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Hazardous Waste

Hazardous Waste Management and Federal Regulations

Proper handling, management, and disposal of hazardous waste is crucial to protecting the environment, which has significant implications for public health and safety. 

To that end, the federal government has established extensive regulations governing hazardous waste and has also set significant penalties for those convicted of violating these rules. You could face substantial fines and even prison time if accused of hazardous waste violations.

Hazardous Waste Management and Federal Regulations

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Regulations are listed in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The CFR is a series of federal regulations codified and enforced by all federal agencies. Title 40, Protection of the Environment, has all the rules governing the Environmental Protection Agency's programs.

The regulations governing hazardous waste identification, classification, generation, management, and disposal are in Title 40 CFR parts 260 through 273.

Section 260.2 “sets forth the rules that EPA will use in making the information it receives available to the public and sets forth the requirements that generators, transporters, or owners or operators of treatment, storage, or disposal facilities must follow to assert claims of business confidentiality concerning information that is submitted to EPA under parts 260 through 265 and 268 of this chapter.

EPA, or a state's hazardous waste regulatory agency, enforces hazardous waste laws. EPA always encourages states to take primary responsibility for implementing a hazardous waste program. 

What is Hazardous Waste?

Hazardous waste refers to any substance that poses a substantial threat to human health or the environment. These wastes can come in various forms, including solids, liquids, gases, or sludges. 

They could be the byproducts of manufacturing processes, discarded commercial products, or even household items. The legal definition for hazardous waste can be found in 42 U.S.C. 6903(5):

"The term “hazardous waste” means a solid waste, or combination of solid wastes, which because of its quantity, concentration, or physical, chemical, or infectious characteristics, may— (A) cause or significantly contribute to an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible, or incapacitating reversible, illness; or (B) pose a substantial present or potential hazard to human health or the environment when improperly treated, stored, transported, or disposed of, or otherwise managed."

Overview of Federal Hazardous Waste Management Regulations

The federal statutes regarding hazardous waste management are embodied in Title 42 of the U.S. Code, Sections 6921-6939g. 

These rules were established as part of the more extensive Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which entrusts the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the authority to enforce the rules. 

Federal Hazardous Waste Management

The RCRA sets forth a framework for managing hazardous waste from its generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal.

The EPA issues permits to entities that generate, transport, treat, store, or dispose of hazardous waste. These permits outline the requirements for handling and disposing of the waste correctly. The EPA also conducts inspections to ensure compliance with these regulations.

Cradle-to-Grave System

One of the fundamental principles underlying federal hazardous waste management regulations is what's known as the “cradle-to-grave” system. 

Anyone handling or producing hazardous waste—from initial generation to final disposal—must comply with all applicable regulations. This system ensures that hazardous waste is properly tracked and managed throughout its life cycle, reducing the risk of harm to human health and the environment.

Hazardous Waste Identification

Under federal law, hazardous waste is any substance or material potentially threatening human health or the environment. The EPA has created a list of specific hazardous wastes, known as the “Listed Wastes,” which includes many substances such as solvents, pesticides, and heavy metals. Any waste that exhibits specific characteristics—such as corrosivity or toxicity—is also considered hazardous.

Manifest System

The federal government requires that all hazardous waste be adequately tracked from origin to destination. This is done using a manifest system, which requires all hazardous waste generators and transporters to document their waste's type, quantity, and location at each stage of its journey. This system helps ensure that hazardous waste is handled correctly and disposed of by all applicable regulations.

What Are the Related Federal Laws?

42 U.S. Code Subchapter III has numerous federal statutes related to hazardous waste management, including the following:

  • 42 U.S.C. 6921 - Identification and listing of hazardous waste,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6922 - Standards applicable to generators of hazardous waste,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6923 - Standards applicable to transporters of hazardous waste,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6924 - Standards applicable to owners and operators of hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6925 - Permits for treatment, storage, or hazardous waste disposal,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6926 - Authorized State hazardous waste programs,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6927 - Inspections,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6928 - Federal enforcement,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6929 - Retention of State authority,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6930 - Effective date,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6931 - Authorization of assistance to States,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6932 - Transferred,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6933 - Hazardous waste site inventory,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6934 - Monitoring, analysis, and testing,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6935 - Restrictions on recycled oil,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6936 - Expansion during interim status,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6937 - Inventory of Federal agency hazardous waste facilities,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6938 - Export of hazardous wastes,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6939 - Domestic sewage,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6939a - Exposure information and health assessments,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6939b - Interim control of hazardous waste injection,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6939c - Mixed waste inventory reports and plan,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6939d - Public vessels,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6939e - Federally owned treatment works,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6939f - Long-term storage,
  • 42 U.S.C. 6939g - Hazardous waste electronic manifest system.

What Are the Penalties for Waste Management Violations?

Violations of hazardous waste regulations can result in civil or criminal penalties, as detailed in 42 U.S.C. 6928. 

Civil Penalties

The EPA can issue orders to violators, requiring them to take corrective action. If a violator fails to comply within the specified time frame, they can face civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day of noncompliance. The EPA can also suspend or revoke permits.

Criminal Penalties

Federal law also allows for criminal prosecution of those who willfully commit serious violations of hazardous waste laws. Some examples of criminal acts detailed in U.S.C. 6928 include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Knowingly transporting, treating, storing, or disposing of hazardous waste without a permit.
  • Knowingly acting in violation of the terms of a hazardous waste permit.
  • Knowingly making false statements or representations regarding hazardous waste management or
  • Knowingly transporting hazardous waste without a manifest.

If you are convicted of a crime under these laws, you could face fines of up to $50,000 per day of violation, plus up to two years in federal prison and, in some cases, up to five years.

If you have been accused of violating hazardous waste regulations, contact our federal criminal defense lawyers to review the case details and legal options moving forward. 

Perhaps we can negotiate a favorable resolution and avoid the most severe penalties or a conviction. We represent clients throughout the United States on federal criminal issues. Eisner Gorin LLP is in Los Angeles, California.

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