Campus Consortium for Environmental Excellence

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Project XL
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Final Project Agreement
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Legal Aspects
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Minimizing Costs
Current Reg Arena
UConn RCRA Workshop
Yale RCRA Inspection
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Background Information

Fixing RCRA (Powerpoint)
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The R&D NESHAP Development Process
Clean Air Act

Pilot Schools' Draft EMP's

EPA Midterm Report

Boston College
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UMASS Boston
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University of Vermont
Lab Workers' FAQ's
The Rule, UVM docs
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Thanks to the kind permission of the publishers, we are able to reproduce here a table describing some of the problems presented for laboratory management by the RCRA regulations. This table appeared originally in Laboratory Safety and Environmental Management. For information about a sample issue or subscribing, check their web site or contact LS&EM, 316 E Diamond Avenue, Gaithersburg, MD 20877

Whats To Be Done? RCRAs Bad Fit for Labs

by Cynthia Salisbury,
LS&EM, March/April 1998, p. 4-5

Around the country over the past few years, lab organizations have come together to decry the RCRA hazardous waste management regulations. Notable groups include the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, the Laboratory Regulatory Reform Task Force of California (LRRTF) and, most recently, the Laboratory Consortium for Environmental Excellence (LCEE), based in New England. In addition, many individual lab EHS managers can be heard to complain that to apply RCRA regulations to laboratories is a difficult challenge. No one can deny that these regulations were written for industry, not laboratories with small volumes of hundreds or thousands of chemicals.

However, after years spent working to help laboratories comply with RCRA, I believe that compliance is not as difficult in many cases as it might seem. Labs can take advantage of many interpretations and loopholes to overcome the regulatory obstacles. Still, certain portions of RCRA do burden labs unnecessarily. And there can be equally unnecessary inconsistencies in the way the Environmental Protection Agency interprets its own rules; for example, EPA regions vary in what campuses they consider single generator sites. It is unfair and ridiculous that similar facilities in different regions are regulated differently.

The accompanying table summarizes the key RCRA challenges facing labs, and presents LS&EMs viewpoint on each. These are by no means all the issues that can cause concern - only those that are most commonly being discussed by laboratorians around the country or were included in the Project XL proposal submitted this past February to EPA by LCEE. The three challenges in quotation marks use wording taken from the Project XL proposal.

Waste-Management Challenges for the Laboratory

The Challenge
(and 40 CFR Citation)
LS&EMs Interpretation/Recommendation
Waste Classification (261)
Waste classification does not make sense. Example: Why are materials such as ethidium bromide not hazardous wastes? And why should unused formalin be classed as U122 while spent formalin is not even a listed waste?
Lab EHS managers often come across wastes they know may be dangerous yet are not regulated hazardous waste. Such wastes should doubtless be disposed in an environmentally sound manner; this often means sending them to a RCRA-permitted incinerator even though they arent regulated.

Though the waste classification regulations are tricky and in some cases impractical, its our job to know about them and apply them correctly. Let EPA know if you have a problem with how certain wastes are classified. But realized that regulatory changes are slow in coming.

Waste Determination (262.11)
Emphasis has been on who at a laboratory site is responsible for determining whether a waste is regulated and when the determination must be made.

LCEE and LRRTF support the concept of a laboratory process unit (LPU; a lab room or suite under the control of a single supervisor/principal investigator). They contend that only EHS personnel have the regulatory knowledge to properly classify RCRA waste and that waste should not be subject to RCRA until it leaves the LPU and is in the hands of EHS personnel.

Labs generate small volumes of a wide variety of wastes that are often not well characterized, making waste determination a particular concern. But EPA maintains that once a material is discarded, the generator must determine if the waste is hazardous and, if so, manage it as such.

Therefore, potentially hazardous waste must be put in an appropriate accumulation container that is in good condition, compatible with the waste, labeled, and less than the 55-gal and 1-qt limits applicable to satellite accumulation areas (SAAs). EPA does not require classification with all applicable waste ID numbers at the SAA; simple labeling such as Waste Solvent is acceptable.

Once EHS personnel pick up the waste, they must use information provided by lab staff to determine correct EPA hazardous waste numbers. Lab personnel must be trained to know what materials are likely hazardous wastes, as well as to segregate waste requiring special attention (PCBs, dioxins, radioactive materials, etc.), but EHS personnel are the ones who must be the experts in waste classification.

Manifesting/On-Site (262.20)
Laboratory organizations on campus settings often have to maintain more than one generator ID number if the campus is divided by public roads. Further, waste cannot be accumulated at one central point on campus without manifesting the waste from one generator site to another.
Even though on-site is clearly defined in 40 CFR 261, a single generator site varies by EPA region. A few regions generously accept campuses as single generator sites. However, when regulators mandate that a campus is more than one generator site, maintaining a single central accumulation site is difficult.

EPA has ruled that hazardous waste can be transported without a manifest on roads along the border of contiguous properties under the control of the same person (such as a university moving waste to a central accumulation point) but did not also address how one would then manifest the waste to the TSDF.

