Hazardous waste in the United States

Hazardous waste in the United States

Under United States environmental policy, a hazardous waste is a waste (usually a solid waste) that has the potential to:

*cause, or significantly contribute to an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible, or incapacitating reversible illness; or
*pose a substantial present or potential hazard to human health or the environment when improperly treated, stored, transported, or disposed of, or otherwise managed.

Many types of businesses in the United States generate hazardous waste. Some are small businesses that may be located in a community. For example, dry cleaners, automobile repair shops, hospitals, exterminators, and photo processing centers all generate hazardous waste. Some hazardous waste generators are larger companies like chemical manufacturers, electroplating companies, and oil refineries. In the United States, hazardous wastes generated by commercial or industrial activities may be classified as "listed" hazardous wastes or "characteristic" hazardous wastes by the EPA.

Under the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a facility that treats, stores or disposes of hazardous waste must obtain a permit for doing so. Generators of and transporters of hazardous waste must meet specific requirements for handling, managing, and tracking waste. Through the RCRA, Congress directed the United States Environmental Protection Agency to create regulations to manage hazardous waste. Under this mandate, the EPA developed strict requirements for all aspects of hazardous waste management including the treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. In addition to these federal requirements, states may develop more stringent requirements or requirements that are broader in scope than the federal regulations.

EPA authorizes states to implement the RCRA hazardous waste program in lieu of the federal program. For states to receive authorization, they must maintain standards that are equivalent to and at least as stringent as the federal program. Implementation of the authorized program usually includes activities such as permitting, corrective action, inspections, monitoring and enforcement.

Regulatory history

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

Modern hazardous waste regulations in the U.S. began with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) which was enacted in 1976. The primary contribution of RCRA was to create a "cradle to grave" system of record keeping for hazardous wastes. Hazardous wastes must be tracked from the time they are generated until their final disposition.

RCRA's record keeping system helps to track the life cycle of hazardous waste and reduces the amount of hazardous waste illegally disposed. Regulators can monitor hazardous waste by following the 'trail' of the waste as is transferred from one entity to another from the time it is generated until it is disposed.

Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), was enacted in 1980. The primary contribution of CERCLA was to create a "Superfund" and provided for the clean-up and remediation of closed and abandoned hazardous waste sites.

Characteristic Wastes

Characteristic Hazardous Wastes are defined as wastes that exhibit the following characteristics: volatility, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity.

Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP)

Toxicity of a hazardous waste is defined through a laboratory procedure called the toxicity characteristic leaching procedure (TCLP). The TCLP helps identify wastes likely to leach concentrations of contaminants into the environment that may be harmful to human health or the environment.

Listed wastes

Listed hazardous wastes are generated by specific industries and processes and are automatically considered hazardous waste based solely on the process that generates them and irrespective of whether a test of the waste shows any of the "characteristics" of hazardous waste. Examples of listed wastes include:

* many sludges leftover from electroplating processes.
* certain waste from iron and steel manufacturing
* wastes from certain cleaning and/or degreasing processes Hazardous wastes are incorporated into lists published by the Environmental Protection Agency. These lists are organized into three categories:

* The F-list (non-specific source wastes). This list identifies wastes from common manufacturing and industrial processes, such as solvents that have been used in cleaning or degreasing operations. Because the processes producing these wastes can occur in different sectors of industry, the F-listed wastes are known as wastes from non-specific sources.

* The K-list (source-specific wastes). This list includes certain wastes from specific industries, such as petroleum refining or pesticide manufacturing. Certain sludges and wastewaters from treatment and production processes in these industries are examples of source-specific wastes.

* Discarded Wastes: P-List and U-List wastes are actually sublists of the same major list applying to discarded wastes. These wastes apply to commercial chemical products that are considered hazardous when discarded and are regulated under the following U.S. Federal Regulation: 40 C.F.R. 261.33(e) and 261.33(f). P-List wastes are wastes that are considered "acutely hazardous" when discarded and are subject to more stringent regulation. Nitric oxide is an example of a P-list waste and carries the number P076. U-Listed wastes are considered "hazardous" when discarded and are regulated in a somewhat less stringent manner than P-Listed wastes.

