Facts on EPA’s Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule

11 Sep


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EPA’s Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule became effective on May 30, 2017, federally and in those states and U.S. Territories not authorized for RCRA (i.e., Iowa, Alaska, tribal lands and most of the territories). In the remainder of the states, the rule becomes effective when the state adopts it and adds it to their regulations. States were required to adopt more stringent revisions by July 1, 2019, which means the impacts of this rule should start to be realized across the country. The states are in various stages of adopting the regulation; check the status for your state.

For all intents and purposes, this is a good thing, as the Improvements Rule is designed to:

  • Make the RCRA hazardous waste generator regulations easier to understand;
  • Provide greater flexibility in how hazardous waste is managed to better fit today’s business operations; and
  • Improve environmental protection.

Substantial Regulatory Revisions

The final rule includes over 60 revisions and new provisions to the hazardous waste generator program to make requirements more “user-friendly” in the end. Many of the revisions are technical corrections that address inadvertent errors in the regulations, remove obsolete programs, and clarify unclear citations. Some of the more substantial changes in the final rule, which states are required to adopt unless their requirements are more stringent, are outlined below.

Very Small Quantity Generators (VSQGs)

Conditionally exempt small quantity generators are now called very small quantity generators (VSQGs), and VSQG regulations are moved from 40 CFR 261.5 to 40 CFR 262. A VSQG generates less than 100 kg of hazardous waste in a month and may not accumulate more than 1,000 kg of hazardous waste.

Renotification for Small Quantity Generators (SQG)

The new rule now requires periodic renotification for SQGs every four years; SQGs were previously only required to notify once.

Waste Determinations

Any facility that generates waste needs to determine whether that waste is hazardous. According to the Improvements Rule, his waste determination must be made at the point of generation of the waste, prior to any dilution, mixing, and/or alteration.

Waste Consolidation

VSQGs are allowed to send hazardous waste to a large quantity generator (LGQ) to consolidate it before sending it to a RCRA-designated facility for management, under the condition that the facilities are under the control of the same person. Waste containers must be appropriately labeled (i.e., VSQG Hazardous Waste), and the LQG must notify the state of their participation.

Episodic Generation

Episodic generation of hazardous waste occurs when a non-routine event (planned or unplanned) results in a smaller generator generating atypically larger amount of hazardous waste in a month, triggering more stringent regulations. Under the Improvements Rule, VSQGs and small quantity generators (SQGs) are allowed to maintain their existing generator category in the event they experience an episodic generation event. The Rule allows for one event per calendar year, with the potential to petition for a second. Generators must notify EPA/state agency 30 days prior to initiating a planned event or within 72 hours of an unplanned event. 

Enhanced Labeling

Previous RCRA program labeling regulations did not require waste generators to identify the hazards of wastes, which resulted in failure to communicate risks of wastes being transported, accumulated, or stored in different locations. Under the Improvements Rule, labeling and marking of containers and tanks must clearly indicate the hazards of the hazardous waste contained inside and include the words “Hazardous Waste” . 

Waste generators may use one of several established methods to indicate the waste hazards, including:

  • DOT hazard communication consistent with 49 CFR part 172 subpart E (labeling) or subpart F (placarding)
  • OSHA hazard statement or pictogram, as described in the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard in 29 CFR section 1910.1200
  • NFPA code 704 chemical hazard label
  • RCRA hazardous waste characteristic (i.e., ignitable, corrosive, reactive, toxic)

The labeling requirements for containers in the satellite accumulation areas and for containers in the central accumulation area are identical, with the additional requirement that containers in the generator’s central accumulation area are marked with the date that the satellite container was moved to the storage area or the date that waste was initially added to the container in the central accumulation area.

Note that marking containers with RCRA codes is required for SQGs and LQGs prior to sending hazardous waste off-site, per 40 CFR 262.32.

Emergency Response

Previous regulations required generators to make arrangements with Local Emergency Planning Commissions (LEPCs) for potential emergency situations. The Improvements Rule expands this to require documentation of these arrangements/efforts with the LEPCs. In addition, LQGs must prepare an executive summary of their contingency plans containing the information most critical for immediate response to an emergency situation. This Quick Reference Guide must contain the following eight elements:

  • Types/names of hazardous waste and associated hazards
  • Estimated maximum amounts of hazardous waste onsite
  • Hazardous wastes requiring special treatment
  • Map highlighting where hazardous wastes are generated, accumulated, and treated
  • Map of facility and surroundings that identifies routes of access and evacuation
  • Location of water supply
  • Identification of onsite notification systems
  • Name of emergency coordinator and contact information

Ensuring Compliance

Again, the final rule includes over 60 revisions and new provisions, and authorized states are required to adopt the more stringent portions of the rule and may choose to adopt the less stringent portions. It is important for facilities to:

  1. Get a solid understanding of the rule for the states in which it operates. Regulations may vary from state to state.
  2. Determine waste generator status to understand which requirements are applicable. VSQGs, SQGs, and LQGs have some different requirements due to their potential impacts on the environment.
  3. Assess compliance with the new and revised provisions. Each facility should be assessed to compare existing efforts with updated regulatory requirements.
  4. Create a plan to close any compliance gaps. In many cases, the rule offers flexibility to help facilities in their efforts to comply. There are alternatives facilities can and should explore to find solutions that offer the greatest economic and environmental benefits.

Note: EPA developed a workshop on the Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule. The training is designed to explain the Rule’s provisions.

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