Keeping up with federal and state regulations is challenging for many businesses. It takes just one complaint from a neighbor or disgruntled former employee to bring state regulators to your doorstep and begin poking around your business, so you must be prepared to avoid hazardous waste fines and costly legal hassles brought on by an investigation.
Here are 5 silly mistakes that businesses often make that lead to trouble with the DTSC (Department of Toxic Substances).
Mistake #1 – Dumping toxic waste into the municipal sewer system
This should be a no-brainer but many companies either through a lack of understanding of the law, or by having the attitude of “I am too small and won’t get caught” often make this mistake.
Illegal dumping of toxic waste is one of the most common violations and easiest for regulators to investigate. This is the low-hanging fruit for the DTSC, and no business or municipal entity is immune from prosecution.
Management or employees often think, “How will anyone know it was me who dumped the waste and where it was dumped?” What they don’t know is that municipalities now have sophisticated sensors in the sewer systems that can identify all kinds of chemicals. These chemicals can be traced to back to the point of origin and ultimately to your business.
There have been several cases reported on where illegal dumping into the sewer system has led to fines including the City of San Luis Obispo, and last year big box retailers like Lowes and Wal-Mart paid multi-million-dollar fines for this violation.
Bottom line: don’t dump your waste down the drain; you will be caught and you will be fined.
Mistake #2 – Not marking containers with hazardous waste labels
Employees are busy doing their jobs, and sometimes when a new hazardous waste container is placed into a satellite accumulation point it is easy to overlook this seemingly trivial action. Big mistake! Don’t allow your employees to shortcut the process by failing to mark containers as being hazardous.
Assign one person in charge of putting the label on the container before any waste is put into it. This applies to both Satellite Accumulation Points (SAP) and your central storage area. SAP is storage locations at or near your production line where you can accumulate up to 55 gallons of hazardous wastes.
For companies operating in California, state compliant labels are required. Be sure to order the right ones from your supplier, and make sure that there are always labels on hand.
Mistake #3 – Not keeping lids on containers at all times
Violations for this mistake can come as a shock for many companies, since it is so easy for busy employees to overlook. The term “closed” means leak proof and vapor tight. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) treating a waste as “any process that changes the physical, chemical, or biological characteristics of a waste to minimize its threat to the environment.
By leaving the lid off of your hazardous waste containers you are reducing the volume of waste by way of evaporation which could be considered by the regulatory agencies as treatment. Lids should be closed which means leak proof and vapor tight. Make sure that you put up reminder notices in accumulation areas and conduct regular briefing for your employees to make sure they are aware of this legal requirement. This is critical if you have a high personnel turnover rate at your facility.
Mistake #4 – Out-of-date contact information on your hazardous waste contingency plan
Every hazardous waste generator is required to have an emergency contingency plan. A written Hazardous Waste Contingency Plan is a program designed to minimize hazards to human health and the environment from fires, explosions or an unplanned sudden release of a hazardous waste.
This program is developed by each facility owner or operator and establishes actions that must be immediately implemented during an emergency situation. Each plan lays out an organized, planned and coordinated response to an emergency.
One of the key requirements of the plan for Large Quantity Generators is the emergency contact information including name address and phone number of emergency contacts from your company.
If your company has high turnover, or has recently undergone lay-offs, this requirement is easy to miss and can lead to headaches and fines. Make sure that you review your contingency plan on a regular basis.
Mistake # 5 – Having more than 55 gallons in satellite accumulation areas
This is another easy one to miss for busy employees. Hazardous waste regulations allow you to store up to 55 gallons of hazardous waste at the point of generation provided that the operator has control over the waste.
Make sure your operator understands the legal requirements and have him check the waste volume on a regular basis. By law, the operator is required to be “in control” of the Satellite Accumulation Points. In other words, your operator has to know what type of wastes can go into the container and make sure that no other wastes are placed in it.
These are but a few of the mistakes that can lead to fines. It is crucial that you stay up-to-date on the latest regulations and regularly review your procedures.
Richard Espinoza is VP of IDR Environmental Services.