Logo

Hazardous waste regulations in the U.S. are based on the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Under RCRA, in order to be a “hazardous waste,” something must first be a “waste” (as that term is defined by the regulations), then it must be “hazardous,” based on a specific set of criteria. Some materials are obviously waste and are clearly hazardous — but things are not always that simple. If a material doesn’t satisfy both elements — if it isn’t a waste and if it isn’t hazardous per regulatory definitions — it may be “hazardous,” and it may be a “waste,” but it isn’t regulated as “hazardous waste.”

Here are three steps to help determine whether you are, in fact, dealing with a hazardous waste:

Determine if your waste actually is a waste.

Manufacturing, construction, academic, transportation, medical and other enterprises use a wide variety of hazardous materials as part of their business activities. These entities may need to address personal safety, worker health, flammability, corrosivity or other hazards. They also may have to comply with OSHA, DOT or regulatory requirements associated with the use of these materials. However, EPA (and state) hazardous waste requirements won’t apply until the material actually becomes a waste. Something is a waste when it is no longer needed or wanted, and when it’s not suitable for its intended purpose, including materials that are abandoned or are “inherently waste-like.” Materials that are recycled are also considered wastes.

Most of the time, determining whether something is a waste is pretty straightforward, but we’ll talk about some situations where it is not so straightforward in a later post. For now, let’s assume you have a waste, and move on to the next step.

See whether your waste is a listed hazardous waste.

Once you have determined that your waste is really a waste (as defined by hazardous waste regulations), the next step is to see if it is a “listed” waste, according to EPA lists. Waste from non-specific sources are included in List F (40 CFR 261.21), wastes from certain specific sources are included in List K (40 CF 261.32), and wastes from certain discarded commercial chemical products are included on the U and P lists (for acutely hazardous materials; found in 40 CFR 261.33). If you find your waste on one of those lists, it is a hazardous waste. 

Evaluate whether your waste has federal and/or state characteristics.

Even if your waste is not listed, it may still exhibit hazardous waste “characteristics.” According to the EPA, “A hazardous waste characteristic is a property which, when present in a waste, indicates that the waste poses a sufficient threat to merit regulation as hazardous.” There are four federal hazardous waste characteristics: ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity and toxicity. If your waste exhibits any of these characteristics (based on specific technical definitions), then the waste is a hazardous waste subject to federal regulation. Note that some states have added extra characteristics that are more stringent. For example, California and Washington each have additional toxicity criteria. Wastes that are “hazardous” with respect to a state definition (but not RCRA definitions) are referred to as “non-RCRA” hazardous wastes and must be managed as hazardous within that state. Wastes that are listed or that exhibit characteristics must be managed as hazardous waste.

Once you have determined you have a hazardous waste, based on steps 1–3, you need to manage it appropriately on-site, as required by applicable federal and state hazardous waste management requirements. This includes labeling waste, complying with specific waste accumulation limits, managing waste containers and disposing of the waste properly. All hazardous waste must be transported for disposal by a licensed hazardous waste transportation and disposal partner, who will take it to a permitted hazardous waste treatment, storage or disposal facility (TSDF). Disposal of hazardous waste must be documented on a Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest.

James Kapin is Principal Advisor for safety, health and environmental compliance for ACTenviro.  Jim is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) with over 25 years of workplace safety and environmental protection experience.   Do you have any hazardous waste questions for Jim?  Or any other workplace safety or environmental compliance questions?  Let us know at [email protected]

Just because you’ve generated a waste doesn’t mean you’ve generated a hazardous waste. If you know you have a waste, but you’re not completely sure whether your waste is, in fact, hazardous, the first step in making that determination is to check whether it is on one of the EPA’s four hazardous waste lists: F, K, P and U.

Different types of wastes were added to these lists because they are toxic, reactive, ignitable or corrosive (the four hazardous waste “characteristics”). If your waste is listed, it is assumed to have one or more of these hazardous characteristics and, therefore, must be managed as “hazardous waste”; no testing or analysis is required.

F-list (40 CFR 261.31)

Found at many different types of businesses, F-list waste comes from a nonspecific source. Examples of F-list wastes include “spent” halogenated or non-halogenated solvents, spent cyanide plating bath solutions and residues, and petroleum refinery oil/water separation sludge.

Inclusion on the F-list is based on the process and the chemical used to create the waste. For instance, methylene chloride, a chemical that can be used in different ways, is commonly used as a degreaser. Methylene chloride-based degreaser solutions would carry the F001 code. However, if you have methylene chloride that was used for purposes other than for degreasing, it would not carry the F001 code for halogenated solvents used for degreasing. In fact, it might not carry an F-code at all, if you used it as a reagent in a chemical reaction, for example. (Note: Even if your methylene chloride–containing waste is not a listed waste, if must still be evaluated for hazardous waste characteristics, including toxicity.)

