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June 19, 2013
RCRA: A look at facility inspections
By Elizabeth M Dickinson, JD, Senior Legal Editor - EHS

When can your facility be inspected and why?

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Section 3007, authorizes a representative of the EPA or a RCRA authorized state to enter any premises where hazardous waste is handled to examine records and take samples of the wastes. Similarly, the Department of Transportation (DOT) may participate where hazardous waste transporters are involved. 

All treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs) must be inspected at least once every 2 years. Facilities may also be inspected at any time if EPA or the state has reason to suspect that a violation has occurred. Facilities may be chosen also for an inspection when specific information is needed to support the development of RCRA regulations and to track program progress and accomplishments. Inspections may be conducted by EPA, an authorized state, or both, with one having overall responsibility for conducting the inspection. The inspection may include a formal visit to the facility, a review of records, taking of samples, and observation of operations.

Types of inspections

There are many types of inspections. The compliance evaluation inspection (CEI) is the primary mechanism for detecting and verifying RCRA violations by hazardous waste generators, transporters, and TSDFs. Other types of inspections differ based upon the purpose, facility status, and the probable use of inspection results.

  • CEI: Routine inspections to evaluate compliance with RCRA. These inspections usually encompass a file review prior to the site visit; an on-site examination of generation, treatment, storage, or disposal areas; a review of records; and an evaluation of the facility’s compliance with RCRA.
  • Case Development Inspection: An inspection when significant RCRA violations are known, suspected, or revealed. These inspections are usually intended to gather data in support of a specific enforcement action.
  • Comprehensive Ground Water Monitoring Evaluation: An inspection to ensure that groundwater monitoring systems are designed and functioning properly at RCRA land disposal facilities.
  • Compliance Sampling Inspection: Inspections to collect samples for laboratory analysis. This sampling inspection may be conducted in conjunction with any other inspection.
  • Operations and Maintenance Inspection: Inspections to ensure that groundwater monitoring and other systems at closed land disposal facilities continue to function properly..
  • Laboratory Audit:  Inspections of laboratories performing groundwater monitoring analysis to ensure that these laboratories are using proper sample handling and analysis protocols.

The inspection

The first stage of an inspection is the facility entry. Upon entry, the inspector generally holds an opening conference with the owner and operator to discuss the nature of the inspection and to describe the information and samples to be gathered. Following the opening conference, the actual inspection takes place, which may involve:

  • Reviewing facility operations and waste management practices
  • Reviewing records
  • Conducting a visual inspection
  • Identifying sampling requirements

Finally, the inspector holds a closing conference to allow the owner or operator to respond to questions about the inspection and to provide additional information. The inspector usually summarizes what he or she has observed.

Post inspection

After the visit is completed, the inspector prepares a comprehensive report that summarizes the records reviewed, any sampling results, and the facility’s compliance status with respect to RCRA.

The most important result of any inspection is the determination of whether the facility is in compliance with the applicable regulations. The inspector may also determine compliance through examination of the reports that facilities are required to submit, or are part of normal waste handler operations. Inspection reports may contain information about the wastes being handled, the method of handling, and the ultimate disposal of wastes. Reports are submitted as required in a permit or enforcement order (e.g., corrective action schedules of compliance) and by regulation (e.g., biennial report). If the facility is not complying with all of the appropriate state or federal requirements, then an enforcement action may be taken.

Additional Resources:

Routine RCRA Inspections, Common Violations, and Enforcement Follow-up

RCRA Enforcement and Compliance

RCRA Orientation Manual

Checklist Before the Compliance Officer Arrives

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