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July 03, 2014
Most Common Hazwaste Violations Concern Containers
By Elizabeth M Dickinson, JD, Senior Legal Editor - EHS

The most common RCRA regulatory violations cited by inspectors from state environmental regulatory agencies are in connection with management of hazardous waste containers, particularly by hazardous waste generators.  Not listed by severity, or frequency of findings, the most prevalent violations include:

  • Failure to keep containers closed.  Inspectors often observe hazardous waste drums that have been left open during the entire work shift or drums with open funnels.
  • Failure to mark the accumulation start date on the container.  Generators accumulating hazardous waste on-site without a permit must be sure to clearly mark the date on which each period of accumulation begins on each container.
  • Failure to document inspections. Generators as well as treatment, storage, and disposal facility (TSDF) owners and operators are required to inspect, at least weekly, areas where containers are stored.  These facilities often cannot produce documentation that such inspections have occurred.  Inspectors may ask to review up to 3 years of inspection records.
  • Containers missing the words “Hazardous Waste,” or other required information.  Some states also require additional information on the container, such as the hazardous waste number or chemical name that identifies the container’s contents.
  • Using improper containers or containers in poor condition.  Containers must be in good condition and lined with material that will not react with the hazardous waste being stored therein. To be in “good condition” the container cannot be rusted, have structural defects, or leak. 
  • Failure to comply with the special satellite accumulation area rules.  Generators accumulating hazardous waste on-site without a permit in accordance with the accumulation time rules may accumulate up to 55 gallons (gal) of hazardous waste or 1 quart (qt) of acutely hazardous waste in their satellite accumulation area, provided specific requirements are met.  Violations include an absence of operator control of the process generating the waste, failure to list the date the satellite container reaches its accumulation limit (55 gal for hazardous waste or 1 qt of acutely hazardous waste), and failure to remove the waste from the satellite area within 3 days of exceeding the quantity limitations.

These violations can result in civil and/or criminal penalties.  A history of noncompliance can affect the severity of any future penalties. Remember that many inspectors go first to the hazardous waste accumulation or storage area when they conduct an inspection.   EPA guidance documents that you may find helpful in avoiding violations are EPA Guidance on Closed Containers and Frequent Questions About Satellite Accumulation Areas.

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