Storing Hazardous Waste: Don’t let your Satellite Accumulation Areas Cost you Millions in Fines

This blog discusses the implications of hazardous waste "satellite accumulation area rules" and why household companies like Whole Foods, Walmart, Comcast, etc. have recently been hit with severe fines for non-compliance with these rules.


The disclosure of multi-million dollar fines paid by household companies such as Home Depot ($27.8M), Walmart ($27.7M), Comcast ($25.9M), and FedEx ($3.4M) all found to be in violation of prolonged hazardous waste disposal reveals that excessive stormwater fines do not discriminate. In an ironic twist, health food giant Whole Foods paid $1.64 million dollars as part of an enforcement action from September 2018 that reconciled the inadequate disposal of hazardous materials from Whole Foods stores in over 21 California cities. The initial lawsuit alleged that the chain mishandled disposal of aerosols, batteries, and other corrosive or toxic agents such as cleaning supplies over a five-year period. The company-wide investigation started with one store in Yolo County, California that lacked hazardous waste handling instructions for employees. In addition to the $237,000 environmental project fine, Whole Foods was required to reform procedures for labeling hazardous materials and improve staff training and management in the handling of hazardous waste.


Satellite Accumulation Area Rules

A satellite accumulation area is defined as a “place at or near any point of generation where dangerous waste is initially accumulated in containers before consolidating the waste at a designated accumulation…or storage area.” To recap, under the regulations for satellite accumulation areas enforced by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) in California, a generator may only accumulate up to 55-gallons of hazardous waste (or one quart of extremely hazardous waste) without a permit at the initial point of accumulation, for up to one year.  In addition, a facility must ensure all containers comply with Title 22 Code Regulations, meaning that the initial date of placement inside the container and label of “hazardous material” is clearly visible and describes the material, physical state, and particular hazardous properties of the material within. Furthermore, on the date that the 55-gallon limit is reached, the waste must be moved to a new 90-day container in a separate designated accumulation area and again clearly labeled. Alternatively, waste may be moved to an authorized onsite or offsite hazardous waste facility within three days of reaching the accumulation limit but for a maximum of one year . In order for a facility to seek exemptions to the satellite accumulation rules, it must meet four particular criteria. These include:
  1. The facility stores hazardous wastes in containers,
  2. The hazardous waste must be accumulated “at the initial accumulation point…near where the waste is generated”,
  3. The initial accumulation point must be under the control of the operator of the process generating the waste, and
  4. The satellite accumulation point must meet the proper process requirements and is subject to a single 55-gallon (or one quart) accumulation limit.
More information on the particular “process requirements” is available on page 4 and 5 here.


Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule

Many states experienced the effects of the U.S. EPA’s new “Generator Improvements Rule” that was fully implemented in March 2018 which affected hazardous waste regulations by toughening up certain provisions. The intent of the rule was to provide greater flexibility for producers of hazardous wastes by closing and consolidating important regulation gaps. It grants smaller producers of hazardous wastes permission to periodically generate more waste, who can then send that waste to larger generators under control of the same person. The rule essentially allows a hazardous waste generator to avoid the increased burden of being a higher generator, provided the episodic waste is properly managed to begin with. The rule also aims to improve facility compliance with hazardous waste regulations by clarifying some hazardous waste terminology to ensure consistency among waste generators. Other provisions are less stringent than previous regulations. For example, under “episodic generation”, waste generators can occasionally ship waste off-site with a manifest to an RCRA-designated facility without a change to their normal generator category. Similarly, large generators may get a waiver if they cannot properly store ignitable or reactive waste 15 meters from the property line. However, unlike under prior regulations, satellite accumulation areas are now subject to meeting emergency preparedness and prevention requirements. Your facility may or may not be affected until July 1, 2019, the deadline given by the EPA for states to adopt the rule. At the time of this writing, only 15 states have fully adopted the rule, and 5 others are administered by the appropriate EPA region.

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