Monthly Archives: May 2011

“alcohol exclusion” in EPA’s ignitable waste definition

Under EPA’s hazardous waste regulations, any aqueous solution that has a flash point of less than 140 degree F is considered to be ignitable and therefore a hazardous waste.

There is one exclusion (40 CFR 261.21(a)(1)). The ignitability definition does not apply to any aqueous solution that is ignitable because it contains less than 24 percent alcohol by volume. That excludes wine and some liquors that have less than 24% alcohol by volume. It also means that  most bar tenders will not become hazardous waste generators.

The term alcohol refers to any form of alcohol – not just ethanol.  It includes any chemical containing the hydroxyl [-OH] functional group.  The term “aqueous solution” refers to any solution that has at least 50% by weight of water.

This is all documented in one of EPA’s guidance documents on RCRA Online.


How do you decide on the frequency of environmental audit?

Someone asked in a discussion panel whether the frequency of doing an environmental audit should be based on risk factor.

When a company makes its auditing decision/frequency based on “risk factor”, you have to ask how it measures “risk”. BP Texas City had a major explosion in 1995 that killed 150 workers. Its own internal audits (before the explosion) showed that the company was basing risk on workers’ injuries. This is all public information from the BP Baker_panel_report about that incident. One of the causes of the explosive was lack of maintenance over many years. The problem was that even a poorly maintained equipment can keep on going for years until it breaks. So there were not a lot of injuries before the big explosion and that gave management a totally erroneous reading. They thought everything was fine and EHS budget was cut. The rest was history.

An environmental audit is analogous to a medical checkup. You want to find an ailment at its early stage before it becomes very costly to cure or incurable. So you should visit your doctor more often based on the number of ongoing health problems you have rather than how many times you were taken to the emergency room in an ambulance.

The 12 elements of an effective EMS

In its Compliance-Focused Environmental Management System Enforcement Agreement Guidance, EPA  provides twelve elements that should be incorporated into an effective environmental management system.  The 12 key elements  are summarized below:

1. Environmental Policy – management must be committed to compliance and this commitment must be communicated to all employees.

2. Organization, Personnel and Oversight of EMS – define duties, roles and means of communicating environmental concerns, provide a direct means for concerned employees to reach management without fear of negative consequences.

3. Accountability and Responsibility – specify responsibilities, provide incentives to perform and describe consequences of nonperformance. Nonperformance must be subject to consequences.

4. Environmental Requirements – ensure that applicable requirements are identified and communicated and updated as regulations change.

5. Assessment, Prevention and Control – includes establishing standard operation procedures and management of change.

6. Environmental Incident and Non-compliance Investigations – standard procedures for dealing with incidents to determine causes and prevent recurrence.

7. Environmental Training, Awareness and Competence – must
include documentation of training and periodic updates.

8. Environmental Planning and Organizational Decision Making – includes integration of environmental planning on an annual basis for all corporate decisions.

9. Maintenance of Records and Documentation – should include specification of types of records to be maintained.

10. Pollution Prevention – provides procedures for minimizing waste and emissions.

11. Continuing Program Evaluation and Improvement – includes evaluation of the EMS and periodic audits of facility compliance.

12. Public Involvement/Community Outreach – includes education and environmental awareness.
Each element of an EMS is important, but two of the more important elements are the internal accountability process and the environmental auditing procedures.

Is safety really our number one priority?

I just came across this excellent blog exposing a bunch of corporate safety myths. The first myth exposed by the writer is this: “Safety is our number one priority”.

While it sounds good and looks good on paper, most people know that it is simply not true. It is just “happy talk”. Companies exist to make a product or provide a service with the expectation of turning a profit. THAT is its number one priority. Without profit, it will soon go out of business. Even a non-profit organization exists to pursue a goal and that goal in most instances is not safety.

You can extend this thinking to environmental policy as well. It is a myth and it stretches credulity also to claim that environmental protection is your number one corporate priority.

To be effective in safety or environmental protection, you need to be credible – first and foremost with your stakeholders.