Top 5 Hazardous Waste Issues And How To Prevent Them

Complying with hazardous waste laws can be confusing, and it’s an area where one honest mistake can get you painted as a villain in the press. Here are the five most common sources of hazardous waste violations and how to prevent them.

Complying with hazardous waste laws can be confusing, and it’s an area where one honest mistake can get you painted as a villain in the press.  Take AutoNation for example, who settled a $3.4 million settlement for illegal disposal. Here are the five most common sources of hazardous waste violations and how to prevent them.


1. Inadequate labeling and marking of hazardous waste.

Make a habit of doing a weekly inspection/site walk. (Failure to conduct weekly inspections of hazardous waste areas is a violation.) Each container needs to be labeled with the words “HAZARDOUS WASTE”, as well as the Accumulation Date (the date the waste was generated). This date allows regulators to verify you aren’t storing waste longer than you’re allowed (90 days for Large Quantity Generator or 180 days for Small Quantity Generator). Make sure to include Generator’s Name and Address information, and Manifest Document Number when the waste is intended for off-site shipment.
Verify that labels are:
  • legible
  • in good shape
  • inclusive of all necessary information
  • displayed in obvious locations
  • up-to-date – old labels should be removed or painted over if you are reusing containers

 2. Failure to keep containers closed.

This one’s easy for inspectors to get you with. Open containers or “improper use of operating funnels/lids” is not cool with these people. To be considered truly “closed,” lids must prevent both leaks and vapors from escaping. Solution. Post reminder notices and brief your employees to make sure they know to keep containers closed, especially if there is a high turnover rate at your facility. Hazmats can react with oxygen so this lid business is not a joke: you can be charged with “conducting treatment without a permit” due to a reduction of waste by evaporation.


3. Hazardous Materials Business Plans (HMBP), Contingency/Emergency Response Plans and Employee Training inadequate.

HMBPs and contingency plans can be a hassle, but they do provide information necessary for first responders and can help mitigate damage to public health when, er, smoke hits the fan. When two explosions erupted at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, at least  15 police officers and first responders had to be treated for smoke inhalation. If your facility handles hazardous waste, your plan must reflect your state’s latest guidelines and standards. “Adequate training” is required for anyone who handles hazardous waste, and employees must get an annual “refresher training.” Solution. Assign plan updates to a specific person. Make sure this emergency contact is identified in your plan, and review plans at least once a year. If there is a change in personnel, make sure the plan is updated ASAP. New employees involved with hazardous materials/waste must receive initial training within 6 months and cannot handle hazardous waste without supervision. Existing employees must receive an annual “refresher training.” Your contingency response plan boils down to knowing the following 3 things during an emergency:
  1. Who’s in charge
  2. What to do
  3. Where to go
California now requires all HMBPs and chemical inventories to be submitted electronically in CERS. CERS fields are commonly misunderstood or incorrectly reported, and safety data sheets are notoriously difficult to decipher.


4. Incorrect chemical inventory and California Environmental Reporting System (CERS) Reporting.

Make sure to include the following on your chemical inventory report:
  1. Common name of the waste
  2. Maximum amount in storage at any one time
  3. Annual waste amount
  4. Physical state of waste
  5. Unit of measurement that correlates with physical state
  6. Federal hazard categories for hazardous waste
You have to note any hazardous materials that meet or exceed these quantities at any one time:
  • 55 Gallons of liquid (one drum)
  • 200 Cubic Feet of compressed gas
  • 500 Pounds of solids

The entire HMBP must be reviewed every three years to determine whether a revision is needed. The facility owner, operator, or designated representative of the facility must certify that the review was performed and any needed changes were made. You must electronically submit your HMBP annually on or before your anniversary date (usually March 1st) unless specified by CUPA.


5. Improper disposal of Hazardous Waste.

It is less common these days for people to pour hazardous waste down storm drains, but believe it or not, this still happens on a regular basis! Many consumer and industrial products you might throw away without thinking twice (such as fuels, solvents, fertilizers, pesticides, paints, and household cleaning disinfectants) actually contain hazardous substances. Dilution is not the solution! DTSC and CUPAs often go “dumpster diving” to see if there are things like aerosol cans or fluorescent light bulbs being improperly disposed of. Solution. Do not dump if you’re unsure. The risk of getting rung up by Uncle Sam is too great. Read container labels or the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for proper use and disposal recommendations. A reputable hazardous waste transporter or consultant can help you determine whether your waste is hazardous and help you properly dump dispose of it. Mark and date your containers keep them in decent shape, update your contingency plan annually, and keep waste and facility contact info up to date. 

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