The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

EPA Moves to Deregulate Hazardous Waste

by Catherine Komp

Mar. 27, 2007 – More than a half-million tons of hazardous waste annually could escape federal environmental regulations under a new proposal from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

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The EPA wants to exempt from most regulation waste that companies say is destined for recycling and reuse in the manufacturing process. The EPA states that the proposal is "de-regulatory in nature� because certain recyclable materials would no longer be regulated or defined as hazardous waste.

Hazardous waste includes materials with properties like ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity or toxicity that make it potentially harmful to human health or the environment. The EPA also maintains four lists of specific hazardous wastes.

Under the proposed rule, to apply for exemption, companies would simply submit a one-time notice to federal or state regulators providing basic information, like name, address, phone number and the type of hazardous waste to be excluded from regulation. The EPA would not require companies to report to the Agency how much hazardous material was being reclaimed or recycled.

The deregulations would also no longer require companies to send hazardous materials to a permitted recycler. Instead, EPA is proposing that waste producers make "reasonable efforts" to determine that off-site recyclers are "legitimately" recycling the hazardous materials. It also proposes that companies maintain records of hazardous-waste shipments for a period of three years.

The EPA would not require companies to report to the Agency how much hazardous material was being reclaimed or recycled.

In an interview with The NewStandard, the EPA’s director of hazardous waste in the Identification Division Bob Dellinger acknowledged that the one-time reporting requirement "doesn’t really address" whether waste is legitimately recycled or "how or whether materials are recycled."

But, Dellinger said, criminal penalties for mismanaging waste are a strong incentive for companies to make sure the materials are recycled properly.

Critics say the rule change could lead to mismanagement of hazardous materials, creating new toxic dumps and increased risks to public health.

Sierra Club, which opposed a similar proposal in 2003, did not return requests for an interview. However, in response to the 2003 proposal, Sierra Club and other environmental groups pointed out that the EPA had not evaluated the environmental impacts of deregulating hazardous waste.

Dellinger told TNS the Agency was not doing an environmental risk assessment because it was not an "appropriate analysis for these kinds of exclusions."

"To do a risk assessment," he said, "would just be a wild guess to say maybe these many people are not going to do things right. It really has little value."

Yet in its 220-page "pre-publication" version of the rule change proposal, the EPA itself states that "recycling operations have accounted for a number of significant damage incidents." The Agency also admitted that prior to recycling, hazardous materials have the "potential to present the same types of threats to human health and the environment as hazardous wastes stored or transported prior to disposal."

Critics say the rule change could lead to mismanagement of hazardous materials, creating new toxic dumps and increased risks to public health.

The Agency estimates that relaxed regulations will encourage more recycling of hazardous materials and save industries about $107 million per year.

The American Petroleum Institute, the Fertilizer Institute, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and other industry groups have pushed for deregulation. The companies complain that forcing them to treat materials bound for recycling as hazardous waste creates too many obstacles. For example, some companies cited problems with moving waste off site for recycling and losing useful properties in materials that must be neutralized because they are defined as hazardous waste..

The EPA estimates that its proposal would affect about 4,600 facilities handling about 650 million tons of hazardous waste per year. Industries that recycle hazardous waste include chemical, pharmaceutical, industrial waste management, and semiconductor and electronics manufacturing companies. Companies that discard hazardous waste or accumulate it without the intention to recycle would not be exempt from regulation, according to the proposal.

Under the proposal, if a company fails to meet the EPA’s conditions, the materials would revert back to the definition of hazardous waste and be subject to regulation.

The EPA’s supplemental proposal was published yesterday in the Federal Register. The EPA will accept comments on the proposal until May 25, 2007.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


Catherine Komp is a contributing journalist.

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