Five Things You Should Know About Hazardous Waste

September 22, 2016

Five Things You Should Know About Hazardous Waste
Hazardous waste must be handled very carefully. Here are 5 things you need to know.
  1. A hazardous waste is a waste with properties that make it dangerous or capable of having a harmful effect on human health and/or the environment.  Hazardous waste that is improperly managed poses a serious threat to human health and the environment. Hazardous waste is generated from many sources ranging from industrial manufacturing process wastes to batteries and comes in many forms including liquids, solids, gases, and sludges.
  2. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), enacted in 1976, gives EPA the authority to control hazardous waste from the "cradle-to-grave."  Thus, hazardous waste is tracked throughout the “life” of the waste from the generation through transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal stages.  Thousands of individuals and facilities, from the local drycleaner to hazardous waste incinerators, are regulated by RCRA.
  3. To advance EPA’s goals of the protection of human health and the environment, RCRA established three separate regulatory programs:

    The solid waste program, under RCRA Subtitle D encourages states to develop comprehensive plans to manage nonhazardous industrial solid waste and municipal solid waste, sets criteria for municipal solid waste landfills (MSWLFs) and other solid waste disposal facilities, and prohibits the open dumping of solid waste.

    The hazardous waste program, under RCRA Subtitle C, establishes a system for controlling hazardous waste from the time it is generated until its ultimate disposal- in effect, from cradle to grave.

    The underground storage tank (UST) program, under RCRA Subtitle I, regulates underground tanks storing hazardous substances and petroleum products.
  4. The most common form of hazardous waste disposal in the United States is landfilling. Hazardous waste landfills are highly regulated and are required to include clay liners, monitoring wells, and groundwater barriers. The 1984 Hazardous Solid Waste Amendments require the monitoring of groundwater near landfills for thirty years.

    Injection of hazardous waste deep into the earth is another form of hazardous waste disposal, but problems result with aquifer contamination, and the ultimate fate of the hazardous waste after injection is unknown.

    Incineration may be an effective way to convert hazardous waste into a nonhazardous form while greatly decreasing its volume. The waste is burned and converted into carbon dioxide, water, and inorganic by-products. The problems associated with incineration are high capital and operating costs, and the disposal of ash, which may contain hazardous substances.
  5. EPA has issued over 17,000 pages of regulations and proposed regulations for RCRA in the Federal Register, and EPA estimates that complying with RCRA costs businesses and governments an estimated $30 billion per year.

    RCRA violations can have far-reaching consequences including substantial fines and investigation by EPA’s criminal enforcement program.  The burdens of non-compliance can devastate a business.

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