Hazardous materials are those substances – chemical, biological or physical – that have the ability to cause harm to people, animals and or the environment. A hazardous material can be a serviceable material which is often found in the home, place of business and industrial locations. The difference between a hazardous material and a hazardous waste is its usefulness. A hazardous waste is a material which is no longer functional in its intended purpose. It has been spent, used up or contaminated beyond its ability to be used.
Hazardous materials are defined and regulated in the United States primarily by laws and regulations managed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
OSHA’s definition specifically revolves around how a substance can impact a human. This includes materials in the form of solids, liquids, vapors, dusts, fumes, mists or smoke which may be considered carcinogenic, toxic, sensitizers, irritants, corrosive, flammable, explosive, pyrophoric, water or shock reactive, oxidizers that can cause harm to eyes, skin, lungs, internal organs, or mucous membranes.
EPA takes the OSHA definition one step further to include materials that can cause harm to not only humans but to the natural flora and fauna of the environment. DOT’s definition expands this definition to any material which when transported or moved poses a risk to the public or the environment. The NRC has a special nuclear source or by product listing for radioactive materials.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) enacted in 1976 provided EPA the authority to manage hazardous waste from the “cradle-to-grave.” This law encompasses the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. RCRA also set forth a framework for the management of non-hazardous solid wastes. Amended in 1986, RCRA further allowed EPA to deal with the environmental problems that were resulting from leaking underground tanks storing petroleum and other hazardous substances.
Hazardous wastes are considered to be a “listed” waste or a “characteristic” waste. Listed wastes have been identified by EPA to be hazardous. The lists include the F-list (wastes from common manufacturing and industrial processes), K-list (wastes from specific industries), and P- and U-lists (wastes from commercial chemical products).
Characteristic wastes exhibit a specific trait to meet this definition. These traits include ignitability, (have a flash point less than 60 °C /140 °F) corrosivity (have a pH less than or equal to 2 or greater than or equal to 12.5), reactivity (are considered unstable in ordinary settings), or toxicity (are dangerous when ingested, injected, inhaled or absorbed).
Special consideration was made for those materials considered universal wastes in order to promote recycling and minimizing the impact on the solid waste management industry. Universal wastes are batteries, pesticides, mercury containing equipment and bulbs and in one state paint and associated materials (Texas). The laws regarding universal wastes ensure these materials are taken to an appropriate treatment facility to encourage their proper recycling or ultimate disposal.
Used oil also is a special consideration waste as businesses and consumers are highly encouraged to recycle this spent product. Containers only need be labeled “used oil”, stored in a product tight and compatible container and recycled at a certified/licensed facility.
Generators of hazardous waste are usually a place of business that in the course of their business operations create hazardous waste. Depending upon the quantity of waste generated in a calendar month will determine the regulatory requirements. Large quantity generators (LQG) create 1000 kilograms (2200 pounds) or more of hazardous waste or 1 kilogram (2.20 pounds) of acutely hazardous waste. This is the most stringent category and the holding time for the LQG’s waste is 90 days from the date of accumulation. LQGs are required to submit a biennial hazardous waste report describing the waste generated and final disposition of the waste they have created. LQGs must always have at a minimum, one employee available to respond to any emergency and follow the required on-site detailed emergency contingency report.
Small quantity generators (SQG) create more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) but less than 1000 kilograms (2200 pounds) of hazardous waste in a calendar month. They must have their accumulated waste removed within 180 days of accumulation unless they can only ship their wastes to a facility greater than 200 miles away. This would allow them 270 days. SQGs can never store greater than 6000 kilograms (13200 pounds) of waste on site. Similar to LQGs, SQGs must always have at least one employee on site to respond to an emergency. They however do not need the written contingency plan.
Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators (CESQG) create no more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of hazardous waste per month. This is the least stringent of all the categories as there is not time frame for the CESQG to dispose of their wastes. They must not however, store more than 1000 kilograms (2200 pounds) of hazardous waste that has accumulated over time. As with LQGs and SQGs all wastes must be transported to an authorized treatment, storage and disposal facility.
Responsible handling of hazardous materials and wastes is prudent for anyone – business or individual in order to prevent harm to self, the public or the environment.