hazardous waste

Retail Strategy: A New Focus on Hazardous Waste Regulations

By Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus

America’s hazardous waste management program ensures the safe management of hazardous waste from the “cradle to the grave”. Many of these regulations were developed more than three decades ago, so it is important we ensure they continue to effectively protect human health and environment into the future.

These regulations were developed primarily for industrial and manufacturing settings, but apply to any non-household facility generating and managing hazardous waste—including some facilities that may surprise people. For example, hospitals, schools, and retail stores all generate hazardous waste and are subject to our regulations. However, because these types of facilities aren’t industrial in nature, sometimes the design of the hazardous waste regulations can pose compliance challenges. In recent years, we began to explore how we can update these important safeguards for a retail setting and address the potential challenges these regulations present for retail.

An orange prescription bottle lies on its side with its white cap next to it. Small pills spill out from the bottle.You might not think of consumer goods at retail stores as especially hazardous, but some household cleaners, automotive products, batteries and other items meet the definition of hazardous waste when disposed. These goods are important parts of our everyday lives and may require special disposal when they are no longer able to be sold. We want to ensure that these items, if they are not sold and must be disposed, are managed safely and properly.

Recently, EPA and other regulators focused increased attention on the retail sector. Instances of hazardous waste mismanagement and non-compliance by major retailers led us to seek information and solicit feedback by issuing a Retail Notice of Data Availability (NODA) in 2014. Feedback on the NODA, as well as information gathered from our continued engagement with the retail sector and regulatory community, not only increased our understanding of how retailers handle consumer goods that cannot be sold but also shed light on the challenges retailers face when managing goods that are hazardous wastes when disposed.

I’m excited to announce that we are unveiling a cohesive strategy to address these unique issues and to ensure that retail stores comply with hazardous waste regulations. This strategy takes into account the feedback we received in 2014, as well as our knowledge of how unsalable items are managed in the retail sector. It builds upon regulatory efforts underway, including proposed updates and improvements to existing hazardous waste generator regulations and a proposed set of regulations designed to allow flexibility in the management and disposal of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals.

As laid out in the strategy, we’ve taken these actions to ease the burden of managing hazardous wastes in a retail setting while maintaining important protections to human health and the environment, and furthering the President’s goal of reducing regulatory burden across the government (EO 13610). The strategy outlines our next steps, which include:

  • issuing the final generator rule in fall 2016;
  • working on finalizing the pharmaceuticals rule;
  • issuing a guide on recycling aerosol cans;
  • proposing a universal waste rule for aerosol cans; and
  • issuing a policy on reverse distribution and RCRA.

This retail strategy is an important next step in our journey to explore options for reducing management burdens, ensuring compliance with hazardous waste regulations and protecting human health and the environment. Our strategy is available at http://www.epa.gov/hwgenerators/hazardous-waste-management-and-retail-sector. Take a look. We’re interested in your thoughts as we move forward in partnership with all stakeholders to implement this strategy.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Superfund Investigates Land Pollution from the Past…and Present

By Mathy Stanislaus

On September 7, 2016, we took steps to respond to states, tribes and citizens who asked for our help addressing contaminated sites. In response, we are adding 10 hazardous waste sites to the National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL is our list of more than 1,300 of the most contaminated sites in the country that we are addressing under the Superfund program. Superfund is one of the most important federal programs to improve the health, environment and economy of America’s communities.

As I’ve traveled across the country during my tenure as Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, I’ve seen firsthand how the mismanagement of contamination and hazardous waste can threaten entire communities. According to census data, approximately 53 million people live within three miles of a Superfund site – roughly 17% of the U.S. population, including 18% of all children in the U.S. under the age of five. Some groups, such as children, pregnant women and the elderly, may be at particular risk. During environmental emergencies, health threats — poisoning, injuries from fires and explosions — are often urgent and immediate. At other sites, health effects of contamination — cancer, birth defects — may be more long term. Under the most difficult circumstances, communities reach out to us to use the Superfund program to protect them from these risks.

We continue to find sites where recent operations have resulted in the mismanagement of contamination that warrant our investigation. In addition to adding 10 sites to the NPL, we are proposing the addition of eight more. Nine of these 18 sites were in operation within the last two decades, including several as recently as the late 2000s. Pollution at these 18 sites came from a variety of sources, including manufacturing, mining, battery recycling and dry cleaning.