F-list (40 CFR 261.32)

K-list waste comes from any of 13 very specific industries or various processes. Examples include wastes from wood preservation (K001), inorganic pigment manufacturing, explosives manufacturing and veterinary pharmaceuticals manufacturing.

P-list (40 CFR 261.33) & U-list (40 CFR 261.33)

Both P- and U-list wastes are off-spec or unused commercial chemical products (CCP). U-list is hazardous waste, and P-list is acutely hazardous waste. These lists contain discarded commercial chemical products, where the listed material is the sole active component. As an example, unused/off-spec epinephrine is a P-listed waste (P042), however epinephrine salts (as found in many medical epinephrine injectors) would not carry the P-042 code. Federal P and U codes do not apply to mixtures with other components, but they do apply to soil or debris contaminated with U- or P-listed materials.

Also, some states, including California, have state-specific lists of “extremely hazardous substances,” in addition to the EPA list. An example of a P-list waste is unused/off-spec epinephrine (P042).

The amount of P-coded waste you produce can have an effect on your generator status. We’ll discuss generator status — large-quantity generator, small-quantity generator or very-small-quantity generator — in a later post, but generating as little as 1 kilogram of P-list waste in one month is enough to move you from a small-quantity generator to a large-quantity generator.

The mixture rule for listed wastes

Mixtures of listed wastes and non-hazardous solid wastes carry a presumption of “hazardousness,” which means they are considered hazardous wastes regardless of concentration. In other words, even if a small amount of listed waste is mixed with a large amount of non-hazardous waste, the whole mixture will carry the waste codes from the listed waste. This very conservative rule was adopted by the EPA to ensure unscrupulous generators did not “dilute” their hazardous wastes with other materials.

There are limited exceptions to the mixture rule for wastes that were listed due to ignitability, corrosivity or reactivity. In those cases, if the mixture is no longer ignitable, corrosive or reactive (as defined in hazardous waste regulations), then the waste is no longer considered hazardous. For example, if a spent solvent carrying EPA waste code F003 (listed due to potential ignitability) is mixed with non-flammable materials, so that the flash point is greater than 140 degrees F, it would no longer be considered “ignitable.” Since F003 is listed only due to potential ignitability, that code would no longer apply, though the waste may still exhibit other hazardous waste characteristics.

This may seem like a loophole, but unless it is an inherent part of the process that generates the waste, then mixing hazardous waste with other materials to remove or change hazardous characteristics is considered “treatment” and requires a permit from hazardous waste regulators. This exception does not apply to wastes listed due to toxicity, as there is really no way to “mix” out or dilute toxicity. Waste listed due to toxicity that are mixed with non-toxic materials will still be considered toxic and carry a toxicity code.

Remember: Even if your waste is not listed, you’re not off the hook. The next step is to check if it has any of the four EPA characteristics of hazardous waste.

ACTenviro has experts available to help you with your waste at each step along the way, from determining what you have to proper disposal. Please reach out to us at [email protected], and let us know how we can help.

James Kapin is Principal Advisor for safety, health and environmental compliance for ACTenviro.  Jim is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) with over 25 years of workplace safety and environmental protection experience.   Do you have any hazardous waste questions for Jim?  Or any other workplace safety or environmental compliance questions?  Let us know at [email protected]

The first step in managing your hazardous waste is determining that it is, in fact, a waste (as defined by the EPA). If your waste really is a waste, the next step is to determine if the waste is produced from certain non-specific sources (F list waste) or certain specific sources (K list waste), or if it is a listed as an unused commercial chemical product (U list) or an acutely hazardous unused commercial chemical product (P list).

Even if you determine your waste is not a listed waste, you are not done! The final step is to determine if your waste exhibits one of four hazardous waste “characteristics.” According to the EPA, “A hazardous waste characteristic is a property which, when present in a waste, indicates that the waste poses a sufficient threat to merit regulation as hazardous.” The four federal hazardous waste characteristics are ignitability (40 CFR 261.21), corrosivity (40 CFR 261.22), reactivity (40 CFR 261.23) and toxicity (40 CFR 261.24). Certain states, including California and Washington, have established their own state-specific requirements and have expanded on the EPA hazard characteristic definitions.

We will briefly review each of these below. In future posts, we will look at each of them more closely.

Ignitability (flammable material), EPA Waste Code D001

A liquid with the flashpoint of less than 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) is considered “ignitable” (or flammable). Remember: Flashpoint is not the temperature at which a liquid would burst into flames (that’s the auto-ignition temperature); flashpoint is the temperature at which a liquid would ignite if there were an ignition source. Flammable solids (solids that are readily ignitable through friction, moisture or chemical reaction and that burn vigorously), as well as ignitable compressed gases and certain oxidizers, are also considered ignitable. Examples include organic solvents used in painting or cleaning parts, as well as waste gasoline or kerosene.

