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In the United States, hazardous wastes are subject to regulations mandated by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Every month, we provide clear, in-depth guidance on a different aspect of the RCRA regulations. The information presented here is an excerpt from McCoy’s RCRA Unraveled, 2018 Edition.

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©2018 McCoy and Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.

Contaminated Debris Standards

As with contaminated soil, debris is very different in physical form from the process wastes that EPA evaluated when establishing the §268.40 LDR treatment standards. The definition of debris in §268.2(g) is:

Debris means solid material exceeding a 60 mm particle size that is intended for disposal and that is: a manufactured object; or plant or animal matter; or natural geologic material. However, the following materials are not debris: any material for which a specific treatment standard is provided in Subpart D, Part 268, namely lead-acid batteries, cadmium batteries, and radioactive lead solids; process residuals such as smelter slag and residues from the treatment of waste, wastewater, sludges, or air emission residues; and intact containers of hazardous waste that are not ruptured and that retain at least 75% of their original volume. A mixture of debris that has not been treated to the standards provided by §268.45 and other material is subject to regulation as debris if the mixture is comprised primarily of debris, by volume, based on visual inspection.”

Several aspects of the debris definition warrant discussion:

  1. Debris is material that is bigger in one dimension than 2.5 inches (60 mm).
  2. Debris is material that is intended for disposal. When manufacturing operations are shut down, a very common material that is encountered is metallic equipment and components that might be contaminated with hazardous constituents. If this material is recycled instead of disposed, it is not “debris” subject to the LDR debris standards. In other words, recycling rather than disposing material may eliminate the need to comply with the debris standards.
  3. Examples of manufactured objects that are “debris” are gloves and other personal protective equipment, solder paste wipes, pipes, pumps, valves, etc. that will be disposed (perhaps due to radioactive contamination that makes them nonrecyclable). [RO 14660]
  4. An example of plant matter that would be “debris” is a tree stump.
  5. An example of geologic material that would be “debris” is a rock.
  6. The language about intact containers addresses drums that might be dug up as part of a remediation project. If the drums contain hazardous waste and are intact, the contents of the drums must be treated to meet §268.40 standards for whatever waste codes are associated with the contained wastes. In other words, intact drums of hazardous waste are not eligible for the more lenient alternative treatment standards for debris. On the other hand, if a ruptured drum is excavated, it may be managed under the debris standards.
  7. The language about material being primarily debris based on visual inspection implies that it is not necessary to run a sieve analysis to determine if a waste is mostly debris, as opposed to something else (e.g., soil). A visual assessment is all that is required.

A few examples illustrate issues associated with the definition of debris.

Can mercury batteries be considered to be “debris”?

If the batteries are deteriorated such that material can flow into and out of the batteries, they may be considered “debris.” If the batteries are intact, they may more closely meet the definition of an “intact container,” which is excluded from the definition of debris in §268.2(g). The distinction between “debris” and “intact containers” is significant. If the batteries are “debris,” they may be treated by the alternative treatment standards of Table 1 in §268.45; if the batteries are “intact containers,” they must be treated to meet the appropriate D009 standard of §268.40. [RO 13638, 14215, 14675, 14685]

What is the status under Part 268 of other mercury-containing items sent for disposal, such as thermometers, manometers, switches, pumps, jars of elemental mercury, dental amalgam collection devices, and ampules?

Again, these items are considered containers and, if intact, meet the definition of an “intact container.” Therefore, these mercury-containing items do not fall under the debris definition, and they are thus subject to the nondebris treatment standards in §268.40 if the items to be disposed are U151 or D009. [RO 14685] Note that EPA added mercury-containing equipment as universal waste on August 5, 2005. [70 FR 45508] Thus, per the federal RCRA regs, mercury thermometers, manometers, switches, ampules, etc. can be managed as universal waste by handlers. LDR requirements do not apply to these materials until they are received at destination facilities.

