponential rate with technology advances. Subsequently, the number of fires caused by LIBs in the waste management process is also on the rise.

The Risks of LIBs

Many in industry know firsthand the risks associated with LIBs in waste/recycling. LIBs have high energy density and are made from materials that make them more prone to combustion or explosion when they are damaged. This is attributed to “thermal runaway”, a reaction in which the battery unexpectedly releases its energy and begins self-heating. This reaction can produce enough heat to ignite materials near the battery, even if the battery itself does not ignite.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is really taking notice. In a recent report, An Analysis of Lithium-ion Battery Fires in Waste Management and Recycling, EPA provides an evaluation of areas of risk associated with LIBs, as well as some excellent data and case studies of events that have occurred. The report discusses that physical damage to the LIB is one of the most common causes of thermal reaction and that much damage can occur at many different steps of the waste management system.

This information serves as a good reminder of just how risky and prevalent these batteries are—and how important it is to manage them appropriately. 

Mitigating Risk

While the EPA information is very good, the report doesn’t offer suggestions in how to improve operations and mitigate this type of risk—and it can be a very challenging risk to try to address.

KTL has staff with strong backgrounds working in recycling facility operations with hands-on experience developing strategies to minimize this risk. Solutions may be as simple as identifying and using special storage containers in designated areas, to as comprehensive as conducting onsite process evaluations to determine the best ways to segregate batteries and safely transfer them for further processing. 

KTL does not see this problem with LIB management going away any time soon—nor does EPA. We continue to explore alternatives and work with companies to mitigate risk to the extent possible. Please contact us if you are facing challenges with LIB recycling and management or would just like a fresh set of eyes to evaluate your current risk level. We can work together to make your company operations safer.

23 Aug
EPA Enforcement: Ammonia Refrigeration

Over the past several months, we have seen an uptick in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement actions and large penalties for violations related to anhydrous ammonia storage, risk management, and chemical accident prevention planning. These include the following recent penalties:

Many of these violations have been uncovered as part of a National Compliance Initiative (NCI), which focuses on reducing risk to human health and the environment by decreasing the likelihood of accidental releases at facilities. According to EPA, there are approximately 150 catastrophic accidents each year at facilities that make, use, or store extremely hazardous substances (EHS). With ammonia refrigeration making up approximately 40% of the facilities with EHS regulated under the EPA’s Risk Management Program, these facilities have become a clear target for EPA.

Chemical Accident Prevention Program

Anhydrous ammonia is classified as an EHS that presents a significant health hazard if accidentally released. Anhydrous ammonia is corrosive to skin, eyes, and lungs. Exposure to 300 ppm is immediately dangerous to life and health. It is also flammable at concentrations of about 15-28% by volume in air.

To help refrigeration facilities comply with Clean Air Act (CAA) requirements and prevent accidents that could result in these significant hazards, EPA’s NCI is working to enforce the following regulatory aspects of the CAA’s Chemical Accident Prevention Program:

  • Risk Management Plan (RMP) regulations (40 CFR Part 68)
  • General Duty Clause (GDC) (CAA Section 112(r))
  • Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) (CAA Section 312)
  • Process Safety Management (PSM) regulations (29 CFR 1910.119)

Risk Management Plan (RMP)

EPA’s RMP regulations require facilities that have more than a threshold quantity of certain regulated chemicals in a process (e.g., use or storage) to develop a Risk Management Program. CAA designates anhydrous ammonia as a regulated substance under RMP with a threshold quantity of 10,000 lbs.

Recent cases have demonstrated that refrigeration facilities may not be fully implementing RMPs, despite requirements. Facilities subject to RMP must:

  • Analyze the worst-case release scenario to determine the potential effects of a release.
  • Implement a prevention program that includes safety precautions, as well as maintenance, monitoring, and employee training.
  • Complete a five-year accident history.
  • Coordinate response actions with the local emergency response agencies through an Emergency Response Program.
  • Submit to EPA a written RMP that summarizes the Risk Management Program.

