Keeping International Communities Safe — One Hazardous Waste Shipment at a Time

By Mathy Stanislaus

Here at EPA we are not only focused on responsibly and safely managing our country’s waste, but it’s also our responsibility to ensure that our country’s waste isn’t a danger to human health or  the environment of communities abroad. That is why I am excited to announce today’s publication of the Hazardous Waste Export-Import Revisions Final Rule. This rule will provide greater protection to global human health and the environment by providing for increased transparency, data sharing and more complete and efficient tracking for international hazardous waste shipments.

When hazardous waste is shipped across multiple countries to be disposed of or recycled, there can be a higher risk of mismanagement, which endangers the health and safety of surrounding communities. Abandoned shipments — or shipments sent to unapproved facilities that are not able to manage the wastes appropriately — present the biggest dangers to people and the environment. Other risk factors may include:

  • Increased number of people who are handling and transferring the international shipments
  • Entry and exit procedures
  • Temporary storage at ports and border crossings
  • Varying degrees of environmental controls and worker safety practices.

As the Assistant Administrator of the Office of Land and Emergency Management, I am committed to making sure that hazardous waste entering or leaving the United States is safely and correctly handled. That is why I am so proud of this new rule.

Specifically, the Hazardous Waste Export-Import Revisions Final Rule requires:

  • Updates to some current import and export requirements to be consistent with other existing EPA requirements based on Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) procedures, so that these widely-accepted standards will apply to all U.S. hazardous waste imports and exports in a consistent and protective manner
  • A switch to mandatory electronic reporting to EPA that will enable increased sharing of hazardous waste import and export data with state programs, the general public and individual hazardous waste exporters and importers
  • Linking the consent to export with the exporter declaration submitted to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which will provide for more efficient compliance monitoring

Through these new requirements, hazardous waste imports and exports will occur under contracts between the exporters and management facilities, and with the written approval of the country of import. Additionally, this rule will require the tracking of international hazardous waste shipments from start to finish, reducing the misdirection of shipments to unapproved facilities. They will also require that the facility complete recycling or disposal of the shipments within one year of receipt. By requiring receiving facilities to document both the initial receipt of the hazardous waste shipment and when the management of hazardous waste is complete, the rule ensures the timely management of the waste and lessens the possibility of abandoned shipments, which can seriously harm both human health and the environment. In every aspect of this rule, my top priority is that all communities where hazardous waste is being managed are safe and healthy.

This rule will go into effect on December 31, 2016. However, we understand that it will take time for businesses affected by this rule to make any required changes. That is why this rule also establishes appropriate transition periods to help minimize the burden of implementing these new requirements.

Additionally, to ensure that there is transparency and access to compliance data while this rule is in the process of being implemented, the Internet Posting of and Confidentiality Determinations for Hazardous Waste Export and Import Documents rule is being proposed to require companies to post data on their public websites until they can submit it electronically to EPA. This rule also proposes to exclude certain hazardous waste import and export documents from Confidential Business Information claims. Providing this information to the public will enable interested members of the community and the government to better monitor proper compliance with EPA’s hazardous waste regulations, as well as ensure that hazardous waste import and export shipments are properly received and managed.

I am proud that we’ve taken another step toward keeping people and our environment safe. This new rule is an integral step in ensuring that internationally shipped hazardous waste is responsibly and safely handled. However, we still have more work to do. Whether it’s working with the Commission for Environmental Cooperation to develop technical guidelines for safe international recycling, or participating in the Basel Convention’s technical working groups to develop guidance for the environmentally sound management of electronic-waste, EPA continues to be at the forefront of creating innovative strategies to respond to ever evolving international waste issues.

We will be hosting a webinar on December 12, 2016 to introduce this new rule and give a broad overview of the immediate changes when the rules goes into effect on December 31, 2016. To RSVP for the webinar, visit: https://clu-in.org/training/#upcoming

To learn more about the rule, visit: https://www.epa.gov/hwgenerators/proposed-rule-hazardous-waste-export-import-revisions

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