Corrosivity (material that can rust or decompose), EPA Waste Code D002

Corrosive materials can attack and destroy tissue or metal (including steel containers). Liquid wastes with a pH less than or equal to 2, or greater than or equal to 12.5, are considered corrosive, as are liquid wastes that corrode steel at greater than ¼” (6.35 mm) per year. The EPA definition of characteristic corrosivity does not include solids (the EPA does not recognize corrosive solids). However, certain states (including California) include corrosive solids in state-specific definitions. Examples of corrosive wastes include battery acid, rust removers and caustic hot-tank waste.

Reactivity (explosive material), EPA Waste Code D003

Reactive wastes are unstable under normal conditions and may react violently with air or water, may be capable of detonation or explosion, or are capable of releasing toxic gases or vapors. The EPA uses a “narrative” definition for characteristic reactivity that describes the hazards but does not reference specific test methods. Instead, it is up to the generator to determine if the waste exhibits characteristic reactivity, based on their knowledge or on similar definitions from OSHA (explosive, self-reactive, pyrophoric, self-heating, chemicals that emit flammable gases in contact with water), DOT (Division 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 Explosives, Division 4.2 Spontaneously Combustible, Division 4.3 Dangerous When Wet) or other authorities. Many cyanide and sulfide compounds are classified as reactive due to their potential to release toxic gases. Examples of reactive wastes include certain organic peroxides, cyanide-plating wastes, damaged lithium batteries and waste-concentrated bleaches.

Toxicity (poisonous material), EPA Waste Codes D004–D043

Toxic wastes are harmful to the environment when released to soil, air or groundwater. For hazardous waste purposes, characteristic toxicity is based on the presence of a listed substance above threshold levels when tested according to the “Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure” (TCLP). Listed substances include certain metals, pesticides and other substances that are likely to persist in the environment. Note that the EPA definition of “toxicity” is based on the potential to cause environmental harm and is much more limited than the OSHA GHS health hazards, which are based on the potential to cause harm to workers. In addition, many states, including Washington and California, have additional state-specific definitions of characteristic toxicity. Examples of toxic wastes include painting wastes containing certain metal-based pigments, and certain solvents.

Evaluating hazardous waste characteristics

Most hazardous waste generators understand their waste, either based on professional knowledge or personal experience. For example, if you operate a plating shop, you understand the waste from your etch tank is corrosive, and if you operate a paint booth, you know your solvent waste is flammable. This “generator knowledge” can be used to determine if your waste is “hazardous” based on the characteristics described above. In some cases, laboratory testing may be required, where the answer isn’t clear or to show a waste does not exhibit a characteristic. Technical definitions for hazard characteristics are found in the applicable regulations, and additional information on waste testing is found in EPA publication SW-846 “Test Methods for Evaluating Solid Waste.”

In addition to being a critical part of your hazardous waste management plan, the information you use to determine if your waste has any of the four characteristics is a required part of the Hazardous Waste Profile. This is an internal document used by hazardous waste brokers to document physical properties, characteristics, process information and other information required to classify the waste and manage it for disposal. There is typically an approval process for new wastes streams, and profiles are reviewed periodically to ensure the waste classification remains accurate.

If you have any questions about hazardous waste — from testing to management to disposal — ACT has the resources to help. Please e-mail us at [email protected]. We’re happy to help!

James Kapin is Principal Advisor for safety, health and environmental compliance for ACTenviro.  Jim is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) with over 25 years of workplace safety and environmental protection experience.   Do you have any hazardous waste questions for Jim?  Or any other workplace safety or environmental compliance questions?  Let us know at [email protected]

A hazardous waste profile — usually referred to simply as a “profile” — is an industry term for a form that lists the chemical properties of wastes requiring disposal. The format of the profile form will vary depending on the treatment, storage and disposal facility (TSDF) that is receiving the waste, but it generally includes:

  • Generator information, including name, address, EPA ID # and contact information (phone, email address)
  • Description of the waste and process generating the waste
  • Physical properties (solid/liquid, density/specific gravity, viscosity, odor, color)
  • Information on waste characteristics (flashpoint, pH, air/water reactive)
  • Composition (showing hazardous components)
  • Federal and state hazardous waste codes (as applicable)
  • Shipping and transport information, including DOT “proper shipping name” (PSN)
  • Other information needed to properly manage the waste for disposal

Once complete, the profile will be certified by the generator and submitted to the TSDF for review and approval. Waste cannot be accepted at a TSDF until the profile is approved. Depending on the facility, the profile approval process usually takes 1–10 business days. In emergency situations, a rush request can be accommodated.

Profiles should be reviewed periodically for changes in odor, pH, viscosity, chemical composition or other properties related to waste management, then updated, if needed. Accurate and complete knowledge of the constituents of the hazardous waste is essential for managing wastes safely and cost-effectively — and in compliance with applicable requirements. Inaccurate or incomplete profiles can lead to the TSDF charging penalties for “off-specification” (“off-spec”) items or, worse yet, rejecting certain waste streams entirely.