Universal wastes

Universal wastes are hazardous wastes that:

* generally pose a lower threat relative to other hazardous wastes
* are ubiquitous and produced in very large quantities by a large number of generators.

Some of the most common "universal wastes" are: fluorescent light bulbs, batteries, cathode ray tubes, and mercury-containing devices.

Universal wastes are subject to somewhat less stringent regulatory requirements and small quantity generators of universal wastes may be classified as "conditionally-exempt small quantity generators" (CESQGs) which releases them from some of the regulatory requirements for the handling and storage hazardous wastes.

Universal wastes must still be disposed of properly. (For more information, see [http://www.greentruck.com/waste/1203.html Fact Sheet: Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generator] )

Other hazardous wastes

The Environmental Protection Agency has other ways of regulating hazardous waste. These "rules" include:

* The "Mixture Rule" (40 CFR Section 261.3(a)) applies to a mixture of a listed hazardous waste and a solid waste and states that the result of a mixture of these two wastes is regulated as a hazardous waste. Exemptions may apply in some cases.
* The "Derived-from Rule" (40 CFR Section 261.3(b)) applies to a waste that is generated from the treatment, storage or disposal of a hazardous waste (for example, the ash from the incineration of hazardous waste). Wastes "derived" in this manner may be regulated as hazardous wastes.
* The "Contained-in Rule" (40 CFR Section 261.3(f)) applies to soil, groundwater, surface water and debris that are contaminated with a listed hazardous waste.

Exempted hazardous wastes

EPA regulations automatically exempt certain solid wastes from being regulated as "hazardous wastes". Important: This does not necessarily mean the wastes are not hazardous nor that they are not regulated. An exempted hazardous waste simply means that the waste is not regulated by the primary hazardous waste regulations. Many of these wastes may by regulated by different statutes and/or regulations and/or by different regulatory agencies. For example, many hazardous mining wastes are regulated via mining statutes and regulations. "Exempted" hazardous wastes include:

* Household hazardous waste (HHW); (see below)
* Agricultural wastes which are returned to the ground as fertilizer;
* Mining overburden returned to the mine site;
* Utility wastes from [coal] combustion to produce electricity;
* Oil and natural gas exploration drilling waste;
* Wastes from the extraction of beneficiation, and processing of ores and minerals, including coal;
* Cement kiln wastes;
* Wood treated with arsenic preservatives.
* Certain chromium-containing wastes (See Code of Federal Regulations Section 261.4(b))
* Recycled hazardous wastes: Some hazardous wastes that are recycled may also be exempted from hazardous waste regulations.

Household Hazardous Waste

Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) (also referred to as domestic hazardous waste) is waste that is generated from residential households. HHW only applies to wastes that are the result of the use of materials that are labeled for and sold for "home use" and that are purchased by homeowners or tenants for use in a residential household.

The following list includes categories often applied to HHW. It is important to note that many of these categories overlap and that many household wastes can fall into multiple categories:

* Paints and solvents
* Automotive wastes (used motor oil, antifreeze, old gasoline, etc.)
* Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc.)
* Mercury-containing wastes (thermometers, switches, fluorescent lighting, etc)
* Electronics (computers, televisions, cell phones)
* Aerosols / Propane cylinders
* Caustics / Cleaning agents
* Refrigerant-containing appliances
* Batteries
* Ammunition
* Radioactive waste (some home smoke detectors are classified as radioactive waste because they contain very small amounts of a radioactive isotope of americium (see: [http://www.mcmua.com/hazardouswaste/FAQ_Smoke_Detectors.htm Disposing of Smoke Detectors] ).

Disposal of HHWBecause of the expense associated with the disposal of HHW, it is still legal for most homeowners in the U.S. to dispose of most types of household hazardous wastes as municipal solid waste (MSW) and these wastes can be put in your trash. Laws vary by state and municipality and they are changing every day. Be sure to check with your local environmental regulatory agency, solid waste authority, or health department to find out how HHW is managed in your area.

