Category Archives: EPA regulations

Emergency Preparedness and Preparation

If you generate more than 100 kg of hazardous wastes in a calendar month, you are either a small or large quantity generator under federal hazardous waste regulations. A large quantity generator is someone who generates more than 1000 kg of hazardous wastes in a calendar month. That’s roughy equal to five 55-gallon containers a month.

As a waste generator, there are certain requirements pertaining to preparedness and prevention that you must adhere to:

  1. You must have an accessible communication or alarm system that is capable of providing emergency instructions to your plant personnel. In the event of an emergency, you must instruct your plant personnel to either evacuate the facility or relocate to a safe area.
  2. You must have the means to communicate your emergency and request assistance from local authorities such as the police department, fire department and emergency response team. A two-way communication device is needed.
  3. Your preparedness plan must clearly identify the locations of fire extinguishers, water hose stations, automatic sprinklers and other forms of fire control equipment. It should also include a plant layout showing all exit routes.
  4. You should also have a complete up-to-date list of spill control equipment such as pumps and absorbents that you keep on-site.
  5. Your plan must include procedures to test and maintained your emergency equipment to make sure that they are always in a state of operational readiness. It is also critical to assign someone the responsibility of replenishing any expended spill control material (such as sorbents) so that you will have adequate supply in the next spill.
  6. At the place where you store your hazardous wastes, you must maintain adequate aisle space to allow access for emergency and spill response personnel. The federal  regulation does not specify how large the aisle space need to be. As a general rule of thumb, the space should be at lease 24 inches or wide enough for a 55-gallon container to pass through.
  7. You must also store your waste containers in such a manner that each individual container is easily accessible to an inspector. The inspector must be able to read and inspect the label on each container without having to go through some physical contortion.
  8. You also need to have procedures in place to minimize the possibility of fire, explosion, or spills. That means that if you are storing highly flammable or ignitable wastes onsite, you need to have “NO SMOKING” signs posted at the storage area.
  9. The federal rule requires you to “make arrangement” with local authorities on providing emergency response. What that means is that you need to send a copy of your plan to the fire department, police station and local hospital and let them know what kind of wastes you are storing at your facility. Make sure you document any effort you have made to reach out to these local authorities because it is your responsibility to do so under federal law.
  10. If you have made contractual arrangements with a private emergency response company to handle any spills that you may have, make sure you include the contract in your preparedness plan.

One last point, the rule says that only large quantity generators need to have a WRITTEN plan. If you are a small quantity generator, you do not have to have a written plan – but you must have a plan nonetheless.


My advice is that you make a written plan regardless of your generator status. If you are going to have a plan, you might as well have it written out.

If you are a large quantity generator, you will also have to have a written RCRA Contingency Plan which will include the designation of an Emergency Coordinator who must have delegated authority from senior management to shut down operation in case of an emergency. This person must be accessible and reachable at all times. The Contingency Plan must also be kept up-to-date. Failure to keep a Contingency Plan up to date is one of the most frequently cited violations.

We discuss emergency response and preparedness at our 2-day environmental seminars.



Republicans failed to stop EPA

The Republicans in the U.S. Senate failed to “defund” EPA in order to keep it from proceeding with its greenhouse gas regulations.

This was considered a victory for the Administration which received the go ahead from the Supreme Court awhile back to start regulating CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

Key Elements of an Effective Environmental Management System

In its “Compliance-focused Environmental Management System-enforcement Agreement Guidance” document dated December 2001, EPA outlines the 12 elements of an effective environmental management system.

The US EPA model includes 12 elements which are summarized below:

  1. Environmental policy.
  2. Organization, personnel and oversight of EMS
  3. Accountability and responsibility
  4. Environmental requirements
  5. Assessment, prevention and control
  6. Environmental incident and noncompliance investigations
  7. Environmental training, awareness and competence
  8. Environmental planning and organizational decision-making
  9. Maintenance of records and documentation
  10. Pollution prevention
  11. Continuing program evaluation and improvement
  12. Public involvement and community outreach.