Profiling waste is a key step in the hazardous waste management process. Accurate profiling is critical to ensure the safety of the generator, as well as the environmental services provider, the transporter and the disposal facility.

ACTenviro has experts available to help at each step along the way. Please reach out to us at [email protected], and let us know how we can help.

James Kapin is Principal Advisor for safety, health and environmental compliance for ACTenviro.  Jim is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) with over 25 years of workplace safety and environmental protection experience.   Do you have any hazardous waste questions for Jim?  Or any other workplace safety or environmental compliance questions?  Let us know at [email protected]

Many people are familiar with the idea that hazardous waste regulations apply to “solid wastes” and understand that this term (confusingly) includes liquids and gases that are (obviously) not solids. But why are they called solid wastes if they’re not solid? 

It’s the way our hazardous waste regulations were written. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is the source of all hazardous waste regulation in the U.S. RCRA was enacted in 1976 to update the Solid Waste Management Act of 1965. The act, in Section 1004 (28), defines “solid waste” to include “solid, liquid, semisolid or contained gaseous material …” and, in Section 3001(a), directs the EPA to develop criteria to define “hazardous waste” as a sub-set of this broad definition of “solid waste.” 

The “Notice of Proposed Rule” (NPR) for new EPA regulations (43 FR 58946) explains that the act defined solid waste in this broad manner to capture wastes that are not subject to regulation under Clean Water Act (CWA), Clean Air Act (CAA) or other environmental regulations. This was adopted into U.S. law as 42 USC Section 6903

“The term ‘solid waste’ means any garbage, refuse, sludge from a waste treatment plant, water supply treatment plant, or air pollution control facility and other discarded material, including solid, liquid, semisolid, or contained gaseous material resulting from industrial, commercial, mining, and agricultural operations, and from community activities, but does not include solid or dissolved material in domestic sewage, or solid or dissolved materials in irrigation return flows or industrial discharges which are point sources subject to permits under section 1342 of title 33, or source, special nuclear, or byproduct material as defined by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended (68 Stat. 923) [42 U.S.C. 2011 et seq.].”

This statutory definition points out that whether a material is a solid waste is not based on the physical form of the material (i.e., whether it is a solid, as opposed to a liquid or gas), but rather that the material is a waste.  

EPA regulations (40 CFR 260.2) expand on that legal definition for hazardous waste determination and define “solid waste” as any material that is discarded and not subject to an exclusion or variance. 

  • “Discarded” means abandoned, recycled, “inherently waste-like” or certain types of military munitions. 
  • “Abandoned” is further defined as disposed of, burned or incinerated, accumulated before being disposed of, or “sham recycled.” 
  • Under the RCRA definition, materials that are recycled (or accumulated before recycling) are (solid) wastes.

Solid wastes (under this RCRA definition) also include materials that are: 

  • “Used in a manner constituting disposal,” meaning applied or placed on land in a manner that constitutes disposal, or used to produce products placed on the land 
  • Burned for energy recovery (or used to produce fuels) 
  • Reclaimed 

Under the RCRA definition, a material cannot be a hazardous waste if it does not meet the definition of a solid waste. Some wastes are explicitly excluded from the definition of “solid waste” and, therefore, are not subject to RCRA Subtitle C hazardous waste regulation, including: 

  • Domestic sewage and mixtures of domestic sewage
  • Irrigation return flow
  • Radioactive waste
  • In-situ mining waste, pulping liquors (if reclaimed) 
  • Spent sulfuric acid (if recycled) 
  • Closed-loop recycling
  • Spent wood preservatives (if recycled) 
  • Scrap metal, shredded circuit boards and certain other materials

Finally, to add to the confusion, not all RCRA solid wastes are regulated. Some solid wastes are excluded from RCRA regulation, including:

  • Household hazardous waste
  • Agricultural waste
  • Mining overburden and certain other mining wastes 
  • Oil, gas and geothermal wastes 
  • Cement kiln wastes 
  • Certain other wastes

Glad you asked? Determining whether a waste is a “solid waste,” as defined under RCRA, and whether that waste is subject to RCRA hazardous waste management requirements are complex tasks that are central components of the hazardous waste management regulations.   

If you have any questions about hazardous waste — solid or not — ACT can help. Please e-mail us at [email protected]. We’re happy to help! 

James Kapin is Principal Advisor for safety, health and environmental compliance for ACTenviro.  Jim is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) with over 25 years of workplace safety and environmental protection experience.   Do you have any hazardous waste questions for Jim?  Or any other workplace safety or environmental compliance questions?  Let us know at [email protected]

We’ve written several posts about how to determine whether your waste is actually waste and if it’s hazardous waste, using the four EPA lists (F, K, P, U) and testing for the four EPA characteristics of hazardous waste (toxicity, reactivity, ignitability, corrosivity [TRIC]). These are the steps you take to determine if a waste is hazardous using its chemical properties, but there are other types of hazards, including radioactive hazards and biological hazards. It may be surprising, but hazardous waste requirements only apply to listed or characteristic wastes; they don’t apply to radioactive or biohazardous wastes.

