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Hazardous waste is waste that is detrimental to human health, environment, and the ecosystem. It can take the form of solids, gases, liquids, or be in sludge state. Hazardous waste mainly includes the remains of industrial and agricultural products as well as household chemicals when handled improperly. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was established to ensure that transportation, storage as well as dumping of hazardous waste is conducted in a way that is safe for human health, surroundings, and ecological (IDEM, n. d.). The Act classifies hazardous waste into several groups. Solid waste is any material no longer used by its initial purpose and must be reclaimed prior to reuse. Some of RCRA waste is excluded from regulation if it is unqualified as solid waste. All waste categorized as hazardous or waste that shows features of hazardous waste must be controlled by the RCRA. RCRA defines hazardous waste as “solid waste or cumulative solid waste, which because of its volume, absorption, chemical, or infectious conditions, can result in or contribute to a higher rate of death, chronic diseases, and pose a hazard to the environment and the health of human beings through improper storage, transportation, disposal, and ill treatment (Hercenter, n.d).” Because of the inadequacy in definition and other unclear aspects, the US-EPA issued new regulations in 2005, which had considerable changes in manifestation and measures. The US-EPA made the waste handler to be the final determiner of whether the waste is hazardous (Kathryn, 2006).
Steps to Determine Whether the Waste is Hazardous
The US- EPA recommends six steps to be followed in the determination of whether waste is hazardous or not. These steps are discussed further in the paper.
Step 1: Determine whether it meets authoritarian meaning of solid waste;
This is the first step in analyzing whether a given matter is hazardous. EPA uses the phrase “solid waste” to properly point to solid, semi-solid, liquids, and restricted gaseous waste. According to EPA, solid waste is any unnecessary material, which is discarded. Under EPA, procedure materials are termed useless in three ways: by abandonment, recycling, and inherently waste-like. Abandonment applies to materials already done away with, disposed, destroyed, collected, stored, and eventually treated. Recycling applies to materials used in a way that amount to dumping, burning for power purposes, and domesticated, for instance, plastic containers. Wastes such as commercial chemical products, sludge, and by-products that are domesticated are not regarded as solid waste under RCRA regulation. Finally, inherently waste-like characteristic applies to materials that, in most cases, contain dioxins. Any material that does not fall under any of these groupings is not regarded as hazardous waste in waste regulation (Kathryn, 2006).
Step 2: Determine whether the waste is excluded;
This is the second step, which is aimed to verify if waste meets the requirements of exclusion from RCRA regulation. This is mainly done in three ways: by checking materials excluded from solid waste, by checking variance in solid waste, and by checking excluded hazardous waste. When checking materials excluded from solid waste, materials that are not classified as solid wastes are listed in 40 CFR 261.4(a) and are, in many instances, produced in healthcare centers, for instance, solid and liquid materials in domestic sewerage and nuclear materials. In case healthcare centers and sewerage treatment plants produce wastes that meet the criteria of inclusion, they must obtain a written permission for publicly owned treatment works (Kathryn, 2006). On the other hand, checking variance in solid waste affects materials that are collected speculatively in inadequate amount, recycled, domesticated, and used again within the original process being partially domesticated. Any person wishing to use this waste must present records showing the case to the director of the governing agency and the EPA regional administrator. Checking excluded hazardous waste involves materials qualifying as solid waste, but does not meet the solid waste variance criteria. Some wastes may not be regarded as hazardous materials and fall in exemptions listed in “subsection of the code, 40 CFR 261.4(b).” They are not applicable to wastes from health care centers, but apply to household waste such as wastes from residential and military houses including any first aid waste (provided it is kept separate from that of healthcare centers), Freon, and samples of solid waste gathered for research purposes (Kathryn, 2006).
Step 3: Determine whether the waste is listed in RCRA regulations;
This is the third step, which includes materials labeled with F, K, P, and U letters. Now, it is difficult to understand the origin of the letters. In cases when these letters come out when materials are analyzed, this implies that materials are hazardous. F and K letters are used when wastes are generated during processing, K letter deals with the manufacturing sector, and letter F deals with other general sectors such as metal production process. P and U letters are used in cases where commercial chemicals are discarded on different bases e.g. detergents or expired chemicals. P labels extremely toxic chemicals, which can cause death whereas U labels less toxic chemicals, although still considered as hazardous. Nevertheless, more strict regulations are placed in the P- list (Kathryn, 2006).
Step 4: Determining whether the waste has precise character;
The fourth step is a way of categorizing hazardous waste according to its unique properties by either testing the waste with EPA’s prescribed test model or using a deeper understanding of the process from which the waste was generated. RCRA provides a set of properties that waste must exhibit for it to be classified as hazardous. These include ignitability (D001), corrosiveness (D002), reactivity (D003), and toxicity (D004-D0043).
Ignitable wastes are those that can easily catch fire and support incineration. They are extremely dangerous. Under RCRA, a waste is said to have ignitability characteristic if it is a strong oxidizer and is a non-liquid that can catch fire by friction, absorption of water, or spontaneous chemical change and can burn vigorously creating a peril. Similarly, for liquids, a flash point test method selected under EPA should consider it flammable enough to treat it hazardous. In most cases, such wastes are found in hospitals and industrial chemicals such as cleaners and paints (Kathryn, 2006).
