Environmental Non-Conformances: Knowledge Is Power

19 Sep
waste management


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Audits offer a systematic, objective tool to assess compliance across the workplace and to identify any opportunities for improvement. Audits can also present an opportunity for organizational learning and development, particularly related to non-conformances. In many cases, non-conformances are not a result of intentionally ignoring the requirements; rather, they can often be attributed to not fully understanding compliance requirements.

KTL has identified three areas where our environmental auditors repeatedly identify non-conformances that stem from lack of knowledge or understanding—and what companies need to know to eliminate them.

Waste Handling

Do you know your generator status? If a facility does not accurately determine its generator status, it will likely have waste handling non-conformances during an audit.

Generator status is determined by the volume of hazardous waste the facility generates per month and accumulates onsite. There are three categories of generators:

  • Very Small Quantity Generator (VSQG)
  • Small Quantity Generator (SQGs)
  • Large Quantity Generator (LQG)

Determining which category a facility falls into is key to understanding which requirements apply and, subsequently, maintaining compliance. How much waste does the facility generate? How much waste does the facility accumulate? What types of risks does this waste present? This information will dictate whether the facility is a VSQG, SQG, or LQG.

Hazardous waste generator status should be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and/or state environmental agency. Generator status can be verified in the EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database. If the information is incorrect, the facility will need to complete Form 8700-12 to ensure generator status is correct, as VSQGs, SQGs, and LQGs have some different requirements due to their potential impacts on the environment. From there, the facility should identify the applicable regulatory requirements and train staff on their responsibilities to avoid non-conformances.

Chemical Spillage

Any facility that generates waste needs to determine what waste is hazardous. In the event of a spill, it is critical that the facility can characterize whether the spill cleanup is hazardous or nonhazardous, as that will dictate the appropriate response. If a waste determination/characterization has been completed, this can typically be determined from the chemical’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS).

Emergency preparedness is another element of compliance when it comes to a spill. Facilities need to make sure supplies are appropriate for any spill that could potentially occur. For example, if a forklift battery leaks, that is an acid spill. The facility spill kit should contain baking soda to neutralize the acid.

Universal Waste

EPA regulates a class of waste referred to as universal waste. Universal wastes are hazardous in their composition but can be recycled. Under EPA’s definition, the following are the current universal waste streams:

  • Batteries (Li, Ni-Cd, Ag, Hg)
  • Mercury-containing equipment (MCE)
  • Electric lamps
  • Cathode ray tubes (in electronics)
  • Pesticides (recalled or farmer-generated)
  • Non-empty aerosol cans (in some states)
  • Others, as determined by state-specific regulations

EPA regulators have focused on these waste streams as a source of penalty for the past decade. Failure to collect, label, store, and recycle universal waste properly is one of the most frequent citations issued. Although not as complex as the requirements for proper hazardous waste management, universal waste has nuances that a generator must be aware of to properly meet the regulatory requirements.

Universal waste doesn’t “count” against generator status. It does not have to be manifested but generally requires specific labeling language (e.g., universal waste lamp, universal waste battery). Universal waste must also be stored in closed, intact containers. Universal waste can only be kept onsite for one year, so these containers should be dated when the first waste is added as a best practice or a log/schedule should be maintained of dates. A mail-back program for universal waste may be an appropriate consideration for generators of small quantities of universal waste to comply with disposal regulations.

Remedy for Compliance

Many of the non-conformances found in these three areas can be relatively simply remedied—or avoided altogether by making sure facilities educate and train impacted staff on how to:

  1. Inventory, characterize, and quantify wastes.
  2. Determine/verify generator status.
  3. Identify applicable federal and state regulatory requirements based on the above. States may have additional rules provided they are at least as stringent as the federal requirements.
  4. Implement the appropriate procedures, programs, systems, and training to eliminate non-conformances.

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