One area we are listing on the NPL is the Bonita Peak Mining District in San Juan County, Colorado. Mining began there in the 1870s and continued into the 1990s. The Bonita Peak Superfund site includes 48 sources, comprised of 35 mines (including Gold King Mine) and 13 other mining-related areas. We have drainage data on 32 of these sources and we estimate that they collectively contribute an average of 5.4 million gallons of mine-influenced water per day to the Upper Animas River watershed. This water includes metals such as cadmium, copper, manganese and zinc that threaten the health of the watershed and downstream communities.

More broadly, the addition of the sites to the NPL continues a 35-year history of EPA improving the lives of those who reside on or near Superfund sites. Academic research has shown the cleanup of Superfund sites reduces birth defects of those close to a site by as much as 25 percent. Cleanups involving lead-contaminated soil have contributed to documented reductions in children’s blood-lead levels.

In addition, Superfund cleanups have a positive impact on local economies by enabling the reuse of previously unusable land. More than 850 Superfund sites nationwide have some type of actual or planned reuse underway. Last year, we reviewed 454 Superfund sites supporting use or reuse activities and found they had approximately 3,900 businesses with 108,000 employees and annual sales of more than $29 billion.

As our recent listing demonstrates, land pollution continues to occur from a variety of sources. It is not only an issue at abandoned industrial sites riddled with buried hazardous material, or at waste sites that operated before our nation’s environmental laws were enacted. Land pollution is still an issue — often due to the mismanagement of contaminants from more recent operations. Unfortunately, the Superfund program is needed as much today as in the past to clean up communities from such mismanagement.

Our Superfund program will continue to respond to requests from states, tribes and citizens to investigate all eras of pollution — past and present — to protect communities and hold polluters accountable. I am proud of the work our Superfund program has completed to date, and I encourage you to read more about its 35-year history and its highlights.

More information about the September 2016 NPL listing can be found here. http://go.usa.gov/xZ9nP.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

E-Manifest: Sustaining the e-Manifest National System through User Fees

By Mathy Stanislaus

Recently, I blogged about the selection of members for our e-Manifest Advisory Board, an exciting step in the creation of an electronic system for tracking hazardous waste shipments from “cradle-to-grave.” This system, known as e-Manifest, will improve access to timely hazardous waste shipment data and will reduce burdens associated with the current paper manifest system.

How are we funding this system? In the e-Manifest Act, Congress required that EPA recover all of the costs of developing and operating the system. E-Manifest will be entirely supported by user fees charged to those who use manifests to track shipments of their hazardous wastes. Congress directed EPA to create a system for collecting user fees, which makes lots of sense. After all, the cost of handling and tracking hazardous waste ought to be borne by those who generate it, not the tax payer. After all, maybe they will generate less!

Today, I’m pleased to highlight another important step toward our goal of deploying the e-Manifest system in the spring of 2018. We have released a proposed rule that explains how we propose to establish and revise the system’s user fees. Now it’s your turn; we want your input. We are looking forward to getting informed and insightful public comment. The proposal covers:

  • Who must pay e-Manifest user fees,
  • The types of transactions that will incur fees,
  • The formula we’ll use to set fees,
  • Options for paying fees electronically,
  • A process for periodically revising user fees, and
  • Sanctions for non-payment.

Our proposal plans to levy user fees on the facilities that receive manifested waste shipments, with the fees tailored to whether paper or electronic manifests are submitted to the system. Paper is a lot more expensive to handle and process. At EPA we’re advocates of reduce, reuse, recycle. The bottom line is that we’re trying to set this system up so that paper becomes the choice of last resort. If we are successful the system will be more efficient, cost less and save more.

I encourage you to tell us what you think. Comments on this proposal will be accepted for 60 days following publication of this rule in the Federal Register. EPA is requesting commenters to use the new comment platform, which can be found at https://epa-notice.usa.gov/. Information on the new platform can be found in the Federal Register Notice for the proposed rule, as well as on the EPA e-Manifest proposed rule Web page. You may follow progress on EPA’s development of the e-Manifest system on our website. If you subscribe to the e-Manifest ListServ, you will receive project updates in real time and information about opportunities to provide feedback. EPA will also conduct an upcoming webinar to discuss the user fee proposals under consideration and encourage all interested parties to participate.