Can empty drums headed for disposal be managed as debris under §268.45?

No. “[I]ntact containers are never considered to be debris, and thus would never be subject to treatment standards for debris. Intact containers are either empty or nonempty. If empty they are not subject to regulation, as provided by §261.7(a)(1). If nonempty, the hazardous waste within the container is subject to the land disposal prohibitions (as well as the rest of Subtitle C regulations).” [August 18, 1992; 57 FR 37225]

Are intact tanks considered to meet the definition of “debris”?

No. Intact tanks do not meet the definition of debris. If a tank is not intact, it may meet the definition of debris if it is ruptured and will not retain at least 75% of its original volume. [August 18, 1992; 57 FR 37225, RO 14402]

Is debris (e.g., tanks and piping) from removing old petroleum-contaminated underground storage tanks subject to any LDR standards?

Section 261.4(b)(10) exempts such debris from regulation as a hazardous waste as long as the debris is only hazardous for D018–D043 constituents. If the debris were hazardous for some other constituent (e.g., lead), it would not qualify for this exemption and would be subject to LDR standards. [Note, however, that in most cases, the metallic components of underground storage tanks are recycled and are exempt from the LDR standards under the scrap metal exemption in §261.6(a)(3)(ii).]

A ruptured drum retains a considerable quantity of hazardous waste. Can it still be treated by the debris standards?

EPA intended for the debris standards to apply in cases where the debris and the waste are inseparable. Therefore, wastes in a ruptured drum can be left in the drum and the entire matrix treated as debris only if the wastes are not readily separable from the drum. [RO 14241]

The definition of “debris” in §268.2(g) concludes with the following sentence: “A mixture of debris that has not been treated to the standards provided by §268.45 and other material is subject to regulation as debris if the mixture is comprised primarily of debris, by volume, based on visual inspection.” How does EPA define the term “primarily”?

EPA has not specifically defined the term “primarily.” However, in guidance, the agency has provided the following two examples: 1) if a mixture is comprised of three components (debris, soil, and sludge), the mixture would be classified as debris if the volume of debris is greater than soil and greater than the volume of sludge; 2) if a mixture is comprised of two components (e.g., debris and soil), the mixture would be classified as debris if the debris component exceeds 50% by volume of the mixture based on visual inspection. [RO 13705] EPA noted in RO 14685 that, if intact containers are mixed with true debris [i.e., with material that meets the §268.2(g) definition of debris] and the mixture is hazardous, the intact containers would have to be removed and managed separately as nondebris hazardous waste. The agency also recommends that mercury-contaminated piping or broken gauges be removed from debris and managed under the nondebris treatment standards for D009 hazardous waste.

Three options for managing hazardous debris

Debris can be hazardous if it 1) exhibits a characteristic (e.g., toxicity), or 2) contains a listed hazardous waste. [§268.2(h)]

Generators or TSD facilities have three options for managing hazardous debris:

  1. They can manage the debris according to the treatment standards of §268.40 for whatever waste codes apply to the debris. This is generally a very poor option because not only are the §268.40 standards relatively stringent, but most of them are concentration-based. This means that debris treated to these standards would have to be sampled and analyzed. Sampling and analysis of nonhomogeneous materials can be very difficult. Also, if this option is chosen, listed debris that is treated remains a listed waste under the derived-from rule.
  2. If the debris contains very low levels of contaminants, a no-longer-contains determination can be requested from the regulators. This is codified in §261.3(f)(2) of the regulations.
  3. The debris can be managed under the alternative treatment standards of §268.45, which were specifically crafted for dealing with this difficult class of wastes. This option is almost always the best approach for dealing with contaminated debris and is discussed in the next subsection.

