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August 07, 2017
Properly manage hazardous waste containers—Decrease violations
By Elizabeth M Dickinson, JD, Senior Legal Editor - EHS

No one wants a regulatory inspector to cite their facility for improper management of containers holding hazardous waste, but container management violations often top the list of violations discovered at hazardous waste generator facilities. The problems found far too often are typically one or more of the following:

  • Failure to keep a container closed
  • Improper container labeling and marking
  • Failure to date a container
  • Failure to remove the container within the applicable accumulation period

This pattern of noncompliance has remained constant despite the fact that the same container regulations have, until recently, been in place for several decades. If generators found it difficult to comply with relatively known standards, one can speculate that it will be more difficult to comply with the container standards that have now changed under the new Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule (New Rule). The New Rule went into effect at the federal level on May 30, 2017, and will be rolled out in most states over the next 18 months.

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The key to compliance is to go back to square one, look at the container requirements anew, and take actions to avoid these most cited container violations.

Keep those containers closed

The requirements for both large quantity generators (LQGs) and small quantity generators (SQGs) are pretty clear: “A container holding hazardous waste must always be closed during accumulation, except when it is necessary to add or remove waste.” But what does “closed” really mean? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) went into great detail in a 2011 guidance document that, although citations have changed under the New Rule, is still good guidance for what constitutes a closed container. The document gives many scenarios of when a container is closed, including these examples for typical containers, such as 55-gallon (gal) drums:

  • All openings or lids are properly and securely affixed to the container.
  • Funnels used to add or remove liquid wastes are screwed tightly to the bunghole and fitted with a gasket, if necessary, to seal the funnel lid firmly closed.
  • Funnel lids for closed-head and closed-top drums are fitted with a locking mechanism.
  • Funnels have a one-way valve that allows hazardous waste to enter the container but prohibits the waste or emissions from exiting the container.
  • Open-head drums or open-top containers (e.g., where the entire lid is removable and typically secured with a ring and bolts or snap ring) of liquid hazardous waste are considered closed when the rings are clamped or bolted to the container.
  • For solid and semisolid hazardous wastes, lids make complete contact with the rims all around the top of the container.

Exception. Is there an exception to the closed-container requirement? Yes, but only in satellite accumulation area (SAA) regulations. The New Rule specifies that containers in SAAs must be closed at all times during hazardous waste accumulation, except:

  • When adding, removing, or consolidating waste; or
  • When temporary venting of a container is necessary for the proper operation of equipment or to prevent dangerous situations, such as a buildup of extreme pressure.

EPA’s rationale for keeping containers closed is to minimize emissions of volatile wastes, to help protect ignitable or reactive wastes from sources of ignition or reaction, to help prevent spills, and to reduce the potential for mixing of incompatible wastes and direct contact of facility personnel with waste.

Pay attention to your labels and markings

The New Rule piles on new labeling requirements to those that have been in place for years.

Indication of hazards. Under the New Rule, LQGs and SQGs must mark or label their containers in central accumulation areas (CAAs) and SAAs with:

  • The words “Hazardous Waste;” and
  • An indication of the hazards of the contents (e.g., applicable hazardous waste characteristics, hazard communication consistent with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) labels or placards, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hazard statement or pictogram, or a chemical hazard label consistent with the National Fire Protection Association Code 704).

Waste codes. In addition, the New Rule adds a pretransport marking requirement that addresses marking containers of 119 gal or less with very specific generator and manifest identification information, as well as with applicable DOT information. Generators must now mark the applicable EPA hazardous waste codes on each container before transporting it off-site. This information can be added while the container is still accepting waste in the hazardous waste accumulation area; the generator does not have to wait until just before the container is to be transported off-site.

Date on container = timely off-site shipments

The failure to put the accumulation start date on the container goes hand in hand with failing to remove the hazardous waste from the generator facility before the generator’s accumulation period ends (90 days for LQGs/180 days for SQGs). If you don’t know when you started accumulating the waste in the container, you won’t know when it must be shipped off-site. An LQG or SQG container in the CAA must be marked with the date the first quantity of hazardous waste was placed in the container. That is the date that the storage period begins and starts the clock for the generator’s 90- or 180-day accumulation period.

Containers in SAAs must also be marked with a date, but not until the SAA container has reached the quantity limits specified in the SAA regulation. The date the SAA container is full (or, as the EPA says, the date “the excess amount began accumulating”) must be marked on the container. This date starts the 3-consecutive-calendar-day period that a generator has to remove the excess hazardous waste from the SAA to either the CAA or an on- or off-site facility permitted to treat, store, or dispose of the hazardous waste.

These markings must be clear and visible for inspection on each container and, obviously, must be looked at from time to time, or otherwise kept track of, so that the accumulation period is not exceeded.

Is there more?

There are, of course, more hazardous waste management requirements dealing with container condition, inspections, waste compatibility, and the like, but paying careful attention to the requirements we’ve reviewed today will help you avoid the most prominent container violations and the penalties that accompany them.

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