Once we’ve reviewed the public comments and feedback from the Advisory Board, EPA will finalize the user fee methodology and establish user fees for the e-Manifest system, which we expect to do in late 2017. We are excited about the strides we are making in realizing this national system, and remain dedicated to maintaining open dialogue and continuing collaboration. For more updates, visit our e-Manifest website.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

E-Manifest: Tapping into America’s Expertise to Build a National System

By Mathy Stanislaus

Last year, I wrote about the progress we’re making on creating an electronic system for tracking hazardous waste shipments. It’s the system that will modernize the nation’s cradle to grave hazardous waste tracking process while saving valuable time, resources, and dollars for industry and states. The e-Manifest program is the vanguard of the Agency-wide e-Enterprise initiative to develop new tools to reduce the reporting burden on regulated entities and provide the Agency, states and the public with easier access to environmental data.

Today I’m pleased to announce another important step toward this goal, the selection of members for our E-Manifest Advisory Board. We chose experts with diverse backgrounds to help ensure that perspectives from manifest users across the country will be incorporated into the recommendations for improving effectiveness of the e-Manifest system.

We followed a robust process to select the Advisory Board members. First, we solicited nominations through a variety of outlets, including the Federal Register, various professional associations, our e-Manifest ListServ, and the Office of Small Business Programs. We received an enthusiastic response from candidates with expertise in information technology and from stakeholders in the sectors affected by the future e-Manifest system, including state governments, transportation, and hazardous waste management. From this excellent slate of nominations, we selected eight members who we believe reflect a wide array of valuable expertise, including:

  • Decades of experience managing hazardous waste at generator, transporter, and hazardous waste management facilities;
  • Vast systems development knowledge, including one contributer to the OnStar Automotive assistive technology; and
  • Hands-on, in-depth experience managing state hazardous waste programs in the states of Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Washington.

As required by the e-Manifest Act, the Advisory Board will be composed of nine members consisting of the EPA Administrator (or her designee), two members from the information technology sector, three members from state agencies and three members from the regulated community. We are excited to start working with the Advisory Board to gather their thoughts on several complex issues surrounding the development of the e-manifest system, including effectiveness and performance, user fees and processes, regulations and guidance, and outreach to our stakeholders. We will convene the Advisory Board periodically beginning in 2016, and we intend to deploy the e-Manifest system in the spring of 2018.

For those stakeholders who are not part of the Advisory Board, there are several ways you can provide your input and expertise to the e-Manifest system project. Our system development work is focused on ensuring that user requirements are met from day one of national system deployment. To accomplish this, we are conducting user-centered design and development and are utilizing agile software development methodologies. This approach embodies continuous improvement through pilots and testing, using iterative processes, and continued regular engagement with users and stakeholders throughout the process to provide on-going opportunities for input.

I encourage you to follow progress on the development of the e-Manifest system on our website. There, you may also subscribe to the e-Manifest ListServ to receive project updates in real time and information about opportunities to provide feedback. You may also submit your ideas and questions to eManifest@epa.gov. And finally, once we publish our proposed fee methodology this spring, I encourage you to submit comments on the proposed rule through regulations.gov.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Superfund Turns 35

By James Woolford

December 11 marks the 35th anniversary of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act—better known as Superfund—that President Jimmy Carter signed into law in 1980. Anniversaries are good occasions to look back on what’s been accomplished. For Superfund’s 35th anniversary, we chose the theme 35 Years, 35 Stories to give people across the country an opportunity to reflect on the difference Superfund cleanups have made in their communities.

From the 35 stories on our website, you will hear again and again how cleaning up a hazardous waste site signaled a community’s new beginning. You’ll hear how protecting human health and the environment makes a positive difference in people’s lives. You’ll hear how a clean environment and a thriving economy go hand in hand in making a better community.

Take for example, the Kansas City Structural Steel site in Kansas. The former steel plant was shut down in the 1980s, leaving behind contamination and hundreds of unemployed workers. A blighted spot in the community for years, the site was cleaned up and made suitable for redevelopment. As part of our 35 Years, 35 Stories series, you’ll learn more about how the site came to be the location for a Walmart Neighborhood Market in the underserved Argentine neighborhood.