Interpreting the alternative treatment standards table for debris

If the alternative treatment standards for debris are chosen, numerous treatment options are provided in Table 1 of §268.45. For our discussion, consider the piece of concrete slab illustrated in Figure 1. The slab, which had previously been contaminated by spills of F001 spent solvent, has been demolished and will be disposed. Since the slab itself is F001 listed debris under the contained-in policy, it must meet LDR standards prior to disposal. Because the alternative debris standards of §268.45 are almost always the best option, we consult Table 1 in that section of the regulations for treatment options.

Figure 1

Table 1 is divided into three main categories: A) extraction technologies, B) destruction technologies, and C) immobilization technologies. Our first step is to think of an easy and inexpensive way to clean a demolished piece of concrete slab, and then check to see if that method is given in Table 1. Water washing seems like an easy treatment method, and it appears as technology A.2.a: “Water Washing and Spraying: Application of water sprays or water baths of sufficient temperature, pressure, residence time, agitation, surfactants, acids, bases, and detergents to remove hazardous contaminants from debris surfaces and surface pores or to remove contaminated debris surface layers.”

Before we can use this technology, however, we must check the right-hand column of Table 1 to see if water washing can be used where F001–F005 spent solvents are involved. This column has a restriction for concrete: “Contaminant must be soluble to at least 5% by weight in water solution or 5% by weight in emulsion….” In order to comply with this restriction, we will have to add a surfactant or some other type of cleaning agent to the water that is capable of solubilizing the solvent constituents.

Finally, we must check the performance standards of the center column to determine how well water washing must work. This column also has a standard for concrete: “Debris must be no more than 1.2 cm (0.5 inch) in one dimension….” Clearly, we don’t want to have to comply with this standard because it would require crushing the concrete slab to 0.5-inch particles prior to washing.

With these concepts in mind, we browse through the other technologies of Table 1 and decide that “Scarification, Grinding, and Planing” can be done relatively easily while meeting both the contaminant restrictions (none) and the performance standard (removal of at least 0.6 cm of the surface layer, and treatment to a clean debris surface).

When the piece of slab is treated using this extraction technology, if we meet the treatment standard in the center column, the slab is rendered nonhazardous (refer to Figure 1). We can then haul it to a Subtitle D landfill for disposal. [§268.45(c)] The other residue from treatment (grinding dust) carries the F001 code and must meet the appropriate treatment standard in §268.40 before land disposal.

Note that if we started with a type of debris for which we choose an immobilization technology in Table 1, the treated debris would still be a hazardous waste and could only be disposed in a Subtitle C unit. [§268.45(c)]

EPA notes that the treatment technologies listed in Table 1 that are most applicable to mercury-containing debris are macroencapsulation and microencapsulation, although retorting can also be effective. The technology options in Table 1 do not distinguish between debris containing high and low levels of mercury, as the §268.40 standards do for nondebris mercury wastes. [RO 14685]

Use of the alternative standards for treating toxicity characteristic debris and listed debris are illustrated in Case Studies 1 and 2, respectively.

Case Study 1 Case Study 2

Constituents subject to treatment

If debris exhibits the toxicity characteristic (i.e., it carries waste codes D004–D043), the constituents subject to treatment are those that create the characteristic. [§268.45(b)(1)]

If debris is contaminated with listed wastes, the contaminants subject to treatment are those identified in the §268.40 table of treatment standards for the associated listed waste code. For example, if concrete is contaminated with F006 waste, the contaminants subject to treatment are cadmium, chromium, cyanides, lead, nickel, and silver.

Is debris treatment subject to permitting?

One of the most difficult aspects of dealing with contaminated debris under the LDR program is dealing with the “treatment requires a permit” issue. When hazardous debris is treated, including treatment by the alternative methods of §268.45, a permit is required, unless one of the permitting exemptions applies.

An intact building will be decontaminated before it is demolished. The building or demolition residue of the building would meet the definition of “debris.” If contaminants are removed from a building prior to demolition, is this considered to be hazardous waste treatment requiring a permit?