Radioactive waste

Radioactive wastes are produced by the nuclear industry (high-level spent fuel, low-level wastes), in medicine (such as radiation cancer therapy) and in life sciences research. Radioactivity is not included as one of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) TRIC hazard characteristics; radioactive waste is not regulated under RCRA or state hazardous waste regulations. Even though they are not regulated as “hazardous waste” under RCRA, radioactive wastes are potentially hazardous and are regulated at the federal level by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). NRC sets standards in Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR) that are enforced by each state.

Radioactive materials decay over time. Some materials with short half-lives (fewer than 120 days) can be stored until radiation decays to background levels (typically 10 half-lives or more). These include radioisotopes used in life science research and nuclear medicine, such as phosphorous-32 (P32; half-life of 14 days) or sulfur-35 (S35; half-life of 87.4 days).

Longer half-life materials can be accumulated on-site for disposal at a regulated radioactive waste disposal site. Because radioactive waste is not regulated under RCRA, specific RCRA accumulation time limits and other hazardous waste management requirements do not apply. Of course, there are other radiation safety requirements that do apply to storage and handling of radioactive waste.

Biohazardous or medical waste

Biohazardous or medical waste refers to wastes containing blood, bodily fluids and potentially infectious materials produced at medical facilities, as well as to wastes potentially contaminated with infectious agents associated with biomedical research. The hazards of these wastes are biological, not chemical, in nature. These wastes are also hazardous, but as with radioactive wastes, they are not regulated as “hazardous waste.”

Medical waste is primarily regulated at the state level, including definitions for what is and isn’t considered medical waste, requirements for accumulating and managing medical waste on-site, and treatment and disposal. For example, California medical waste regulations are found in the California Medical Waste Management Act (CA H&SC Sections 117600–118360), which is enforced by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

Definitions of what constitutes medical waste vary among states, but general categories of medical waste include:

  • Biohazardous or potentially infectious substances, such as blood or other bodily fluids, as well as potentially infectious micro-organisms (BSL-2). Debris contaminated with these materials would also be considered potentially infectious.
  • Pathology waste, including human and animal body parts, specimens and tissues.
  • Sharps waste, including needles, syringes, razor blades and scalpels, and other items capable of cutting or piercing skin.
  • Many states also regulate other materials, such as chemotherapy waste or certain waste pharmaceuticals as medical waste.

Medical waste is different from hazardous waste and radioactive waste, in that the hazard can be removed through thermal methods (such as heat or steam) or by chemical means (such as the use of bleach or other disinfectants), as well as by incineration. Once “killed” through heat or chemical disinfection, the biological hazard has been removed, and the waste is no longer potentially infectious — therefore, it is no longer considered a biohazardous waste. The EPA regulates disinfectants and substances that claim to have anti-microbial properties through the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Additionally, many states have regulations requiring medical waste treatment technologies to be certified, licensed or regulated.

ACTenviro has experts available to help you with your waste at each step along the way, from determining what you have to proper disposal. Please reach out to us at [email protected], and let us know how we can help.

James Kapin is Principal Advisor for safety, health and environmental compliance for ACTenviro.  Jim is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) with over 25 years of workplace safety and environmental protection experience.   Do you have any hazardous waste questions for Jim?  Or any other workplace safety or environmental compliance questions?  Let us know at [email protected]

We’ve discussed hazardous wastes, both listed and characteristic. We’ve also addressed radioactive and biological wastes. But what if a waste falls into more than one category? This type of waste is referred to as “mixed waste.”

Mixed waste: hazardous and radioactive

Mixed hazardous and radioactive waste is subject to regulation by the EPA through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), as well as by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Department of Energy (DOE) — under Atomic Energy Act (AEA) authority. In general, radioactivity takes precedence.

At the federal level (40 CFR Subpart N), mixed wastes are temporarily exempted from regulation as hazardous waste until the radioactive component is managed (through decay, for example). This means mixed wastes can be kept on-site for long enough for short half-life isotopes to decay in place (typically 10 half-lives), even if this would be longer than the applicable hazardous waste accumulation time limits. At that point, when the waste is no longer radioactive, it would then be managed as hazardous waste.

This federal exemption has not been adopted by all states, however. In California, for example, mixed wastes are still subject to hazardous waste management requirements. This means mixed waste cannot be decayed in place for time periods exceeding applicable hazardous waste accumulation time limits.

Mixed waste: hazardous and medical (biohazardous)

If a hazardous waste is mixed with a medical waste, the hazardous waste takes precedence. State regulations recognize that mixtures of medical waste and hazardous waste should be managed as hazardous waste. CA HSC 11730, for example, states, “Medical waste and hazardous waste is hazardous waste and is subject to regulation as … hazardous waste.”