General Duty Clause (GDC)

The GDC requires that owners and operators of facilities with regulated substances and other EHS in any quantity ensure those chemicals are managed safely. Unlike RMP, GDC applies to many chemicals and applies facility-wide, regardless of the amount of chemical stored. Facilities are responsible for:

  • Identifying the hazards posed by chemicals and assessing impacts of possible releases.
  • Designing and maintaining a safe facility to prevent accidental release.
  • Minimizing the consequences of accidental releases that do occur.

The EPA NCI focuses specifically on the “identifying hazards” component of GDC, particularly at ammonia refrigeration facilities using 1,000 lbs. to 10,000 lbs. of anhydrous ammonia (i.e., those that fall below the RMP threshold).

Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know (EPCRA)

Section 312 of EPCRA requires facilities to report the presence of certain chemicals, including anhydrous ammonia, to Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and response agencies. The purpose is to ensure emergency responders know what chemicals are onsite should they need to respond to an incident.

Any facility that is required to maintain Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for hazardous chemicals stored or used onsite must submit an annual Tier II inventory report for those chemicals. Tier II forms require basic facility identification information, employee contact information (emergency and non-emergency), information about chemicals stored/used at the facility, and additional data elements that would be useful to LEPCs and first responders.

Process Safety Management (PSM)

PSM regulations require facilities to prevent or minimize the consequences of catastrophic releases of toxic, reactive, flammable, or explosive chemicals. While PSM is not an EPA regulation, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) program is closely related to EPA’s RMP program. RMP is intended to protect the environment and the community; PSM is an occupational health program intended to protect workers. Applicability thresholds differ for RMP and PSM for some chemicals; however, the PSM and RMP thresholds for anhydrous ammonia are the same—10,000 lbs.

PSM establishes a comprehensive management program made up of 14 elements. The process hazard analysis is the key provision of the standard, as it is intended to identify, evaluate, and control the hazards involved in the process.

Additional Enforcement Focused on Process Startup

In February 2021, EPA issued a new Enforcement Alert, “Risk of Chemical Accidents During Process Startup.” According to the alert, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) has noted that a disproportionate number of accidents occur during startup or other nonroutine operations.

Given this recent Alert, EPA cites that the following provisions of the RMP regulations are particularly important to prevent accidents during process startup:

  • Operating procedures that provide clear instructions for safely conducting activities involved in each covered process.
  • Training so each employee involved in operating a process is familiar with operating procedures, safety and health hazards, emergency operations, and safe work practices.
  • Pre-startup review to ensure construction and equipment is functioning according to design specifications and that safety, operating, maintenance, and emergency procedures are in and place and adequate.

Avoiding Enforcement: Hazard Analysis

As part of the NCI, EPA has been sending Information Requests to select facilities that it believes may be out of compliance with GDC. Again, the primary focus of those Information Requests includes those facilities with 1,000 lbs. to 10,000 lbs. of anhydrous ammonia onsite. Facilities are required to answer four questions about their ammonia refrigeration systems, including whether they have performed a process hazard review.

EPA is focusing heavily on the first duty of the GDC (i.e., hazard review) as it evaluates facilities for violations. An EPA Enforcement Alert on anhydrous ammonia at refrigeration facilities from February 2015 reinforces that identifying the hazards of a facility’s refrigeration systems is crucial to accident prevention and compliance. This involves identifying and inventorying every chemical onsite, understanding the associated hazards of each chemical, and making sure employees and local responders know what to do in case of an accident. Part of this analysis should also include addressing potential gaps between new industry codes and standards and the standards to which the facility was built (e.g., facility upgrades).

If your facility uses anhydrous ammonia and you have not conducted a hazard analysis, you are at significant risk of incurring enforcement actions of fines. It is important you invest the time and resources required to:

  • Understand the hazards posed by chemicals at the facility.
  • Assess the impacts of a potential release.
  • Design and maintain a safe facility to prevent accidental releases.
  • Coordinate with local emergency responders.
  • Minimize the consequences of accidental releases that do occur.

KTL has experience working with a broad cross-section of industries impacted by PSM, RMP, GDC, and EPCRA, particularly chemical and food processing companies. We have created RMP and GDC audit protocols, conducted audits, and implemented investigation/improvement programs following significant release events. In addition, our team provides Tier II and TRI reporting, writes plans for OSHA and Emergency Response, and routinely works with LEPCs to coordinate emergency response efforts and exercises to keep communities informed and safe. Our team has helped many companies keep operations safe and compliant—and avoid EPA enforcement.

