EPA Issues Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule

EPA recently finalized its new Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule, revising regulatory requirements under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) for hazardous waste generators. The rule becomes effective on May 30, 2017. The intent of the final rule is to clarify perceived ambiguity in the original regulations, and to provide more flexibility for generators in terms of waste management and hazard communication. EPA maintains that the changes will streamline generator requirements while also improving safe management of wastes.

 Origins of the New Rule

EPA originally promulgated its hazardous waste generator program in 1980. In the 36 years since then, the agency has become aware of numerous gaps, inconsistencies and inefficiencies with the regulations as written, including definitions and requirements for the three waste generator classifications: Large Quantity Generator (LQG), Small Quantity Generator (SQG), and Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generator (CESQG). For example, the regulations only required a one-time initial notification for facilities classified as a Small Quantity Generator (SQG) of hazardous waste, which meant that in practice, databases of SQGs became unreliable as facilities closed, changed ownership, or changed their generator category. Generators were not required to identify and communicate the hazards of the wastes they generate, or to ensure working relationships with local emergency response authorities.

The regulations also provided unclear guidance on how different categories of waste such as hazardous waste, acute hazardous waste, and residues from cleanup of acute hazardous waste) interact to determine a facility’s generator status, with the agency itself issuing contradictory statements on the matter – even stating that a facility might have, for example, an LQG classification for acute hazardous waste and an SQG classification for other hazardous waste within a single month! Many requests had also been made to EPA to increase flexibility in the implementation of the program. For instance, commenters had pointed out that a CESQG or SQG might generate a larger than usual amount of waste from an episodic event such as a cleanout, and it is not practical for such events to require reclassification. Requests had also been made to allow CESQG facilities to be able to send their waste to an LQG facility under control of the same owner, in order to consolidate waste and improve overall management. Finally, some commenters pointed out that the hazardous waste regulations themselves were scattered in several places throughout the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), making them difficult to find.

Changes Under the New Rule

The new rule addresses these and other considerations by making over 60 changes to the existing regulatory framework for generators. Some of the key changes are as follows:

  • Replacement of the term “CESQG” with “Very Small Quantity Generator” (VSQG) to make it more analogous to the other two categories (LQG and SQG).
  • Consolidation of most of the regulatory framework into 40 CFR 262, with the exception of very lengthy and technical regulations such as those for land disposal restriction requirements.
  • Clarifying that only one generator category can apply within a given month, and providing additional explanation about the amounts of hazardous waste, acute hazardous waste, and residues from cleanup of acute hazardous waste that determine the generator category.
  • Requiring SQGs to re-notify every four years to ensure that their information remains accurate and current, and LQGs to submit certain notifications when closing either a waste accumulation unit or a facility.
  • Updating the emergency response and contingency planning provisions for SQGs and LQGs to enable generators to make emergency response arrangements with Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs), and to require new and existing LQGs to submit quick reference guides containing key information to local responders for easy access during an emergency. These changes should improve coordination between generators and response agencies in planning and executing emergency response procedures.
  • Requiring labeling and marking of containers and tanks of hazardous waste to clearly indicate the hazards of the waste contained inside.
  • Allowing VSQGs to send hazardous waste to an LQG under the control of the same person to consolidate before disposal, provided certain conditions are met, including recordkeeping (for amounts of waste transferred from the VSQG to the LQG, and verification that wastes at both facilities are under the control of the same person), submittal of a notification by the LQG at least 30 days before the first VSGQ waste is received, and continuing to comply with the LQG storage time limitation of 90 days or less, including for wastes received from a VSQG.
  • Allowing VSQGs and SQGs to maintain their existing generator category when they generate a quantity of hazardous waste in a calendar month that would otherwise bump them into a more stringent generator category. Under this provision, generators that satisfy the listed conditions need not comply with the more stringent generator standards when an unusual event such as a cleanout or an act of nature causes its generator category to temporarily increase.
  • Revising the regulations for completing the RCRA biennial report to be consistent with the current instructions distributed with the form, and correcting inadvertent errors in the regulations, obsolete programs, and unclear citations.

By making these changes in the new rule, EPA believes that the generator regulations will now be more flexible and easier to understand, as well as more protective of human health and the environment.

 Let VelocityEHS Help

The new rule is expected to resolve longstanding gaps in the regulations, and facilitate better hazardous waste management. While the overall effect will be to reduce the compliance burden through greater flexibility, specific actions and documentation will be needed to demonstrate compliance with the rule. A Compliance Management solution can help you to more efficiently assign, track and document all of the tasks needed to align with the provisions of the rule, including labeling of waste containers and submittal of notifications by LQGs that will be receiving waste from a VSQG. An Audits & Inspections tool can also be useful for ensuring that labelling and recordkeeping provisions of the rule are being met. With the right tools in place, facility managers will be ready to adapt to the requirements of the new rule and continue to improve their hazardous waste management performance.