You also can have mixed wastes that fall under all three categories: radioactive, hazardous and medical. The hierarchy of mixed waste always applies in the same way: Radioactive takes precedence over hazardous, which takes precedence over medical (biohazardous).

Mixed waste is more difficult (and more expensive) to manage than wastes that have just one designation. In describing the handling of mixed waste, even the EPA recognizes, “Both treatment and regulation are complex.” It is imperative for generators to understand how hazardous, radioactive and medical wastes are classified — and to avoid generating mixed wastes unless absolutely necessary.

ACTenviro has experts available to help you with your waste at each step along the way, from determining what you have to proper disposal. Please reach out to us at [email protected], and let us know how we can help.

James Kapin is Principal Advisor for safety, health and environmental compliance for ACTenviro.  Jim is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) with over 25 years of workplace safety and environmental protection experience.   Do you have any hazardous waste questions for Jim?  Or any other workplace safety or environmental compliance questions?  Let us know at [email protected]

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, including “Understanding the Four Characteristics of Hazardous Waste,” determining whether a waste exhibits a hazardous waste characteristic is an important part of the hazardous waste process.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which is implemented and enforced by the EPA, establishes hazardous waste requirements across the U.S. Under RCRA, there are four hazardous waste characteristics: ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity and toxicity. Additionally, certain states, including California and Washington, have their own state-specific requirements that expand on the RCRA hazardous waste characteristic definitions. Such state-specific requirements only apply within that state.

Reactive wastes (as defined in 40 CFR 261.23) are unstable under “normal” conditions. They can cause explosions; undergo violent reactions; and generate toxic fumes, gases, vapors or explosive mixtures when heated, compressed or mixed with water. Wastes that are determined to be reactive are assigned the EPA hazardous waste code D003.

Reactive wastes include wastes that:

  • Are normally unstable and readily undergo violent change without detonating.
  • React violently with water or form potentially explosive mixtures with water.
  • Are capable of detonation, explosive reaction or explosive decomposition, or are classified as a “forbidden explosive” (49 CFR 173.54) of Division 1.1, 1.2 or 1.3 explosive (49 CFR 173.50, 173.53).
  • Are cyanide- or sulfide-containing wastes, and other wastes that can release toxic gases, vapors or fumes.

Batteries

Examples of reactive wastes include damaged lithium batteries that cannot be managed as universal waste, waste sodium or lithium metal, and plating bath wastes containing cyanides.

Unlike for other hazardous waste characteristics, there are no specific test methods identified for reactive wastes. Instead, generators must rely on their “generator knowledge,” as well as related OSHA and DOT tests. There are several options to evaluate potential air and water reactivity and chemical stability:

  • Certain functional groups (nitro groups, azides, peroxides, etc.) are recognized to be reactive or potentially explosive.
  • Waste derived from materials that are identified as “explosive,” self-reactive,” “pyrophoric” or “self-heating” chemicals, as well as chemicals that “emit flammable gases when in contact with water” based on OSHA GHS definitions (29 CFR 1910.1200, Appendix B), may need to be managed as reactive wastes. These materials are typically identified with the “bomb” pictogram on a product safety data sheet (SDS).
  • Waste derived from materials that are classified as Class 1 (explosive), 4.1 (flammable solid), 4.2 (spontaneously combustible) or 4.3 (dangerous when wet) also may need to be managed as reactive wastes.

There are limited options to evaluate whether a waste that contains sulfides or cyanides is capable of releasing harmful vapors, and in many cases, cyanide and sulfide-containing wastes are classified as reactive wastes because of this lack of information.

It is important to be conservative when evaluating and classifying reactive and potentially reactive wastes. Reactive wastes can require special handling and precautions for transport, and disposal costs can be significant. Wherever possible, generators should avoid creating reactive wastes and should modify processes to minimize reactive characteristics. Of course, in some cases, creating reactive wastes is unavoidable. In such cases, generators should work with their hazardous waste vendor to determine the best options for waste management and disposal.

Have any questions about reactive waste or any other hazardous wastes? Please e-mail us at [email protected]. We’re happy to help!

James Kapin is Principal Advisor for safety, health and environmental compliance for ACTenviro.  Jim is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) with over 25 years of workplace safety and environmental protection experience.   Do you have any hazardous waste questions for Jim?  Or any other workplace safety or environmental compliance questions?  Let us know at [email protected]

As we noted in “Understanding the Four Characteristics of Hazardous Waste,” the first step in managing your hazardous waste is determining that it is, in fact, a waste, as defined by the EPA. Suppose your waste does not appear on one of the EPA’s four lists of hazardous wastes; you still need to check if it exhibits any of the four characteristics established by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA): ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and toxicity. Additionally, certain states, including California and Washington, have state-specific requirements that expand on the RCRA hazard characteristic definitions.