On the other hand, corrosive wastes are high in acid and salt content, which can easily eat away metals or dissolve in other materials. They are liquids with a pH greater than or equal to 12.5, less than or equal to 2, or have the ability to rust steel at a certain rate. Examples include acetic acid used in hospitals and sulfuric acid from automotive batteries.
Additionally, reactive wastes are materials that explode when heated or react aggressively under normal usage conditions. These are materials that generate toxic gases when they come into contact with water or acid. Examples include explosives and nitroglycerin formulations used in hospitals.
Finally, toxicity (D004-D0043) is a property that results from the lab formula called Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP). The formula was created to give some hints on how different materials would leak into ground water if waste were put in landfill. Although this method is used for testing toxicity, a generator can also analyze whether the waste is hazardous or not through tracing the waste’s origin. Examples include mercury and barium compounds.
Step 5: Determine whether the waste is a mixture;
When wastes are mixed together e.g. both hazardous and non-hazardous ones, the mixture can become a hazardous waste. In the mixture rule, it is different for the listed and characteristic waste. If characteristic waste is mixed with solid waste, it will only be regarded hazardous waste if the blend displays a characteristic. For the listed waste, its mixture with solid waste will result to big volumes of regulated listed waste (Kathryn, 2006).
Step 6: Determining whether the waste was derived from a hazardous waste rule.
This rule is similar to the rule derived from listed or characteristic hazardous waste, which states that wastes generated from treatment, storage, and disposal of listed or characteristic waste are related unless the end characteristic waste does not exhibit a hazardous features.
Discrepancies in Regulations
Hazardous wastes have been considered to have more negative inherent value and more vague distinctiveness than hazardous materials. In the light of this consideration, it is imperative to have stringent regulations and management measures regarding hazardous waste (Hilgenkamp, 2006). US Environmental Protection Agency has formulated regulations, which are meant to be followed during generation, storage, transportation, and disposal of waste. In its efforts to improve the management of hazardous wastes, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently introduced a manifest form, which is aimed to direct the transportation or shipment of hazardous wastes. New forms contain additional information, which makes them different from previous state and federal forms.
The EPA made changes to the shipping document that travels with the export and import of hazardous waste from the point of generation to final destination and to disposal facility (TSDF). All persons involved in stages from generation to final disposal are supposed to sign the manifest form in order to keep track of the records. The outward look and the content of the manifest form have changed from 10 policies used for treatment, storage, and disposal facility to 28 policies regarding hazardous waste management. Their number increased to 6, which are all legible, and the generator must send a copy to the Department of Toxic Substance Control for permission of shipping toxic waste. Because of modernization, EPA allows waste handlers to use electronic computers to fill, send, and store data, which helps in reducing the workload and streamlines the tracking system (Federal Register, 2001).
According to the RCRA, the US-EPA is tasked with the duty to establish an apparent system, which will govern transportation and handling of hazardous waste. The EPA formulated a manifest system on February 26, 1980 to govern the transportation of hazardous waste from generators to the point where it is managed. Regulations established by the environmental protection agency has been noted to have some inconsistencies, most of which are with the state or federal regulations (Hilgenkamp, 2006). After 1980, many states required their manifest forms. Forms required by state authorities contained additional state information. Forms became inconsistent with the ones produced by the Environmental Protection Agency. It became necessary for the states to prepare two forms in order to conduct interstate shipment of hazardous materials.
By 2006, the EPA had developed a standardized manifest form, which was used by all states in the process of tracking hazardous waste shipments. The form, according to the US-EPA and federal regulations, should not be changed. There is no state information, which had to be added to the form. However, the manifest form had a number of variations between the states. EPA regulations do not clearly define what hazardous wastes are comprised of. Some states regard used oil as hazardous waste, while others do not.
Data field 19 of the Environmental Protection Agency’s manifest form requires states to fill their particular hazardous waste codes. States have to enter these codes if they exist. There is a discrepancy in this data field because different states have different codes. According to Northeast Waste Management Officials Association (NEWMOA), there are several discrepancies in EPA regulations. In its quest, NEWMOA seeks a clear definition of the term repackaging as it is used in the EPA regulations (Resetarits & Bernardo, 2001). A clear definition is vital to ensure there in no commingling of dissimilar wastes. This is meant to reduce risks associated with such repackaging of wastes.
Storage Incidental to Transportation is also ambiguous and needs clarification. It is not clear when environmental protection agency regulations on hazardous waste should or should not apply. The regulation should be clear, especially when the storage facility is not the stated destination. Repackaging of the waste takes place mostly in these facilities and it should be clear whether and how the regulations apply (Resetarits & Bernardo, 2001). Finally, the definition of Care Custody and Control is inconsistent and confusing in the shipment of hazardous waste. These regulations do not indicate when hazardous materials are transferred to or from the career. Clear indicators of when hazardous materials are transferred to or from the career should be stated.