Campus-situated labs with more than one generator ID are advised to maintain a central accumulation point for each generator site. (Division of the campus does give them the advantage of having a potentially lower generator status.)

Labeling (262.34)
RCRA inspectors have cited institutions for failing to meet the hazardous waste labeling requirements as applied to test tubes, vials or small (less than 100 ml) containers...despite the fact that there is insufficient room on the container to satisfy the labeling requirement.
Place hazardous waste containers too small to accommodate a label into a larger, appropriately labeled container. Containers such as test tubes and extract vials often do not contain waste but rather samples, which are excluded from hazardous waste management requirements (261.4(e)).

Normally, until all testing of a material in a test tube or vial is completed, it is considered a sample. When the researcher no longer needs the sample, place it in a suitable labeled waste container such as a 4 liter bottle. If a test tube contains hazardous waste, label it - at the SAA, simply Waste Extract or Hazardous Waste will do. There is no requirement for detailed labels at the SAA.

Satellite Accumulation (262.34(c)(1))
EHS technicians must respond quickly when they are notified by laboratories of full containers that require removal within the three-day limit. Under the existing satellite accumulation requirements, additional accumulation cannot occur until these containers are removed, or the laboratory itself becomes subject to full regulation as an accumulation area.
Under RCRA regulations, satellite accumulation can continue until 55 gal of hazardous waste or 1 qt of acutely hazardous waste is accumulated. Full containers do not have to be removed as long as the total accumulation does not exceed the limits (a lab could have several 4 liter bottles of waste solvent before having to call EHS personnel).

Once either limit is reached, the waste must be removed within three days. At least one state, however, Massachusetts, has adopted a policy stating that each SAA can use only one container at a time for each waste stream which, when full, must be moved to the accumulation area within three days. (Perhaps Massachusetts should reconsider its policy, since its inconsistent with federal rules, burdensome, and not based on a regulation.)

Satellite Accumulation (262.34(c)(1))
Satellite accumulation areas are set up in each laboratory because a suite of laboratories is not currently allowed to share one area in a designated laboratory room....As a result, more small pockets of waste are dispersed through the campus resulting in increased hazard and risk.
This is a valid concern. Lab personnel often prefer to accumulate waste in an adjacent lab where there is an SAA. Moving the waste to another room usually means that it is not at or near the point of generation and under control of the operator who generated the waste, therefore, it does not qualify as satellite accumulation.

Lab staff should be aware that each lab room in which hazardous waste is generated should have an SAA and that hazardous waste should not be moved between rooms. (N.B: State regulators vary on this one; but better to be safe than sorry.)

Closed Containers (265.173(a)) -
Lab instruments (e.g. HPLC) may have effluent bottles that contain hazardous waste and, according to RCRA, must be closed except when adding or removing waste. But researchers prefer to leave the collection tube in place at all times
If an instrument generates effluent that is potentially hazardous waste, then the effluent container must be closed except when adding or removing waste (i.e., when the instrument is in use).

An acceptable method of maintaining a closed container is to create a hole in the bottle cap or rubber stopper just large enough for the effluent tube. Aluminum foil or parafilm over the top may be frowned upon, but the latter method has not caused problems.

Training (262.34)
RCRA Training requirements are a burden because they apply to all lab workers, even those who simply manage satellite accumulation areas.
EPAs December 20, 1984 preamble clearly states that RCRA training requirements do not apply for wastes in satellite accumulation (49 FR 49570). However, because lab employees are required to receive training on the facilitys Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP) and the CHP must include a waste management SOP, employees are required to get waste management training, just not directly by RCRA.

Of course, they must know enough to keep accumulation containers closed, in good condition and labeled, to segregate difficult wastes, and to give EHS personnel adequate information about the waste for proper classification. This can easily and briefly be incorporated into CHP training.

Benchtop Treatment (270)
Laboratory personnel are qualified to treat certain hazardous wastes and relevant procedures have been developed, yet personnel are prohibited from conducting on-site treatment without obtaining a costly RCRA Part B Permit.
EPA allows three options for treating hazardous waste on-site without a RCRA permit:
  • treatment in accumulation containers as detailed in EPAs preamble dated March 24, 1986 (51 FR 10168);
  • recycling (as in solvent distillation); and
  • elementary neutralization (as in pH adjustment).

As part of a vital pollution prevention program, lab personnel should be encouraged to treat hazardous waste on-site in order to reduce toxicity and volume. Most states accept these treatment options, too; still as usually, check with your state first.

Accumulation Times for Mixed Waste (262.34) - Mixed wastes are subject to 90-, 180- or 270- day RCRA accumulation time limits even when they are being managed under an NRC license for decay in storage.
This is undeniably a dilemma for laboratories with mixed waste. Although EPA has been slow to consider regulatory changes, it has issued enforcement policies guiding inspectors to tread lightly in this area (April 20, 1994; 59 FR 18813). We have heard that the EPA is convening a workgroup to consider regulatory options for extending mixed waste storage times.
Ralph Stuarts note: Yale was cited by the EPA for not having the words Hazardous Waste on the label in the lab; thus this example would not pass muster in areas where RCRA is strictly interpretated. Link to return to table