RCRA Contingency Planning Requirements

Posted on 6/23/2015 by Roseanne Bottone

This month, Lion News has focused on planning for emergencies and the rules for managing risk, both under OSHA's Process Safety Management rules and the US EPA's Risk Management Plan requirements. To further this discussion, today we take a look at the specific contingency planning requirements for hazardous waste generators under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

Under RCRA, generators must maintain "contingency plans for effective action to minimize unanticipated damage from any treatment, storage, or disposal of any such hazardous waste." [42 U.S.C. 6924(a)(5)]

The US EPA regulations found at 40 CFR Part 265, Subparts C and D implement the statutory mandates of RCRA by setting specific requirements for hazardous waste generators and interim status treatment/storage/disposal facilities. Equivalent requirements for permitted TSDFs are at 40 CFR 265, Subparts C and D.

Owners/operators of hazardous waste facilities must maintain and operate their facilities in a manner that minimizes the possibility of a fire, explosion, or any other unplanned release of hazardous waste or hazardous waste constituents to air, soil, or surface water that could threaten human health or the environment. Facility managers must also create written contingency plans to minimize the hazards to human health or the environment from any such incident or release. [40 CFR 265.51]

What to Include in Your Contingency Plan

A contingency plan must include:
  • A description of the actions facility personnel will take to minimize hazards;
  • A description of arrangements with local and State emergency responders;
  • At least one person designated as emergency coordinator;
  • A list of the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the emergency coordinators;
  • A list of all required emergency response and cleanup equipment;
  • A description of the location and physical description of each item of equipment and an outline of its capabilities; and
  • An evacuation plan for facility personnel.
If the facility is subject to Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plan requirements of 40 CFR 112 and/or any other mandatory contingency planning, the operator may prepare a single plan to comply with all requirements. For more information, see the National Response Team's Integrated Contingency Plan Guidance (Federal "One Plan" 61 FR 28641, June 5, 1996). [40 CFR 265.54]
Your RCRA contingency plan can help emergency responders

Managing Your Contingency Plan

Hazardous waste generators must write a contingency plan, keep copies at the facility, and submit the plan to all State and local police, fire departments, hospitals, and other emergency response service providers. Facility managers must review and amend the plan whenever:
  • Applicable regulations change;
  • The plan fails in an emergency;
  • The design/construction/operation/maintenance/etc. of the facility changes in a manner that materially increases the potential of an incident;
  • The list of emergency coordinators changes; or
  • The list of emergency equipment changes.
[40 CFR 265.53, 265.54]

Preparedness and Prevention

Owners/operators of hazardous waste facilities must also maintain and operate their facilities in a manner that minimizes the possibility that they'll need to implement their contingency plan. Facilities must also ensure that, in the event of an emergency, they have the resources needed to implement the plan. [40 CFR 265.31]

Unless none of the hazards posed by the RCRA waste handled at the facility would require them, all facilities must comply with the following preparedness requirements:
  • An internal communications or alarm system;
  • A communication device capable of summoning emergency assistance from outside emergency responders;
  • Portable fire extinguishers and fire control equipment;
  • Spill control equipment;
  • Decontamination equipment; and
  • An adequate volume and pressure of water (institutional fire control).
[40 CFR 265.32]

Other Contingency Plan Requirements

Whenever hazardous waste is being handled, all personnel involved in the operation must have immediate access to internal alarm and/or emergency communication devices. If even a single employee is on the premise while operations go on, he or she must have immediate access to a communication device capable of summoning external emergency assistance. [40 CFR 265.34]

All emergency response and cleanup equipment must be regularly tested and maintained to ensure it will function in an emergency. [40 CFR 265.33]

The facility must maintain adequate aisle space between obstructions (i.e., equipment, processes, and storage). The aisle space must be adequate to allow unobstructed movement of personnel and equipment to anywhere they may be needed. [40 CFR 265.35]

Arrangements With Local Authorities

Lastly, in some cases, responding effectively to an incident or emergency at your facility may require outside help. To ensure emergency responders like police, fire departments, hospitals, and others can respond effectively, facility operators must make arrangements, including:
  • Familiarizing off-site emergency responders with the layout of the facility, including:
    • Entrances and evacuation routes,
    • Areas where personnel would normally be working,
    • Places where hazardous waste is handled, and
    • The hazards of the waste, and the types of injuries/illnesses likely to result from exposure or catastrophic releases;
  • If multiple emergency response agencies are likely to respond to an emergency, one of them must be designated as the primary authority, in the contingency plan, before any actual emergency; and
  • Agreements with equipment suppliers, emergency response and cleanup contractors, and State emergency response teams.
If State/local authorities decline to enter into any emergency planning/preparedness arrangements with facility operators, the refusal must be documented in the operating record. [40 CFR 265.37]

An incomplete or inadequate security plan is a common violation of the RCRA standards. By keeping a complete contingency plan and following the standards above, facilities can be prepared for emergency events and operate in a way that minimizes the risk these incidents pose.

Collaborative RCRA Workshops for Industry Personnel

Collaborate with your industry peers and get up to speed with the latest RCRA generator rules at the Hazardous/Toxic Waste Management Workshop. Meet EPA's annual training requirement in cities nationwide. In July, join us in Williamsburg, Charlotte, Orlando, Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville, and Memphis! Can't travel for training this year? Initial and Refresher RCRA training courses are available online at


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