Tag Archives: EPA

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.


Cleaning up spilled residues

According to EPA, when you have a chemical spill, you must take “immediate response” and clean up the spills. The agency does not define what it means by “immediate”. It is more of a matter of judgment made on a individual basis. In general, EPA expects a facility to begin cleaning up within 24 hours and no later than 72 hours after the spill. Failure to clean up a spill could lead to enforcement action for illegal disposal of hazardous waste.

If you spill gasoline on the ground, the soil that has been soaked with gasoline will most likely fail the TCLP (Toxic Characteristic Leaching Procedures) test due to the presence of benzene – a TCLP contaminant. That means the soil is now a characteristic hazardous waste and must be disposed of as much.

This is one of the many topics discussed at our 2-day seminars.

New EPA Storm water rules may be coming …

EPA is seeking input on the following preliminary regulatory considerations on storm water management:

  1. expand the area subject to federal stormwater regulations;
  2. establish specific requirements to control stormwater discharges from new development and redevelopment;
  3. develop a single set of consistent stormwater requirements for all municipal separate storm sewer systems;
  4. require those sewer systems to address stormwater discharges in areas of existing development through retrofitting the sewer system or drainage area with improved stormwater control measures; and
  5. explore specific stormwater provisions to protect sensitive areas.

The agency has planned a series of meetings to solicit ideas and comments from the public. Click here for dates and locations.

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.

EPA’s endangerment findings on greenhouse gas

As expected, EPA will be announcing today its final endangerment findings that greenhouse gas is harmful to public health. This is a followup to  recent Supreme Court ruling that directed EPA to make a determination on the public health impact of greenhouse gas.

This ruling gives EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas under the Clean Air Act.

Verizon Wireless and EPA’s corporate audit program

Verizon Wireless has just agreed to pay $468,600 in civil penalty to EPA for a series of violations uncovered in its corporate wide audit at 655 facilities in 42 states. Here is a link to EPA’s press release.

A corporate audit agreement is an agreement that allows corporations, universities or other organizations with many facilities to plan corporate-wide or facility-wide audits with an advance understanding between the entity and EPA regarding schedules for conducting the audit and disclosing violations. EPA factors in the companies’ cooperation and willingness to do the audit voluntarily, and the penalties are typically lower than if the same violations were discovered through enforcement.

Some of the violations that Verizon uncovered included failure to prepare SPCC plans, failure to obtain air permits and failure to file Tier II reports.

Ten Steps to Avoid Air Fines

Bob Davis wrote an excellent article in the November 2009 issue of Pollution Engineering magazine. (Full disclosure: I write a column there every two months). It is called “10 steps to avoid air fines”. A few of his compliance tips (in italics) are worth repeating here followed by my own commentaries:

  • When it comes to ensuring compliance, make everyone responsible. Hallelujah! Make someone responsible for reviewing the air permit – or any permit for that matter. It is amazing how many people spend oodles of money getting a permit and then just file it away in the desk draw without reading it. It is critical that you read and understand the requirements of your own permit. Don’t wait for an inspector to review it for you.
  • Follow the EPA online and stay informed on regulatory actions. One good way to do that is to sign up for EPA (and state agency’s) mailing lists. They are FREE and will keep you posted on the latest regulatory requirements.
  • Quiz vendors on potential problems that could lead to trouble. If a vendor tells you his equipment is the best thing since sliced bread, tell him to back it up with full indemnification in writing. In other words, if his wonderful machine causes a violation, he pays your fine.
  • Practice vigilance when selecting a stack tester. That is excellent advice. Make sure the tester has good working relationship with the agency that will be reviewing the test results. Talk to the regulatory agency BEFORE hiring the tester. If the tester has a questionable reputation, the regulators will let you know in one way or another. They may not come right out and tell you. But you will sense it.
  • Get to know the inspectors and do not hesitate to ask them for guidance. That is good advice up to a point. If you have a good working relationship with your inspector, he/she will offer you guidance unofficially. Many agencies specifically prohibit their inspectors from offering consulting advice to the regulated communities. Do not count on your inspectors as your free consultants. Back to the first point – you need to know your own permit conditions.