Modern landfills are designed to handle normal amounts of HHW and minimize the environmental impacts. However, there are still going to be some impacts and there are many ways that homeowners can keep these wastes out of landfills. Contact the US EPA ( [http://www.epa.gov/msw/hhw.htm USEPA Household Hazardous Wastes] for tips on how to safely dispose of HHW.

Laws regulating HHW in the U.S. are gradually becoming more strict. As of 2007, radioactive smoke detectors are the only HHW that are managed nationally. While it is still legal in the United States to dispose of smoke detectors in your trash in most places, manufacturers of smoke detectors must accept returned units for disposal as mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory law 10 CFR 32.27. If you send your detector back to a manufacturer then it will be disposed in a nuclear waste facility.

In the U.S., states are regulating various HHW waste disposal in MSW landfills on a state by state basis. Some commonly regulated wastes in some (but not all) states include restrictions on the disposal of:

* Recyclables (especially "source-separated" recyclables or recyclables that have already been separated from solid waste). In this case this would only apply to household hazardous wastes that have been separated for recycling.
* Lead-acid batteries
* Mercury-containing wastes
* Rechargeable batteries
* Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) from older computer monitors and televisions
* Cell phones and computers
* Refrigerant containing appliances such as a refrigerator, air conditioner or dehumidifier.

(Note: Yard waste or "green waste" (particularly "source-separated" yard waste such as from a city leaf collection program) is not hazardous but may be a regulated household waste)

Local solid waste authorities and health departments may also have specific bans on wastes that apply to their service area.

Solid Waste Haulers and HHW - One "catch-22" that residents often encounter is that while it may be legal to dispose of some HHW in their regular trash, the waste hauler that collects the trash can choose not to haul the waste. It is not uncommon for a waste hauler to refuse to pick up municipal solid waste that contains things like paint and fluorescent light bulbs. There is often little recourse for residents in this case. In these cases the resident may have to make their own arrangements to dispose of the waste by taking it directly to a landfill or solid waste transfer station.

Final Disposition ("Disposal") of Hazardous Waste

Hazardous wastes (HWs) are typically dealt with in 5 different ways:


Many HWs can be recycled into new products. Examples might include lead-acid batteries or electronic circuit boards where the heavy metals can be recovered and used in new products.


Some HW can be processed so that the hazardous component of the waste is eliminated making it a non-hazardous waste. An example of this might include a corrosive acid that is neutralized with a basic substance so that it is no-longer corrosive. (see acid-base reactions)...

Incineration / Destruction / Waste-to-energy

A HW may be "destroyed" for example by incinerating it at a high temperature. Flammable wastes can sometimes be burned as energy sources. For example many cement kilns burn HWs like used oils or solvents.

Hazardous Waste Landfill (Sequestering, Isolation, etc.)

A HW may be sequestered in a HW landfill or permanent disposal facility. "In terms of hazardous waste, a landfill is defined as a disposal facility or part of a facility where hazardous waste is placed in or on land and which is not a pile, a land treatment facility, a surface impoundment, an underground injection well, a salt dome formation, a salt bed formation, an underground mine, a cave, or a corrective action management unit (40 CFR 260.10)." [http://www.fedcenter.gov/assistance/facilitytour/landfills/hazwaste/ Hazardous Waste Landfills]

ee also

* Bamako Convention
* Mixed waste (radioactive/hazardous)
* Household Hazardous Waste
* List of Superfund sites in the United States
* Radioactive waste
* Environmental remediation

External links

* [http://www.home-air-purifier-expert.com/household-chemical.html The Household Chemical Encyclopedia - Over 1000 Potential Sources of Household Hazardous Wastes]
* [http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry]
* [http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/hazwaste.htm The EPA's hazardous waste page]
* [http://www.clu-in.org/ The U.S. EPA's Hazardous Waste Cleanup Information System]
* [http://www.sanjour.us What Did We Know About Hazardous Waste and When Did We Know It] , a February 2002 essay by William Sanjour
* [http://www.cleanupwaste.com/ The hazardous waste professional information source]

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