 

18 Aug
EPA Guidance on Hazardous Waste Incineration Backlog

Last month, KTL published an article on the national incinerator slowdown many Large Quantity Generators (LQGs) and Small Quantity Generators (SQGs) are experiencing firsthand right now. We included some guidance for facilities being adversely impacted by the current backlog on how to proactively manage this situation based on KTL’s conversations with EPA and waste management companies.

On August 10, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery (ORCR) issued a formal memorandum in response to the national incinerator backlog for containerized hazardous waste. The memo states that as of late July 2021, EPA has heard from over 20 states that they have received requests from hazardous waste generators for extensions to the accumulation time limit (i.e., 90 days for LQGs and 180 days for SQGs*)—and some states have begun receiving requests for second extensions.

The Agency also predicts that this backlog may not fully resolve until the end of the first quarter of 2022 due to a number of factors, including the following:

  • Labor shortages resulting from COVID-19 that are impacting transportation and incinerators.
  • Shutdowns for scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, as well as from winter storms in the southern U.S.
  • Increased manufacturing and resulting hazardous waste generation as the economy recovers from the pandemic.

The EPA memo goes on to explain multiple existing regulatory options for various regulated entities that generate and manage hazardous waste to address the backlog. These options are primarily focused on providing storage extensions for LQGs and SQGs and granting permit authorization for increased storage capacity at RCRA-permitted transportation, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs). These are intended to be temporary solutions to help ensure hazardous waste continues to be safely managed during this unusual circumstance.

KTL remains engaged with EPA and numerous hazardous waste disposal vendors to carefully monitor the incinerator backlog situation. We understand the challenges facilities are facing and can help navigate the regulatory environment and implement one of the recommended storage extension strategies to keep facilities in compliance. 

* Or 270 days for SQGs if the waste must be transported 200 miles or more.

17 Aug
hand sanitizer
Hand Sanitizer Disposal

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our nation’s distilleries and ethanol plants began producing ethanol-based hand sanitizer to meet global demands. Many of these sanitizers are 60% or greater ethanol content (greater than 24% alcohol), have a flashpoint below 140 F, and must be coded as D001 hazardous waste if disposed. 

Some of these hand sanitizers are going unused due to their odor, over-procurement, and other issues. This excess hand sanitizer has created some concern from various regulatory entities, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on compliance issues regarding the safe handling and disposal of hand sanitizer.

In response, EPA issued guidance in a June 24, 2021, letter to the USDA addressing considerations and requirements for appropriate hand sanitizer disposal. According to the memo, “…when recycled, hand sanitizer is exempt from hazardous waste regulations and does not have to ship on a Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest. If not recycled, the disposal of alcohol-based hand sanitizers requires full cradle-to-grave management, including (but not limited to) hazardous waste notification, hazardous waste labeling, manifesting, and waste reporting to the state or the federal government.”

These requirements provide an idea of just how robust the penalties for improper (i.e., “down-the-drain”) disposal would likely be. Facilities may want to try returning the sanitizer to the manufacturer as an easy first step or continue using it for its “intended purpose,” if possible. Alternatively, KTL has the in-house expertise to identify options for hazardous waste management and/or reuse of resources that can help facilities manage excess hand sanitizer or excess hazardous waste. We are currently working to identify alternative end-use destinations for hand sanitizer, including reverse distribution or other entities that may have a use for such products.   

10 Aug
Creating Sustainable Impacts Part 2: Lifecycle Analysis (LCA)

As discussed in Part 1 of KTL’s series on Creating Sustainable Impacts, sustainable materials management (SMM) broadens the ideas behind integrated waste management (IWM) to examine all the environmental impacts of material production and consumption, not just waste diversion or recyclability. It considers the entire lifecycle (i.e., extracting, manufacturing, distributing, using, and end-of-life management) of a product and/or process. Adopting sustainable materials management (SMM), organizations can improve their triple bottom line (TBL)—reducing their environmental impacts significantly, while still increasing profit—and contribute to the overall sustainability of our world.

