EPA Guidance Document: How Do I Keep My RCRA Waste Containers "Closed"?

Posted on 12/8/2011 by James Griffin

Whether it is your 90-day storage area, your 180-day storage area, or your satellite accumulation area, all containers that contain hazardous waste must remain “closed,” except when adding or removing waste [40 CFR 265.173(a)].
The word “closed” is not actually defined in the RCRA hazardous waste regulations, and this is a common sore point for people subject to regulation. Because the Agency never defined it, it is largely interpretive. Determining if a generator’s hazardous waste container is actually closed may depend on the judgment of a given EPA or State inspector.
Since the EPA has received so many inquiries about the meaning of “closed,” it actually created a guidance document and released it on December 3, 2009 to help explain the standard. It reissued this document again recently, but added some Q&A topics at the end to help expand on a few specific issues.
If you’d like to see the document, click here.
The document gives numerous examples of what the EPA would consider “closed.” However, the EPA stresses that the meaning can change depending on what hazardous waste is being stored. Containers should be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
One of the sections that seemed quite valuable was an excerpt from the original preamble published way back on May 19, 1980. In it, the EPA explained the purpose for keeping something closed. In short, the closure requirement was meant to:
“ Minimize emissions of volatile wastes,
“ Help protect ignitable or reactive wastes from sources of ignition or reaction,
“ Help prevent spills,
“ Reduce the potential for mixing of incompatible wastes, and
“ Reduce direct contact of facility personnel with waste.
Depending on what type of hazardous waste you store, you may need certain types of closure. For instance, if you are storing highly volatile waste in a drum, you will need a drum that prevents emissions of those volatiles. That could mean ensuring all bungs or other holes are sealed tightly enough, so no vapors can escape. If your waste is not all that reactive or volatile, you will need a drum that can prevent spills. This may encourage the inspector to introduce the ever popular “tip test” (meaning it will not leak if you tipped it over) into the inspection process.
The end of the reissued guidance document includes a Q&A section to help clarify some points previously published. One very interesting question mentioned processes that continually generate hazardous waste. It reads:
“Question: Page 10 of the Guidance states that ‘[c]ontainers continuously or intermittently receiving solid or semi-solid hazardous’ waste often remain open while ‘connected to a device (e.g., under a baghouse or filter press) that generate the waste.’ Does this mean that it is always acceptable to leave a container open while it is connected or positioned to collect waste from a process device?”
The EPA answered, “No. 40 C.F.R. §§264.173(a) and 265.173(a) both require that a hazardous waste container ‘must always be closed during storage, except where it is necessary to add or remove waste’ (emphasis added). The Guidance merely recognizes that in some situations the addition of waste to a container is not a discrete short-term act.”
The answer, in essence, allows inspectors to deem whether or not a container can be left open if it is necessary to collect all of the waste coming out of the process. If it is not necessary, the container should be closed.
One other thing that should be noted is that the EPA has stressed that this document is in no form actual law. The Agency wants to give inspectors the leeway to decide on a case-by-case basis what should be constituted as “closed.” In addition, as always, states can have more stringent standards than those of the Federal government, so it’s always important to check with your state to see if it has any defined methods.
What about you? What has been your experience with “closed” containers? Leave a comment below.

Tags: container management, hazardous waste management, RCRA

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