The RCRA definition of “ignitable” wastes is in 40 CFR 261.21. Wastes that are determined to be ignitable are assigned the EPA hazardous waste code D001. The characteristic of ignitability is evaluated differently for solids, liquids, and gases.

Liquid Flash Point

Liquid wastes

Liquid wastes are evaluated based on “flashpoint,” which is the lowest temperature at which a liquid will ignite if there is an ignition source. This is different from the autoignition temperature, which is the temperature at which liquids will catch fire without any obvious source of ignition. A liquid waste with a flashpoint of less than 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) is considered “ignitable.”

  • Test methods for measuring flashpoint are found in EPA SW-846.
  • The procedures for measuring flashpoint (EPA methods 1010 and 1020) were revised in 2020 (effective Sept. 8, 2020) to reflect current test standards, add guidance for sampling mixtures of liquids and solids, and clarify an exemption for aqueous liquids that contain alcohols.

Examples of ignitable liquids are organic solvents used in painting or for cleaning parts, as well as waste gasoline and kerosene.

Solid wastes

The definition of ignitable solids is more complicated. To be an ignitable solid, first, the waste must be solid, then it must be “capable of causing fire through friction, moisture or spontaneous chemical change.” When ignited, it must burn “so vigorously and persistently that it creates a hazard.”

Whether a waste is “solid” can be evaluated using the “paint filter test” (EPA method 9095B). Free liquids (or liquid components of waste) will pass through the paint filter within 5 minutes; solid components will not. Wastes that contain free liquids must be evaluated as liquid waste.

Once a waste is determined to be “solid,” the next step is to determine if it is “capable of causing fire through friction, moisture or spontaneous chemical change.” EPA method 1050 can be used to evaluate whether a waste is air-reactive or self-heating, but there is no guidance from the EPA on whether a waste is “capable of causing fire” by other means. Generators can look to U.S. DOT hazardous materials classification procedures (for example, Division 4.2 self-heating/pyrophoric, or Division 4.3 dangerous when wet), or rely on their generator knowledge.

Solids that are “capable of causing fire” through friction or other means must also burn “vigorously and persistently” (based on a burn rate of greater than 2.2 mm/sec when tested per EPA method 1030) in order to be classified as an ignitable waste.

Classification of solids is more complicated than liquids, but the bottom line is: The ability to burn does not mean something is ignitable by RCRA standards. To be considered an ignitable solid, a waste needs to catch fire very easily or burn vigorously — or both.

Many types of materials and wastes, such as wood, paper and plastic, may be capable of burning (and may be subject to workplace safety, fire code or other regulations), but they would not be considered” ignitable” hazardous wastes. Examples of ignitable solid wastes include certain powdered metals, as well as other air- and water-reactive materials.

Gas wastes

Ignitability also applies to compressed gas wastes that have a “lower flammable limit” (LFL) of 13% or less, or where the flammable range (the difference between the lower flammable limit and upper flammable limit) is 12 % or more. Wastes meeting the definition of DOT “flammable” gas (Hazard Class/Division 2.1) in 49 CFR 173.115 are considered “ignitable.” Methane, propane, hydrogen and acetylene are all examples of gases that would be considered ignitable for waste-classification purposes.

To summarize, oxidizers, such as certain perchlorates, permanganates, inorganic peroxides and nitrates, are also considered ignitable for waste classification. These are substances that can yield oxygen and stimulate combustion of other materials. The hazardous waste definition of oxidizer also includes organic peroxides, subject to exclusions for materials that are highly reactive or potentially explosive (which will generally be considered “reactive” for waste classification) and for materials that have lower hazards. As with ignitable solids, the definition does not reference specific EPA test methods. Instead, generators must rely on safety data sheets (SDS) and generator knowledge.

ACTenviro can assist generators in making their determinations. If you have any questions about hazardous waste — from classification to management to disposal — please e-mail us at [email protected]. We’re happy to help!

James Kapin is Principal Advisor for safety, health and environmental compliance for ACTenviro.  Jim is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) with over 25 years of workplace safety and environmental protection experience.   Do you have any hazardous waste questions for Jim?  Or any other workplace safety or environmental compliance questions?  Let us know at [email protected]

In “Understanding the Four Characteristics of Hazardous Waste,” we covered the first step in managing your hazardous waste: determining if it is, in fact, a waste, as defined by the EPA. Suppose your waste for example does not appear on one of the EPA’s four lists of hazardous wastes; your next step is to see if it exhibits any of the four characteristics established by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA): ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity and toxicity. Additionally, some states, including California and Washington, have their own state-specific requirements that expand on the RCRA definitions.