Of all these 12 key elements, three of them are paramount. The first one is accountability. For an EMS to be effective it must have accountability. There must be a system within which bad behaviors by employees are penalized and environmentally proactive actions are rewarded. Without accountability on both end of the spectrum, employees may falsify reports due to fear of management retribution. There would be no incentive for employees to identify environmental problems and suggest solutions.

The second key element of an EMS is program evaluation and improvement. An effective EMS must provide for periodic independent auditing of environmental functions with well defined procedures to correct any deficiencies that are uncovered in the audit. It is pointless to go through an elaborate auditing process if there’s not going to be a well -defined set of procedures to follow through with remedial actions. Without follow through, the audit would just be a meaningless paper exercise. Read my earlier post on what happens when you fail to implement your own audit findings. By the way – do not use audits to establish an attorney-client privileged condition in order to hide environmental noncompliance. This will not work since only the actual audit report itself is protected under attorney-client privilege and not the underlying facts.

The third major key element is thorough investigation of any environmental incident in a timely manner. An effective EMS should immediately trigger a thorough investigation when an environmental incident occurs. Such investigation should be designed to find the root causes of the incident and to demonstrate promptness and completeness in your responses to the incident.

One last point:  Whatever environmental management system you may use, it needs to be enforced by management at all levels. Like all environmental plans, your EMS must be performance-based. Having a well written EMS document is just a start. It is meaningless if it is not communicated to all your employees and enforced throughout the organization.

How to neutralize your hazardous waste without a permit

Let’s say you have a waste that is hazardous solely because it exhibits the corrosivity characteristic (a D002 characteristic waste), you can neutralize it chemically in a tank or container prior to discharging it through a permit under the Clean Water Act. This is known as the Elementary Neutralization Unit Exemption.

This exemption will not apply if your waste also exhibits other hazardous characteristics (such as ignitability, toxicity or reactivity) or if it is a listed hazardous waste. Under this exemption, the unit (tank or container) where the neutralization occurs is exempt from RCRA standards. However, any sludge that comes out of this process is not exempt. If the sludge exhibits any hazardous characteristic, it will need to be managed as hazardous waste under RCRA.

Another point top remember is that if you have a separate container that is holding your D002 waste waiting to be neutralized, that container is NOT a treatment unit.neutra

Under this Federal exemption, you will not need to obtain a CRA Part B permit in order to treat your hazardous waste. Note that not all states have adopted this exemption. So always check with your state agencies.

EPA’s New Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule

The final rule was signed by the Administrator on September 22, 2009. On October 30, 2009, the  final rule was published in the Federal Register ( under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2008-0508-2278.  The rule went into effect December 29, 2009.

Under this new rule,  suppliers of fossil fuels or industrial greenhouse gases, manufacturers of vehicles and engines, and facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more per year of GHG emissions are required to submit annual reports to EPA. The gases covered by the proposed rule are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), perfluorocarbons (PFC), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), and other fluorinated gases including nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) and hydrofluorinated ethers (HFE).

Facilities need to start collect data on January 1, 2010 and the first emission report is due March 31, 2011. There are special provisions in 40 CFR 98 for some companies in 2010.

The complete regulation (all 261 pages of it) can be downloaded here. A much shorter version (press release) is here.

Things you should do even when they are not required by law

There are several things in the environmental world you should do even though they are not  required by law. They fall into the category of “good management practices”.

If you are a hazardous waste generator, you are required by law to inspect your central waste storage area weekly. However, you will not find any regulations that specifically require you to document the weekly inspections. As a good management practice, you should always keep a written log of your weekly inspections. This serves two purposes. One, it keep your staff vigilant in making sure the storage area is clean and the containers are in good condition. Second, it gives you a way to show the inspector that you are actually doing the weekly inspections.

