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Editor’s Note: Welcome to part 10 in our series about the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). During this series, we’ll guide you through proper hazardous waste handling so you stay compliant and safe.
Media coverage of Love Canal and several rivers on fire heightened public awareness of the consequences of improperly disposed hazardous wastes. These events were also the stimulus for many Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, including the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Clean Water Act.
To help prevent further contamination to land resources, RCRA established Land Disposal Restrictions that prohibit generators from disposing of untreated hazardous wastes on land. (The Clean Water Act prohibits their disposal into water.) It is important for generators to be aware of applicable land disposal restrictions because they may need to treat the waste before disposal. This helps to ensure that if the waste eventually leaches from a land disposal unit, environmental impact will be minimized.
When a waste cannot be recycled, reclaimed or repurposed, generators often have several different types of disposal options available including incineration, fuels blending and land disposal. There are several different types of land disposal, including:
Each type of land disposal unit has specific design requirements that the owner of the disposal unit must meet before it can accept hazardous waste shipments. However, even with the safeguards that are put in place, systems can fail and hazardous wastes can still occasionally leach into the environment. The waste treatment standards specified in the land disposal restriction requirements help minimize this impact.
Both small and large quantity generators of hazardous waste need to determine if their waste needs to be treated before land disposal [40 CFR 268.7]. If a hazardous waste meets any of the following three criteria, treatment is required before land disposal:
Treatment standards vary, depending upon the hazard that the waste presents. For example, some wastes may need to be treated to reduce corrosivity, while others may need to have toxic components removed or reduced prior to disposal.
After a waste has been treated as required in the Treatment Standards for Hazardous Wastes Table, it may be land disposed if each of the following requirements is met:
Generators also need to be aware of specific types of hazardous wastes that are prohibited from land disposal [40 CFR 268.20 –.39]. Alternative recycling or non-land-disposal methods must be chosen for these wastes.
Not every hazardous waste is subject to land disposal restrictions. Many different types of hazardous wastes can be land disposed in approved hazardous waste disposal units without pre-treatment. Some examples include:
Wastes that are listed in the Treatment Standards for Hazardous Wastes Table [40 CFR 268.40] must be treated according to the applicable standards in the table. The treatment standards listed in the table make wastes less hazardous by:
Hazardous wastes that are not listed but that exhibit a hazardous waste characteristic (toxicity, reactivity, corrosivity or ignitability) are handled differently. If the waste can be treated to remove the hazardous characteristic, the waste may be disposed of as a non-hazardous solid waste [40 CFR 268.9]. Characteristic hazardous wastes must be treated to remove both the characteristic, as well as any underlying hazardous constituents before they can be land disposed.
All hazardous wastes that exceed the concentrations listed in the Treatment Standards for Hazardous Wastes Table [40 CFR 268.40] are subject to the following three prohibitions:
Because soil, debris and lab packs that contain hazardous wastes present a slightly lower health and environmental risk, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established optional alternative treatment standards for these types of wastes. Generators have the choice of managing them according to all applicable standards in 40 CFR 268.40, or under the optional treatment standards, as follows:
According to the EPA, more than 23 million tons of hazardous waste are land disposed each year. The Land Disposal Restriction Standards establish treatment requirements to minimize the impact of these wastes to protect human health and the environment.
Up next, we will discuss solid and hazardous waste exemptions.