EPA Takes Heat for Definition of Solid Waste Rule Proposal

Date: August 22, 2011

Source: News Room

EPA officials, during an Aug. 16 webinar, defended provisions of its proposal to amend its definition of solid waste (DSW) rule against criticism that the proposal could exempt solvents and potentially dangerous precipitation runoff from strict regulation. EPA Office of Solid Waste (OSW) officials argue that the changes will set an adequate balance between promoting recycling and protecting against environmental contamination. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) says in Aug. 4 comments that EPA’s new proposal “may alleviate a number of our concerns . . . but more time is needed to fully evaluate the proposed rule.”

EPA’s July 6 proposal would amend a 2008 rule which broadened the definition of “solid waste” while narrowing which materials are considered “hazardous” and subject to strict waste handling and disposal requirements. It was meant to promote recycling of materials otherwise considered hazardous. But environmentalists sued the agency, saying that it was too lenient and would lead to dangerous “sham” recycling. The Obama administration’s proposal is more stringent in a number of ways. For example, under the proposal companies would have to meet all four of EPA’s criteria for determining whether recycling is legitimate — rather than two of the four criteria as the Bush-era rule requires. The new proposal also more specifically defines the circumstances under which the agency would consider materials destined for recycling to be safely “contained.”

Some environmental groups have some concerns with the circumstances under which EPA would consider leaks from containment units to have caused a hazardous release into the environment, especially since, EPA says in its proposal “that certain units may be subject to occasional precipitation runoff that consists essentially of water, with trace amounts of hazardous constituents,” such as metals, and that such units would not be considered to have caused a hazardous release. But during the Aug. 16 webinar, EPA officials defended how the proposal defines release. Marilyn Goode, of OSW, said that the “presence of a trace amount of materials in runoff is not enough” to classify the container that caused the runoff as hazardous under subtitle C of RCRA.

Another aspect of the new proposal that is drawing some concern is EPA’s suggestion that it might create a regulatory exemption for “high-value” solvents that are “re-manufactured” for the purpose of reacting, extracting, blending or purifying chemicals in the pharmaceutical, organic chemical, plastics and paint industries. Amanda Geldard, also of OSW responded that the solvents would have to meet specific containment standards that the agency believes are adequately protective. Geldard said EPA believes that a “self-implementing exclusion has advantages over a petition” process, which she said could be burdensome to state regulators.

See also: “EPA to Toughen Definition of Solid Waste Rule,” (www.wastebusinessjournal.com/news/wbj20110714A.htm).

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