You’ll also hear from Alex Mandell, a community involvement coordinator in our Philadelphia regional office, about land restoration around the Palmerton Zinc site in Pennsylvania. Beginning in the early 1900s and continuing for 80 years, zinc smelters released heavy metals into the surrounding area’s land and waters. The smelting activities eventually denuded over 2000 acres of land on the Blue Mountain near the Appalachian Trail. Superfund activities included cleaning up residential yards and surface water, as well as extensive replanting of native vegetation. The land now is a thriving native prairie and home to the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, where both wildlife and the public can enjoy the open space.

I’ve spent most of my career involved in one aspect or another with the Superfund program. During the early years of my career, I was involved with Superfund enforcement, and I later oversaw federal facility site cleanups when I headed up EPA’s Federal Facility Restoration and Reuse Office. Nine years ago, on Superfund’s 26th anniversary, December 11, 2006, I became the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation’s director. What keeps me inspired every day is the fulfillment I realize working in a program that makes a visible difference in people’s lives.

The 35 stories we’ve captured for the 35th anniversary of Superfund are just a portion of the environmental and economic restoration work occurring across the country. There are many more stories to be told.

About the author: James Woolford is the Director of the Office of Superfund Restoration and Technology Innovation.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Enforcing the Superfund Law, Past and Present

By Cynthia Giles

Back in 1986, I was an assistant U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia. I was working on a variety of civil enforcement cases, and learning about the importance of holding violators accountable for pollution in American communities. That year, I took on one of the nation’s earliest Superfund trials – U.S. v. Tyson. The U.S. Government was seeking to hold several parties responsible for contaminating a dump site with hazardous substances that ultimately were released into local Pennsylvania waterways.

While holding polluters accountable is always important, this trial in particular had great significance. In the early days of the Superfund law, it was essential to demonstrate that the U.S. government was serious about following through on its commitment to Americans, and prepared to take responsible parties to trial to assure they were held accountable for cleaning up pollution they created. The trial in the Tyson case lasted for three weeks and all the parties involved were found responsible for the contamination. This trial helped to establish the foundation of Superfund’s polluter pays principle.

This winter, as we reflect on the 35th anniversary of Superfund, I’m proud of what EPA’s Superfund enforcement program has achieved. Just as in U.S. v. Tyson, EPA has followed through on its commitment to ensure that responsible parties participate in performing and paying for cleanups. This “polluter pays” principal stands strong – we are committed to making polluters, and not the taxpayer, pay for cleanup of hazardous waste sites.

By placing the burden of cleanup on those responsible for the contamination, EPA is saving American taxpayers money and protecting the environment. For every one dollar spent on Superfund civil enforcement activity, approximately eight dollars in private party cleanup commitments and cost recovery is obtained for cleaning up contaminated sites across the country.

Here are a few examples of how we’ve held responsible parties accountable for cleaning up pollution:

  • Last year EPA, along with the Department of Justice, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and the bankrupt debtor’s trustee, settled a historic fraudulent conveyance case. The settlement put nearly $4.4 billion to work in communities from New Jersey to California.
  • A settlement last year with Eastman Kodak Company and the state of New York established a $49 million trust for cleanup. In addition to putting much needed funds into cleaning up the local environment, including the Genesee River, the cleanup dollars will support the creation of new jobs in Rochester, New York.
  • In 2009, EPA joined forces with other federal and state agencies during a corporate We pursued and achieved a $1.79 billion settlement to fund environmental cleanup and restoration at more than 80 sites around the country.

Today, just as was true back in 1986 in Philadelphia, the polluter pays for cleaning up toxic pollution in communities. Thanks to this important law and public servants across the country implementing it, America is a cleaner, safer place to live.

Learn more about EPA’s Superfund enforcement program.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Making Hazardous Waste Regulations Work for Today’s Marketplace

The pace of technology and change in the modern world can be dizzying. As new medicines and treatments are developed, new types of waste emerge. However, our hazardous waste generator regulations were written in the 1980s and haven’t changed much over the years.
Well, today we’re taking steps toward changing that. I’m excited to announce that we are proposing two rules to provide businesses with the certainty and flexibility they need to successfully operate in today’s marketplace.