No. EPA considers the actual removal of the contaminants to be the point of waste generation. An intact, standing building continues to perform the essential function of a building and is not considered to be “discarded” until it is actually destroyed. [RO 11841] “[M]aterials that might at some later time become debris, such as equipment or building structures, but that are still in use are not subject to the treatment standards. Such in-use material is not a solid waste because it has not been discarded or intended for discard, as these terms are used….” [August 18, 1992; 57 FR 37222]

Although we haven’t seen any guidance on this topic, our experience is that regulators will usually allow building components, that have been treated (before demolition) to meet the §268.45 alternative debris treatment standards, to be considered nonhazardous once the building components are demolished and become “debris.” This would be a self-implementing no-longer-contains determination.

A September 2004 report issued by EPA addresses construction and demolition (C&D) debris wastes. The publication, entitled RCRA in Focus: Construction, Demolition, and Renovation, EPA/530/K-04/005, is available from The publication is intended to provide a basic understanding of the regulatory requirements for hazardous C&D waste. Helpful features include information on managing typical hazardous C&D wastes and a hazardous waste requirements checklist for C&D projects.

Containment buildings

EPA’s strategy for dealing with contaminated debris involves “containment buildings” as defined in Parts 264/265, Subpart DD. These are essentially enclosed buildings where debris can be treated. The buildings are designed and constructed to prevent releases of fugitive dust emissions and, when used to manage liquids, typically have an impermeable floor, a collection system to remove liquids from this primary barrier, and an underlying secondary containment system with leak detection/liquid collection systems.

In our experience, these units are somewhat uncommon; however, we do find them at facilities that are managing large quantities of hazardous debris (e.g., government facilities and large manufacturing sites that frequently shut down and decommission equipment/processes).

Containment buildings can be put into operation at the three types of RCRA facilities (generator sites, interim status facilities, and permitted facilities) using different approaches, as discussed below. [RO 13609]

Generator sites

Under the 90/180-day accumulation provisions in §262.17(a)(4)/§262.16(b)(5), generators may accumulate/treat hazardous debris in containment buildings that are in compliance with the Part 265, Subpart DD standards. A certification by a qualified professional engineer that the building meets design standards must be placed in the facilities records prior to operating the unit.

Interim status facilities

Interim status facilities may add new or additional treatment or storage capacity (such as containment buildings) using the provisions of §270.72(a)(2–3). The facility must submit a revised Part A permit application and a justification explaining the need for the change, which must be approved by the authorized agency before starting construction.

Permitted facilities

If a permitted facility is merely converting an enclosed hazardous waste pile into a containment building, a Class 2 permit modification is required. [§270.42, Appendix I, Item I-6] Construction to implement Class 2 changes can generally start within 60 days after submitting the modification request. [§270.42(b)(8)] If the agency does not respond within 90 days (or 120 days if it requests an extension), the facility is automatically authorized to operate the containment building for 180 days if it complies with Part 265, Subpart DD standards. If the agency still hasn’t responded after this automatic authorization expires, the facility is authorized to operate for the life of the permit. [§270.42(b)(6)(iii–v)]

If a permitted facility already has a containment building and wants to increase its capacity by up to 25%, it may also use the Class 2 permit modification process to do so. [§270.42, Appendix I, Item M-1-b]

Class 3 permit modifications are required at facilities with no existing containment building capacity. [§270.42, Appendix I, Item M-1-a] Class 3 permit modifications require formal agency approval and no deadline is imposed on the agency for taking action. Temporary authorizations for 180 days (with a 180-day extension) are also provided under §270.42(e).

Miscellaneous debris issues

The following questions and answers explore some details of the LDR debris program that have caused concern.

Table 1 in §268.45 identifies microencapsulation as an immobilization technology. The performance standard specifies: “Leachability of the hazardous contaminants must be reduced.” Is a specific test required for demonstrating reduced leachability?

