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The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was implemented by the Congress in 1976 to regulate the generation and disposal of solid and hazardous waste. RCRA serves as the main regulatory driver of pollution prevention in the United States. The Act restricts improper disposal of discarded chemical products and its constituents from industrial waste streams for treatment or land disposal where waste reduction and recycling techniques are adopted for waste management. RCRA is a collaborative effort put together by federal and state governments tailored to meet the needs of people belonging to all states. RCRA sets national goals for (1) protecting human health and the environment from the potential hazards of waste disposal, (2) conserving energy and natural resources, (3) reducing the amount of waste generated, and (4) ensuring the wastes are managed in an environmentally sound manner.
Hazardous waste classification
The regulatory framework of RCRA identifies hazardous waste as solid waste which is defined as any discarded material in a solid, liquid, semi-solid, or contained gaseous state that is abandoned, accumulated or recycled which poses a significant threat to human health and the environment. EPA has listed the wastes based on RCRA regulations into four major categories.
- F-listed wastes – These wastes are commonly produced by industrial processes generated from non-specific sources, such as solvents used for cleaning and degreasing operations.
- K-listed wastes – These wastes are generated from industry-specific manufacturing processes such as wood preserving and petroleum refining.
- P-listed wastes – These wastes are discarded commercial chemical products and resulting residues from containers and spills.
- U-listed waste – These wastes include pure-grade discarded or off-specification commercial chemical products, residues, and spill.
Characteristics of hazardous wastes
The solid wastes are termed as hazardous when they exhibit the characteristics of corrosivity, ignitability, reactivity and toxicity.
• Corrosivity – Corrosive wastes are denoted by the code D002 and identifies wastes that are strongly acidic or alkaline (basic), generally in aqueous solutions with a pH ≤2 or ≥12.5. Liquid wastes that are capable of rapidly corroding steel are also classified as corrosive.
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• Ignitability – Wastes that can readily catch fire and promote combustion are termed as ignitable wastes. Common examples include strong oxidizers, spontaneous combustible materials etc. Liquid wastes with a flash point below 60°C (140°F) in a closed cup test falls in this waste category and are denoted by the code D001.
• Reactivity – Reactive wastes are listed under the code D003 that are generally unstable, explosive, capable of detonation when heated under confinement, react violently with water or generate toxic gases, vapors, or fumes in dangerous quantities when mixed with water. Also, wastes are reactive if they generate toxic levels of cyanide or sulfide gas when exposed to pH between 2 and 12.5.
• Toxicity – Toxic wastes denoted by the codes D004 through D043 leach concentrations of regulated constituents above specified thresholds (mg/L) in simulated landfill conditions. These wastes show significant levels of failure when subjected to Toxicity Leaching Characteristic Procedure (TLCP) test. Regulated constituents include various organic chemicals like chlorinated solvents, volatiles and semi-volatiles, pesticides and heavy metals like mercury, lead, and cadmium.
Hazardous waste regulations enforcement
The effective implementation of the RCRA program depends on the joint coordinated support of the people and companies. The RCRA enforcement program takes care of the regulatory and statutory provisions of RCRA and necessitates immediate action to correct violations. These goals are achieved by close monitoring of hazardous waste handling activities, taking prompt action upon noncompliance and providing compliance incentives and assistance. Facility inspections serve as a primary tool for monitoring compliance. Upon detection of noncompliance issue, legal action in the form of an administrative order, a civil or criminal lawsuit is pursued depending on the nature and severity of the problem. The combination of effective monitoring, expeditious legal action, and compliance incentives and assistance intends to reduce the number of facilities operating in violation of RCRA requirements and to deter potential violationsThe common method of obtaining compliance monitoring data is through an inspection. The types of inspections performed under the RCRA program are:
Compliance Evaluation Inspection – Routine inspections to evaluate compliance with RCRA. It describes a file review prior to the site visit; an on-site examination of generation, treatment, storage, or disposal areas; a review of records; and an evaluation of the facility’s compliance with RCRA.
Case Development Inspection – An inspection when significant RCRA violations are known, suspected, or revealed. These inspections are conducted to gather data in support of a specific enforcement action.
Comprehensive Ground Water Monitoring Evaluation – An inspection to ensure that ground water monitoring systems are designed and functioning properly at RCRA land disposal facilities.
Compliance Sampling Inspection – Inspections to collect samples for laboratory analysis and it may be conducted in conjunction with any other inspection.
Operations and Maintenance Inspection – Inspections to ensure ground water monitoring and other systems at closed land disposal facilities continue to function properly. These inspections are usually conducted at facilities that have already received a thorough evaluation of the ground water monitoring system through a comprehensive ground water monitoring inspection.
Laboratory Audit – Inspections of laboratories performing ground water monitoring analysis to ensure that these laboratories are using proper sample handling and analysis protocols.
Electronic Hazardous Waste System
EPA developed the e-Manifest system in agreement with the Hazardous Waste Electronic Manifest Act (e-Manifest Act) to implement a national electronic manifest system that ensures the costs associated in developing and operating the system is recovered from the charges of the users of the system. This system is expected to lower the costs to government and industry users involved in preparation and processing of shipping manifests. The benefits obtained from the system are provided as follows,
- Cost savings
- Accurate and timely information on waste shipments
- Rapid notification of discrepancies or other problems related to a shipment
- Creation of a single hub for one-stop reporting of manifest data for EPA and
- Increased effectiveness of compliance monitoring waste shipments by regulators and
- The potential for integrating manifest reporting with RCRA biennial reporting processes
It is imperative for EPA to transform its command and control federal agency into a laboratory of innovation and excellence. The Agency is finding itself a preferred path to evolve into an area or a resource of strength, generating new ideas, and by instilling a cutting edge in science and technology to meet the demands of different states. RCRA proves to be an affirmative step in that course of action to address the future challenges across all sectors of society. It has its own setbacks that is of minor concern and requires immediate action through the partnership of federal and state governments to streamline the environmental legislations according to the
needs of the consumers and industry to lessen the environmental impacts on society.
 RCRA’s Critical Mission and the Path Forward, U.S.EPA, June 2014, p. 5.
 Guidelines for Management and Disposal of Hazardous Wastes from
Polyurethane Processing, ACC Issue AX 151, February 2018
and other federal and state information systems.
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