Five Things You Should Know About Hazardous Waste

When handled improperly, hazardous waste can bring severe risks to both people and the environment. After decades of environmental and construction engineering, our team has worked with clients across a variety of industries to address hazardous waste and remediate issues to help improve safety, reduce environmental impact, and  

1. What is hazardous waste?

Hazardous waste is a waste with properties that make it dangerous or capable of having a harmful effect on human health and/or the environment. Hazardous waste is generated from many sources ranging from industrial manufacturing process wastes to batteries and comes in many forms including liquids, solids, gases, and sludges.

2. What is "Cradle-to-Grave" hazardous waste controlcontrol?

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), enacted in 1976, gives EPA the authority to control hazardous waste from the "cradle-to-grave."  Thus, hazardous waste is tracked throughout the “life” of the waste from the generation through transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal stages.  Thousands of individuals and facilities, from the local drycleaner to hazardous waste incinerators, are regulated by RCRA.

3. What regulatory programs have the EPA established for hazardous waste?

To advance EPA’s goals of the protection of human health and the environment, RCRA established three separate regulatory programs:

The solid waste program, under RCRA Subtitle D encourages states to develop comprehensive plans to manage nonhazardous industrial solid waste and municipal solid waste. Additionally, it sets criteria for municipal solid waste landfills (MSWLFs) and other solid waste disposal facilities in addition to prohibiting the open dumping of solid waste.

The hazardous waste program, under RCRA Subtitle C, establishes a system for controlling hazardous waste from the time it is generated until its ultimate disposal - in effect, from cradle to grave.

The underground storage tank (UST) program, under RCRA Subtitle I, regulates underground tanks storing hazardous substances and petroleum products.

4. What is the most common form of hazardous waste disposal in the US?

The most common form of hazardous waste disposal in the United States is landfilling. Hazardous waste landfills are highly regulated and are required to include clay liners, monitoring wells, and groundwater barriers. The 1984 Hazardous Solid Waste Amendments require the monitoring of groundwater near landfills for thirty years.

Injection of hazardous waste deep into the earth is another form of hazardous waste disposal, but problems result with aquifer contamination, and the ultimate fate of the hazardous waste after injection is unknown.

Incineration may be an effective way to convert hazardous waste into a nonhazardous form while greatly decreasing its volume. The waste is burned and converted into carbon dioxide, water, and inorganic by-products. The problems associated with incineration are high capital and operating costs, and the disposal of ash, which may contain hazardous substances.

5. How extensive are the EPA's RCRA regulations?

EPA has issued over 17,000 pages of regulations and proposed regulations for RCRA in the Federal Register, and EPA estimates that complying with RCRA costs businesses and governments an estimated $30 billion per year. 

RCRA violations can have far-reaching consequences including substantial fines and investigation by EPA’s criminal enforcement program.  The burdens of non-compliance can devastate a business.

Shield Engineering's Environmental Engineering team has decades of experience navigating the rules and regulations imposed on today's top industries, ensuring full compliance in every project that we're chosen as a reliable partner on. Contact our team today to learn more.

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