If you are a small quantity generator (you generate less than 1000 kilograms of hazardous waste in a calendar month), you are required by law to have an emergency response plan. However, the regulations do not say that you have to have a “written plan”. If you have such a plan, you might as well have it in writing.

Another thing you should alway do as a SQG. You should alway keep track of how much wastes you are generating on an on-going basis. Why? That’s the only way you can demonstrate to an inspector that you are a small quantity generator. Read my earlier post on this subject.

A few words about “satellite accumulation area”

Have you ever been in a situation where you find yourself lugging buckets of hazardous waste from the place where your generate it to your central storage area? There is a much easier way around this problem. It is called the satellite accumulation area (SAA).

There is a rule under EPA’s RCRA regulations that allows you to accumulate up to 55 gallons of hazardous wastes at or near the point of generation without “activating” the 90-day or 180-day storage time limit. That’s your SAA. You can have more than one SAA but each one cannot have more than 55 gallons. So if you are generating two incompatible waste streams at one location, you can have two separate containers to accumulate the two wastes but the total volume cannot be more than 55 gallons. (Note: If you have acute hazardous wastes, the total volume at your SAA is one quart.)

To take advantage of this special rule, you must following a few requirements:

First of all, the SAA must be “at or near the point of waste generation” and also “under the control of the operator of the process generating the waste.” The commonly accepted interpretation of the phrase “under the control of the operator” is that the waste container must be in the line of sight of the operator . That’s also EPA’s interpretation. If the waste has to be stored out of sight of the operator due to safety reason – say in a shed outside the building but near the place of generation – then access to the shed must be through a lock controlled by the operator.

The container must also be in good condition (40 CFR 265.171) and wastes stored at the SAA must be compatible (40 CFR 265.172) and the containers must be kept closed (40 CFR 265.173 (a)).

The requirement to keep container “closed” except when adding or removing waste is a problematic one for many generators. The rule says that “a container holding hazardous waste must always be closed during storage, except when it is necessary to add or remove waste”. It does not specifically define the word “closed”.  However, when EPA came up with the rule back in 1980, it intended the word “closed” to mean “vapor tight and spill proof”. So if you screw a large funnel into the bunghole of a container and pour your waste into the drum through the funnel, is that vapor tight and spill proof? If you are storing some highly volatile solvents in the container, is that funnel system vapor tight? If the container gets tipped over, is the funnel system spill proof? Whether you will be cited depends on the content in your container and your state inspector’s interpretation of the word “closed”.  To be on the safe side, you may want to consider putting a shut-off valve between your funnel and the drumhead.

The container should also be labeled “hazardous waste”.

Once the 55-gallon container is full (or the 55 gallon limit is reached if you have more than one container), you have three days to move any excess waste to your central storage area where you will start your regular 90 or 180 days storage time limit. That’s what the regulations say. In reality, it means that unless you remove your 55 gallons from your SAA – either to your central storage area or directly to a final treatment and disposal facility – you will not be able to accumulate any more waste in your SAA for longer than 3 days. So that’s what most people do. They move the 55 gallons to the central storage area and start accumulating in the SAA anew. The net effect is that the SAA extends your on-site accumulation time for the 55 gallons by a significant amount.

Note; If you are in California, state rule (Title 22 CCR 66262.34 (e)(1)(B)) limits the time you can keep your waste at the SAA to one year or when the 55 gallons volume is full – whichever comes first. That is just one of the many additional state environmental requirements you have to live with for being in California.

Another benefit of the SAA is that you do not need to conduct weekly inspection at the site as you do at your central storage areas. (By the way – failure to conduct weekly inspection at the central storage area is one of the most frequently cited CRA violations.) Some generators actually ship their wastes that have been accumulated at the SAA directly out the door thereby skirting the weekly inspection requirement altogether. The disadvantage of this arrangement is the additional shipping costs.

There is an excellent EPA guidance document on this topic.