Over the last 35 years, we’ve heard from states and the regulated community that our hazardous waste generator regulations, which were designed for manufacturing, don’t fit all sectors and especially not the healthcare sector. We’ve listened and these two proposals make a number of updates and improvements to the existing regulations. We have proposed over 60 changes to the regulations to improve the effectiveness of and compliance with the hazardous waste generator program. This includes rearranging some of the generator regulations that had outgrown their original numbering system so it will be easier for facilities of all sizes that generate hazardous waste to find everything they need to know in one place.

The second rule will make it easier for healthcare providers to comply with hazardous waste rules while protecting the nation’s water. We’re proposing to remove the traditional manufacturing-based hazardous waste generator requirements and instead provide a new set of regulations designed to be workable in a healthcare setting while ensuring safe management and disposal of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals. The primary focus for nurses, doctors and pharmacists is providing healthcare – they are not experts in hazardous waste identification and management. This rule seeks to reduce the burden and increase compliance by proposing a more flexible, common sense approach for healthcare providers and the elimination of unnecessary management practices.

Pharmaceuticals entering the environment, through flushing or other means, are having a negative effect on aquatic ecosystems and on fish and animal populations. Our proposal is keeping pace with today’s environmental issues by banning the sewering, or flushing down the toilet or sink, of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals from healthcare facilities. It is projected to prevent the flushing of more than 6,400 tons of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals annually making our drinking water safer.

In order to keep our world safe and healthy, regulations should not only effectively manage sources of environmental harm, but also be flexible and clear enough for newcomers to understand. The updates and tailoring of the hazardous waste generator regulations by these two proposed rules increases compliance, which then increases environmental benefit. The new rules respond to the needs of both the environment and businesses, benefitting both sides.

Our proposals will be available for public comment online in the coming weeks once they are published in the Federal Register. We’d love to hear your thoughts. To review these proposed rules now, visit: www2.epa.gov/hwgenerators.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Flush It and Forget It: A Recipe for Disaster

By Leslie Corcelli

I grew up in a house with a septic system. It was a wonderful home, built by both of my grandfathers. Although that was some years ago, I vividly remember that we, like most folks, flushed it and forgot about it – until it backed up into our basement, which served as our playroom.

Back then, my father’s approach to plumbing and building maintenance issues was to bring a hammer. He is a brilliant attorney and CPA, but not so well versed in plumbing and mechanical systems. My mother was even less versed, but perhaps a bit more practical about hammers. Suffice it to say, had either of them known that septic systems require regular maintenance, the basement would never have backed up with what we kids called “the nasties.”

Even these days, none of us likes to think about what happens to our “stuff” when we flush. Let’s face it, it’s much easier to flush it and forget it. It’s gross to think about and awkward to talk about. You can’t make friends at parties talking about wastewater – believe me, I’ve tried.

It’s more complicated now, too, than when I was a child. There are myriad cleaning supplies, hygiene products and flushable wipes that are detrimental to both septic and sewer systems. But, we can’t ignore it. We need to take action to prevent “the nasties” from entering our homes and yards, and from affecting the environment. It’s a health risk.

Our septic program has several tools and some simple “dos and don’ts” to help us wade through the murky waters of septic maintenance. These tools and tips can save us money and protect our health.

  • Toilets aren’t trash cans: Don’t flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper.
  • Inspect and pump frequently: Have your septic tank professionally inspected at least every three years and pumped every three to five years.
  • Use water efficiently: All the water a household sends down its pipes winds up in its septic system. The more water a household conserves, the less enters the septic system. Water conservation improves the system’s operation and decreases the risk of failure.
  • Maintain your drainfield: Your septic tank has a drainfield to remove contaminants from the liquid in the tank. Never park, drive or plant trees on it, and keep roof drains and other drainage systems away from it.

Please, don’t flush it and forget it! Visit our Proper Care page to learn more about septic maintenance. You’ll be glad you did.

About the author: Leslie Corcelli is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) research participant in the Sustainable Communities Branch of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. Leslie has a graduate degree in environmental science and policy, and lives in northern Virginia with her partner and a menagerie of rescue animals.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

E-Manifest: Partnering to Build a 21st Century Solution for Hazardous Waste Tracking

Last year, I announced that we were embarking on the development of e-Manifest, to upgrade the current paper-based system of tracking hazardous waste to an electronic one, streamlining and greatly reducing the millions of paper manifests produced each year. E-Manifest will save industry an estimated $75 million per year, improve inspection and enforcement by EPA and the states, and improve public safety by providing timely and better quality information on hazardous waste transport to emergency responders.

