Settle an argument: An industrial facility generates many drums of corrosive hazardous waste (D002).
The facility’s Environmental Manager suggests neutralizing the waste before shipping it off site. The waste won’t be a hazardous waste
or a DOT hazardous material
once it’s neutralized, cutting disposal and shipping costs significantly.
In response to the suggestion, the Manager gets two pieces of conflicting information from her team:
Colleague A says:
"Neutralization is a form of hazardous waste treatment. We need a RCRA permit to treat hazardous waste.”
Colleague B says:
“The RCRA hazardous waste rules allow us to neutralize the waste without a permit.”
Who’s right? Does a generator need a RCRA permit to perform elementary neutralization?
Is Neutralization a Form of Treatment Under RCRA?
Elementary neutralization is a process by which an acid or base is added to a waste to render it chemical neutral, and it is a form of hazardous waste treatment. In fact, neutralization is explicitly named in the regulatory definition of treatment, which reads:
means a method, technique, or process, including neutralization, designed to change the physical, chemical, or biological character or composition of any hazardous waste so as to:
- Neutralize the waste,
- Recover energy or material resources from the waste,
- Make the waste safer to transport, store, or dispose of,
- Make the waste more amendable for recovery or storage, or
- Reduce the volume of hazardous waste.
(40 CFR 260.10)
Colleague A is correct that Part 270 of RCRA generally requires a facility to obtain a permit before treating hazardous waste, but
there are exceptions—including one that covers elementary neutralization (40 CFR 270.1(c)(2)(v)).
May Generators Neutralize Waste On Site?
When certain conditions are met, the RCRA regulations allow generators to neutralize a hazardous waste. The waste treatment process must be performed in an elementary neutralization unit that is:
- Used to neutralize hazardous waste that is corrosive only; and
- Is a tank, tank system, container, transport vehicle, or vessel.
So the facility in our example may neutralize their D002 hazardous waste without obtaining a RCRA permit. Generators should keep in mind that neutralization can produce a hot, volatile reaction and should be performed only by properly trained personnel.
RCRA does not require the facility to neutralize the waste immediately, but they must do so within the accumulation time allowed by regulation (i.e., 90 or 180 days). In the meantime, the waste must be managed in compliance with all the standard container management rules, including dating and marking containers, keeping containers closed, and weekly inspections.
Elementary Neutralization and RCRA Generator Status
We mentioned two reasons why a facility would neutralize corrosive hazardous waste–to lower transportation costs and to render the waste non-hazardous.
Here’s a third reason: Hazardous waste managed immediately upon generation in elementary neutralization units is excepted from counting toward the facility’s generator status/category (40 CFR 262.13(c)(2)). That could mean a change from large to small quantity generator, or from small to very small quantity generator—a move that could unburden the site from compliance with some of the strict, detailed management standards in 40 CFR Part 262.
More about RCRA permits:
Do We Need a RCRA Permit to Store Hazardous Waste?