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Emergency Preparedness and Prevention under the U.S. Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule

Written by Ryan W. Trail, Williams Mullen

Generators of hazardous waste have long understood the importance of emergency preparedness and prevention to regulatory compliance and facility safety.  Contingency planning and coordination with emergency service providers have been requirements of United States Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations for many years.  For states that have adopted the Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule (HWGIR), however, new and more stringent requirements for emergency preparedness and prevention now apply.  These states include Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as 28 other states.  All authorized states are required to adopt most aspects of the HWGIR, including those aspects discussed below, but many have not yet done so.

Under the old regulations, generators of hazardous waste (both small and large quantity) had to make arrangements with local emergency response entities, which may be called upon in the event of a release, fire, or explosion involving hazardous waste at the facility.  Facilities were required to make the emergency responders familiar with the layout of the site, the risks associated with the type(s) of hazardous waste onsite, the locations where employees would likely be throughout the site, and possible evacuation routes.  While not specified in the regulations, many facilities accomplished this by inviting local emergency response personnel to tour the facility.

Under the HWGIR, generators must still make arrangements with emergency response personnel. However, the associated recordkeeping requirements have changed.  Previously, there was no affirmative duty to document the arrangements.  Generators who were unable to make the necessary arrangements were required to document this shortcoming, but otherwise no recordkeeping obligation existed.  The HWGIR added a requirement that the generator must keep documentation of the fact that it made arrangements with local emergency responders.  The arrangements must be noted in the facility’s operating record.

Hazardous waste contingency plans are another essential element of emergency preparedness and prevention under both the prior regulations and the HWGIR.  A contingency plan ensures facility and emergency response personnel have complete and accurate information to respond safely and efficiently to an emergency involving hazardous waste.

The HWGIR created new obligations for facilities with hazardous waste continency plans.  One significant update is the requirement to produce a Quick Reference Guide as part of the contingency plan.  The Quick Reference Guide is intended to summarize the broader contingency plan and must include eight elements essential for local responders when an emergency occurs:

  1. Types/names of hazardous wastes and the hazard associated with each;
  2. Estimated maximum amount of each hazardous waste that may be present;
  3. Identification of hazardous wastes where exposure would require unique or special medical treatment;
  4. Map of the facility showing where hazardous wastes are generated, accumulated and treated and routes for accessing these wastes;
  5. Street map of the facility in relation to surrounding businesses, schools and residential areas for evacuation purposes;
  6. Locations of water supply (e.g., fire hydrant and its flow rate);
  7. Identification of on-site notification systems (e.g., fire alarm, smoke alarms); and
  8. Name of the emergency coordinator(s) and 7/24-hour emergency telephone number(s) or, in the case of a facility where an emergency coordinator is on duty continuously, the emergency telephone number for the emergency coordinator.

A facility that became a large quantity generator after the date the HWGIR became effective in its state must submit a Quick Reference Guide of its contingency plan to local emergency responders at the time it becomes a large quantity generator.  However, for large quantity generators in existence on the effective date of the HWGIR in their state, the Quick Reference Guide need only be submitted when the contingency plan is next amended.  A facility is required to amend its contingency plan if any of the following occur:

  • Applicable regulations are revised;
  • The plan fails in an emergency;
  • The facility changes—in its design, construction, operation, maintenance, or other circumstances—in a way that materially increases the potential for fires, explosions, or releases of hazardous waste or hazardous waste constituents, or changes the response necessary in an emergency;
  • The list of emergency coordinators changes; or
  • The list of emergency equipment changes.

Violations for inaccurate, incomplete or deficient hazardous waste contingency plans are common among RCRA enforcement actions.  With the HWGIR now in effect in many states, facilities may soon be amending their contingency plans.  New requirements for documenting arrangements with emergency responders and creating and maintaining a Quick Reference Guide could easily be overlooked.  It is important for hazardous waste generators to review emergency preparedness and prevention requirements of the HWGIR carefully to ensure continued compliance.

Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule81 Fed. Reg. 85732 (Nov. 28, 2016)

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About the Author

Ryan Trail represents companies facing complex environmental regulatory issues in the industrial, manufacturing, real estate and banking industries. He helps companies maintain compliance with constantly evolving environmental laws and regulations, and he counsels landowners, potential purchasers and lenders on environmental liabilities related to contaminated real estate. Ryan also helps clients obtain and comply with numerous environmental permits, including industrial wastewater discharge permits, stormwater permits and air permits.