Hazardous waste generated in the United States must be tracked from “cradle to grave” to ensure it is handled, shipped, and disposed of in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.

We’ve made significant progress over the last year working with the states, industry, and other stakeholders on the development of e-Manifest.

We held a series of extensive technical meetings to discuss key issues, including:

  • Current industry and state operations and information technology (IT) systems that support manifests.
  • Industry and state expectations and requirements for interacting with e-Manifest.
  • State and industry data access needs and reports available from the e-Manifest system.

This work is essential to designing, building and ultimately deploying the national system, and the agency will soon procure appropriate vendors to achieve these goals. We will be in close contact with users and other stakeholders to pilot and test the system every step of the way as we proceed.

On February 18, 2015 we asked for nominations from individuals interested in service on this e-Manifest Board, ensuring there is representation from states, industry, and IT professionals. View the Federal Register Notice for more information.

Another important step needed before the e-Manifest program can be fully implemented is to establish the initial fee structure for users of the system. We are working closely with states and industry stakeholders, and anticipate the proposed rule establishing the fee model for the system will be ready for public comment by May of 2016.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Protecting Our Communities through Safe and Legitimate Recycling

When you drop your bottles and cans off in the recycling bin or at a recycling center, you’re helping to protect the environment and your community.

But not everything is as safe to recycle as plastic and aluminum. Some materials that get recycled are hazardous – like byproducts and substances from industrial processes. If they’re not recycled carefully they can put people’s health at risk. What’s worse, many recyclers that deal with hazardous materials are located close to minority and low-income communities that already face a lot of environmental challenges.

Our administrator just signed a new rule called the Definition of Solid Waste (DSW) rule. It’s a major environmental justice milestone that directly addresses mismanagement of hazardous materials at some of these recycling facilities.

In 2009, we held a public meeting to talk about our existing DSW rule, created in 2008. We heard from dozens of people who felt we needed to better analyze the rule’s impact on minority and low income people. We also heard from recyclers and manufacturers about the benefits of safely recycling hazardous materials – from job creation and other economic benefits to a healthier environment and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. So, we made the commitment to take a closer look at the potential environmental justice impacts of the 2008 DSW rule, and at opportunities for preserving and expanding safe recycling of hazardous materials.

We examined the location of recycling facilities and their proximity and potential impact to nearby communities. Our analysis confirmed that, in many cases, the public comments were correct. Communities needed a way to participate in the conversation about these recyclers’ activities, and recyclers needed to take more preventive steps, like being more prepared to contain spills and better training for their staff. More state and EPA oversight was needed, too.

The 2014 DSW rule adds some new requirements to ensure that hazardous waste is legitimately recycled and not being disposed of illegally. It requires recyclers to get a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) permit or verified recycler variance from us or their state, so that the recyclers’ safety measures can be verified and nearby communities can be protected. Recyclers who seek a permit or variance will be required to give communities an opportunity to weigh in about their location and plans.

Unfortunately, there have been cases where off-site recycling has been mismanaged. In these cases, hazardous materials have been released into communities, endangering the health of people and the environment. For example, one facility in Allenport, Pennsylvania, was recycling spent pickle liquor, a highly acidic solution used to remove impurities during steel manufacturing. This recycler didn’t have a RCRA permitand, when it chose its location, the nearby community wasn’t given a chance to provide input. In 1997, hazardous sludge from the recycling process spilled and was washed into an adjacent railroad bed next to a community playground. Later in 2004, the recycler’s storage tanks failed and spilled spent pickle liquor into a surrounding asphalt-paved area and into a storm drain (see photo). The new 2014 DSW rule will help us better respond to similar cases going forward.

Like I mentioned before, there are environmental and economic benefits to recycling hazardous materials. The new DSW rule reduces risks for communities, at the same time that it helps to encourage certain types of recycling. Some higher-value hazardous spent solvents, for example, can be remanufactured and reused safely under the rule, which means that less new solvents are created. And some hazardous byproducts can be reused in the same process that generated them, through in-process recycling.

Through this new rule, we’re helping ensure that our country is recycling more, but doing it safely to protect our communities and the environment.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.