Fast-growing small to medium-sized businesses that use common chemicals and generate waste may be at risk for fines because they’ve grown into unfamiliar regulatory territory. Recently while helping a small business experiencing rapid growth, it occurred to me that many small and mid-size businesses generate waste that meets the EPA’s definition of “hazardous waste,” and the EPA is uncompromising when it comes to managing and disposing of hazardous waste.
While there are somewhat complicated requirements for storing hazardous waste at businesses and facilities, understanding them to maintain reasonable insurance rates and a safe work environment is worth every minute of your time. You’ll not only avoid fines, but your workers can easily avoid creating unsafe work conditions. My blog intends to help simplify the regulations to begin looking at your business as it is growing.
First, let’s define the terminology.
There are exceptions to these terms, but these are the basics to help the average business manager understand a complex and complicated set of regulations.
The basics of understanding hazardous waste storage and management
There are many requirements for storing and labeling waste and issues related to safety, like not storing acids in metal containers or storing two incompatible wastes close together that could react and cause a fire or explosion.
For our purposes, remember that you must have a single dedicated hazardous waste storage area, and the storage area is subject to many design, construction and operating requirements.
Each type of Generator has a storage time limit and must dispose of hazardous waste from a facility or business before the deadline. Large Quantity Generators have 90 days from placing the first waste in the storage container (accumulation start date), and Small Quantity Generators have 180 days. It is mandatory to write the accumulation start date on the container label when the first waste goes inside.
Realistic Safety Protocols
For small to medium-sized businesses Generators, it isn’t practical to have employees carrying small containers of waste to a storage area each day or at the end of each shift. It’s inefficient and could lead to the accidental mixing of incompatible wastes. It is better to have one or two trained staff responsible for placing wastes in storage containers and keeping the labels current. To help, the EPA allows for “Satellite Accumulation” of hazardous waste at the point of generation (the shop, workstation, etc.). A facility can have multiple Satellite Accumulation areas, but each area must meet these requirements:
A Growing Small Business Case Study
As mentioned earlier, let’s discuss the real-world example that got this blog started. A company started a metal container painting operation and was not familiar with hazardous waste regulations. Like many, starting as a very small operation, they were lucky, and the business grew larger over a short period.
Along with growing business comes a growing facility to accommodate it, but managing all the change creates an opportunity for some things to slip between the cracks. Employees didn’t know they could not toss partially filled paint and solvent containers in the facility’s dumpster.
During an EPA inspection, the company was subject to an enforcement action for failing to characterize their waste and improper disposal of hazardous waste, among other violations. The inspection results spurred business fines, and although the EPA has the option of pursuing criminal charges, they did not in this case.
Simple, Practical Steps to Compliance
Upon review of the records, tour of the facility, and understanding the workflow, the company took the recommended actions creating satellite accumulation areas and a hazardous waste storage area. Starting with establishing the storage area first, we also obtained an EPA ID number for the facility.
The next important step is training employees on the hazardous waste requirements pertaining to their jobs. Because some of the paint is water-based (typically non-hazardous), the facility now trains its employees to separate water and solvent-based paints and waste products, saving on disposal costs.
The company knows it is growing at a rate that will generate more than 1,000 kg/month of paint and solvent waste; therefore, it makes sense to register as a LQG. One employee is now in charge of hazardous waste management.
There are five bulk paint stations and a touch-up operation for small parts, so six satellite accumulation areas are now functioning. Each area has a 30-gallon waste container to prevent accidental accumulation of more than 55 gallons. Busy painters tend to put waste in buckets if the drum fills before their shift ends. At the end of each shift, the hazardous waste manager checks each satellite accumulation area and transports full or nearly full containers to the hazardous waste storage area.
For less than the cost of the final negotiated fine and legal fees, the facility has a compliant program and is receiving very favorable regulatory inspections.
If you want to dive into the details of this topic, this link to an EPA Frequently Asked Questions webpage may be of interest: https://www.epa.gov/hwgenerators/frequent-questions-about-hazardous-waste-generation.
About the Author: Jim Oliveros, P.G is a Project Director in SCS Engineers Environmental Services practice. He has over 35 years of experience in the environmental consulting field, including hazardous waste permitting, compliance, and corrective action. Jim is experienced in conducting assessment and remediation of contaminated properties, completing multimedia compliance audits, assisting with waste stream identification, characterization and management; and, federal and state regulatory policy. He embodies SCS’s culture of delivering great results to his clients, on time and within budget.