Analyzing the Entire Lifecycle

These SMM solutions are most effectively identified through a lifecycle analysis (LCA). As the name implies, an LCA considers potential environmental impacts at every stage of a product’s life. An LCA can demonstrate that seemingly obvious solutions are not always the best solutions. For example, non-recyclable packaging may actually have fewer environmental impacts than recyclable packaging if it is lighter and occupies less space. Understandably, solutions like this can seem counterintuitive to waste management professionals, but this example demonstrates the importance of considering the impacts of a material across its entire lifecycle.

LCAs do not replace the basic principles underlying EPA’s Waste Management Hierarchy, especially the importance of source reduction and waste prevention. In fact, LCAs generally show that most of a product’s environmental impacts occur earlier in its lifecycle (i.e., upstream) vs, at the end of its life (i.e., downstream). Thus, choosing a different raw material—or finding ways to use less—is often more impactful than end-of-life waste management solutions.

But as LCAs will show, even this concept of reducing material use is not a given for all products. For example, food packaging is vital in reducing food spoilage and subsequent wasted food. Reducing or eliminating packaging may save material, but in the end, this may lead to more wasted food and even greater environmental impacts.

As consumer goods and related packaging get more complex, an LCA considers the most effective management for materials, including how they are used, potentially reused, and eventually discarded. This ultimately helps organizations identify environmental sustainability priorities; move past one-dimensional waste management goals; and then design, select, and manage products accordingly.

Conducting an LCA

LCAs identify and quantify inputs and outputs in a process and use data to assess the potential environmental impacts across the lifecycle. According to the Sustainable Materials Management Coalition, this allows more informed decisions that:

  • Evaluate environmental consequences of a given product.
  • Analyze the environmental tradeoffs associated with one or more specific products/processes.
  • Quantify environmental releases to air, water, and land in relation to each lifecycle stage.
  • Compare the potential environmental impacts between two or more products/processes.
  • Identify potential impacts to one or more specific environmental areas of concern.
  • Provide a comprehensive view of the environmental aspects of the product or process and a more accurate picture of the true environmental tradeoffs in process and product selection.

ISO 14040 defines the principles and frameworks to adequately conduct an LCA, while ISO 14044 specifies the related requirements and guidelines. An ISO LCA is conducted in the following four stages:

  • Goal and Scope: What do we want to measure (i.e., product/company/service)? The LCA objectives, scope, and boundaries need to be carefully selected and clearly framed.
  • Lifecycle Inventory: What data do we need? Collect all the inputs and processes to be measured (i.e., raw materials, energy used/purchased, supplier data). The inventory data is used to assess the energy, water, and materials used, as well as identified environmental releases.
  • Impact Assessment: What is the impact of the lifecycle inventory? Impact assessments take the results of inventories and convert them into more easily understood impact categories, such as global warming potential or carcinogenic potential.
  • Interpretation: What does this all mean? (i.e., How high are our emissions? How do our products compare? Can we improve them? Can we improve our processes? What are the biggest levers for us?)

While not all LCAs need to follow the rigors of these ISO standards, it is useful to incorporate lifecycle thinking such as this into SMM decision-making. In some cases, it might be as simple as considering the potential environmental ramifications of major steps in the value chain. Adopting this lifecycle perspective will help to provide a clearer understanding of the environmental implications of everyday choices.

Part 3 of our series on Creating Sustainable Impacts dives into one of the largest opportunities for SMM — wasted food.

28 Jul
hazardous waste incinerator
National Incinerator Slowdown

According to Environmental Protection, more than 200 million tons of hazardous waste are generated each year. Much of that hazardous waste is destroyed in permitted, regulated incinerators located throughout the U.S. These incinerators are heavily monitored and have robust emissions management systems in place. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers hazardous waste incineration to be the Best Demonstrated Available Technology (BDAT) for most organic hazardous waste because of how safely and effectively hazardous constituents are destroyed and waste is converted into ash, flue gas, and heat. Frequently, these facilities also have energy recovery systems that capture BTU value from the incinerated waste, resulting in peripheral benefits from the process.

Not only does burning hazardous waste destroy toxic organic constituents, but it also reduces the sheer volume of hazardous waste. Incinerators actually reduce the solid mass of the original waste by 80-85% and volume by 95-96%, decreasing the load placed on landfills while preventing potentially dangerous materials from leaching into the environment.

Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facilities (TSDFs)

Hazardous waste facilities that treat, store, and/or dispose of waste are known as Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facilities (TSDFs). Hazardous waste incinerators are regulated under EPA’s Clean Air Act (CAA) and Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA). These facilities must have a permit to construct and operate.

This permit authorizes the types and quantities of waste a TSDF can accept and the treatment, storage, and/or disposal activities that the facility may conduct. It also outlines operating conditions and recordkeeping procedures the TSDF must follow and regulates the emissions that result from the combustion process (e.g., organics, hydrogen chloride (HCl), particulate matter (PM), and fugitive emissions).

There are currently 22 TSDFs in the U.S. permitted to incinerate hazardous waste.

National Capacity

In December 2019, EPA published its National Capacity Assessment Report, which evaluates the nation’s long-term capacity for hazardous waste recovery, treatment, and landfilling and RCRA-permitted commercial TSDFs. According to this most recent Report, the U.S. has sufficient recovery, treatment, and disposal capacity for managing all hazardous waste generated through 2044.

Despite this analysis, however, consolidation and restructuring in the commercial hazardous waste industry has resulted in fewer RCRA-permitted energy recovery facilities, incinerators, and landfills. Additionally, new federal regulations, permit denials, statutory limits on landfills, changes in fire code requirements, allowed disposal methodologies for certain types of hazardous waste, and changing market conditions all have the potential to disrupt TSDF operations and capacity limits.

The continually changing hazardous waste market is creating a fair amount of uncertainty whether hazardous waste management capacity can actually meet demand. Implications of this are evident in the delays currently being experienced for disposal and incineration. Many Large Quantity Generators (LQGs) and Small Quantity Generators (SQGs) are experiencing a hazardous waste incineration slowdown firsthand right now. Most, if not all, of the permitted TSDF incinerator facilities are currently backlogged several months.

One waste management company KTL works with has received letters from five different incinerators stating they will not approve or accept incineration material for 60-90 days and, most likely, through the end of 2021. There is a backup of hundreds of loads of material to incinerate. Shutdowns and outages for maintenance and rebricking have caused some of these issues. Regulators retracting some storage permits has caused a glut of material in need of immediate processing, as well.

This is causing many fuel-blend/solvent-based incineration-destined waste streams to stack up. This presents great cause for concern for some businesses (i.e., LQGs) that may exceed the 90-day LQG storage limits, as set forth in the CAA. If the backlog worsens, SQGs with a 180-day limit for storing hazardous waste onsite (unless travel to dispose exceeds 200 miles) might also have reason for concern.

What You Can Do

If you are an LQG or SQG being adversely impacted by this backlog and reaching your storage limits, it is important to take the actions necessary to remove the risks of compliance penalties and fines. This starts with:

  • Knowing what waste and volumes you have onsite.
  • Being proactive. Do not wait to dispose of your waste and allow for plenty of time for scheduling issues. It will be easier to dispose of smaller amounts than larger quantities.
  • Evaluating the different disposal alternatives (e.g., fuel blending) and making sure you have secondary disposal options.
  • Documenting everything.

If you are in the situation where you are coming up against your time limits, contact your EPA Regional Administrator and ask for guidance on how to manage the situation. Considering writing a letter to the EPA Regional Administrator (ECAD/CB/RCRA) detailing hazardous waste management concerns:

  • Include dates, quantities, and waste descriptions.
  • Document correspondence with all incinerators you contact.
  • Document all other disposal options considered and evaluated.
  • Inform EPA of the ongoing plan for safe storage of hazardous waste during the lag in disposal options.  

Facilities must keep very careful and accurate records of all hazardous waste information to demonstrate appropriate management. Once the waste is eventually shipped off site, facilities should once again notify the EPA Regional Administrator with details, especially if it takes more than 30 days.

KTL is actively engaged with EPA and having ongoing conversations with hazardous waste disposal vendors to assist our customers through this difficult challenge. The risk of penalty is great, and we are working diligently to provide guidance, support, and regulatory assistance to navigate this situation as safely and compliantly as possible.

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