Corrosive materials can attack and destroy tissue or metal. The EPA definition of “corrosive” waste is found in 40 CFR 261.22, is based on the pH of liquid wastes — acids have low pH, while bases or “caustic” liquids have high pH — and includes the following:

  • Aqueous waste liquids (wastes with at least 20% water by volume) with a pH of less than 2 or greater than 12
  • Any waste liquids that corrode steel at a rate greater than a quarter-inch per year

Acid

This definition only applies to aqueous liquids. It does not apply to solids (or non-aqueous liquids), and the EPA does not recognize “corrosive solids” as a type of hazardous waste. However, California regulations (22 CCR 66261.22) do include a definition of “corrosive solid.” This means California generators with waste that would have a pH of less than or equal to 2, or greater than or equal to 12.5 when mixed with an equivalent weight of water must manage those wastes as non-RCRA hazardous waste corrosive solids.

The EPA manual of test methods, SW-846, has specific tests for various hazardous waste properties and parameters, including corrosivity. SW-846 references test method 9040 to measure pH for hazardous waste characterization. The test method requires samples to be analyzed “as soon as possible,” because the pH of some samples can change over time. While not strictly applicable to hazardous waste determination, additional guidance from the EPA (in 40 CFR 136.3, table II) requires pH samples to be analyzed within 15 minutes of collection to ensure accuracy.

Since it is not practical to submit samples to a lab for analysis within 15 minutes of sample collection, many generators choose to rely on “generator knowledge” of their wastes to evaluate corrosivity. This is often supplemented by field methods to measure pH, such as using pH paper or electronic pH meters.

Examples of corrosive wastes include hydrochloric or sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide solutions. Wastes that are determined to be corrosive based on RCRA definitions are assigned the EPA hazardous waste code D002. EPA hazardous waste codes do not apply to non-RCRA hazardous wastes, such as corrosive solid waste in California. However, there may be state codes that do apply.

ACTenviro can assist generators in making determinations for their potentially hazardous wastes. If you have any questions about hazardous waste — from classification to management to disposal — please e-mail us at [email protected]. We’re happy to help!

James Kapin is Principal Advisor for safety, health and environmental compliance for ACTenviro.  Jim is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) with over 25 years of workplace safety and environmental protection experience.   Do you have any hazardous waste questions for Jim?  Or any other workplace safety or environmental compliance questions?  Let us know at [email protected]

ALL LOCATIONS

California
San Jose (Corporate Offices and Working
Facility)
967 Mabury Road
San Jose, CA 95133
Phone: (408) 548-5050
24.7 ER: (866) 348-2800
Fax: (408) 548-5052
Dixon
6940 Tremont Road
Dixon, CA 95620
Phone: (800) 559-3274
Los angeles
12235 Los Nietos Road
Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670
Phone: (714) 545-2191
SUNNYVALE - APPLE
1210 Elko Drive
Sunnyvale, CA 94089
Phone: (408) 548-5050
Fax: (408) 548-5052
san diego
2010 W Mission Road
Escondido, CA 92029
Phone: (858) 925-2500
sacramento
4 Wayne Court, Building 9
Sacramento, CA 95829
Phone: (916) 299-4228
inland empire
600 Iowa Street
Redlands, CA 92373
Phone: (909) 406-4400
merced
265 Riggs Avenue
Merced, CA 95341
Phone: (209) 722-4228
Fax: (209) 722-8228
Oregon
portland
13600 SE Ambler Road
Clackamas, OR 97015
Phone: (971) 279-6780
New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE
208 Murray Road SE
Albuquerque, NM 87105
Phone: (505) 445-9400
Fax: (505) 445-9401
ACTreatment (TSDF)
6137 Edith Boulevard NE
Albuquerque, NM 87107
Phone: (505) 349-5220
Fax: (505) 344-7986
El Paso
511 Highway 213
Chaparral, NM 88081
Phone: (575) 824-0164
ARIZONA
Phoenix
6212 S 75th Avenue #4
Laveen Village, AZ 85339
Phone: (602) 842-9160
Tucson
5568 N Camino De La Tierra
Tucson, AZ 85705
Phone: (520) 471-4672
Texas
dallas
4730 Bronze Way
Dallas, Texas 75236
Phone: (469) 518-6400
Fax: (469) 518-6402
HOUSTON
1700 North E Street
La Porte, TX 77571
Phone: (713) 568-2500
Fax: (713) 568-2501
Colorado
denver
4295 Kearney Street
Denver, CO 80216
Phone: (720) 386-2900
Pennsylvania
Fort Washington
500 Office Center Drive
Suite 400
Fort Washington, PA 19034
Phone: (626) 224-1666
Washington
spokane
1809 E. Houston Ave
Spokane, WA 99217
Phone: (509) 503-1300
Fax: (509) 503-1301
seattle
2923 S J Street
Tacoma, WA 98409
Phone: (253) 249-8273
Copyright © 2024 ACTenviro. All Rights Reserved
Anthem MRF | Resources | Glossary | Terms & Conditions | Privacy Policy
footer logo
crossmenu