No. The regulations do not require that a particular method be used. One way to demonstrate reduced leachability would be to “determine the potential leachability of the toxicants before and after treatment by the TCLP test. If the leachability of the toxicants has been reduced, you have met the performance standards.” [RO 13575] Information on specific factors that should be considered when evaluating microencapsulation for treatment and disposal of mercury-contaminated hazardous debris is contained in RO 14685. Note that free liquids (including mercury) are prohibited under RCRA from land disposal in microencapsulated debris. [August 18, 1992; 57 FR 37235, RO 14685, 14711]

Is it permissible for either a TSD facility or a generator to shred hazardous debris prior to macroencapsulation?

There is no prohibition against shredding debris prior to macroencapsulation. However, EPA guidance states that material with a particle size less than 60 mm is amendable to conventional treatment methods rather than the alternative methods for debris. [August 18, 1992; 57 FR 37235] Furthermore, §268.45, Table 1, Footnote 5 also applies to macroencapsulation and states that if the particle size is reduced so that the material no longer meets the 60-mm minimum size limit for debris, then the most stringent §268.40 treatment standard applies. [RO 14241]

Personal protective equipment (PPE) has come in contact with a listed commercial chemical product or manufacturing chemical intermediate (i.e., a P- or U-chemical). Does EPA recognize an exemption for discarded PPE contaminated with de minimis losses of these chemicals?

No. The PPE would typically be considered debris contaminated with a listed chemical under the contained-in policy. It must be managed as hazardous waste until it no longer contains the listed waste. This could be accomplished by treating the PPE using one of the alternative technologies described in Table 1 of §268.45 (such as washing). [RO 14095]

Refractory brick in a hazardous waste incinerator has come in contact with numerous listed wastes and, when disposed, carries the associated listed waste codes via the contained-in policy. How should the brick be handled to comply with the LDR standards?

First, check the facility’s closure plan to determine if it specifies how the brick must be handled. If the closure plan is silent, you have four options: 1) treat the brick to meet the §268.40 standards for each waste code, 2) use one of the alternative debris treatment standards in §268.45, 3) obtain a no-longer-contains determination from EPA or the state, or 4) request a treatment variance per §268.44. [RO 14515]

Macroencapsulation (MACRO) shows up in two places: 1) as a specified method in §268.40 for D008 radioactive lead solids, and 2) as an alternative treatment standard (i.e., one of the immobilization technologies) for hazardous debris in Table 1 of §268.45. When comparing the definition of MACRO in Table 1 of §268.42 with that in Table 1 of §268.45, one significant difference is apparent: the use of tanks or containers is not allowed for D008 radioactive lead solids. Can tanks or containers be used to macroencapsulate hazardous debris?

Yes. A commercial waste management firm asked EPA’s approval of a process described as follows: “A jacket of inert inorganic material is placed around the hazardous debris as the encapsulating agent in a high-density polyethylene vault. The lid of the vault is secured and the unit is disposed in a Subtitle C (hazardous waste) landfill.”

EPA’s response was: “It is EPA’s determination that your treatment process meets the definition of macroencapsulation for hazardous debris, subject to an evaluation that the tank or container is structurally sound and resistant to degradation, in order to substantially reduce exposure to potential leaching media. As you allude to in your letter, merely placing hazardous debris in a tank or container, except under special circumstances where the container is made of noncorroding materials (e.g., stainless steel), would not fulfill the macroencapsulation treatment standard…. [EPA] is clarifying that for the treatment of hazardous debris, the definition of macroencapsulation in §268.45 should be used, and for the treatment of D008 radioactive lead solids, the definition in §268.42 should be used.” [RO 13762; see also RO 13655]

Methods for ensuring that the encapsulating material completely encapsulates the debris for compliance with the §268.45, Table 1 performance standard are specific to the technology used. For example, “leak-tightness or pressure testing of high-density polyethylene pipes or containers has been approved for testing of treated debris. Visual inspection may be appropriate for verifying that sprayed-on or applied coatings have complete integrity, without cracks, voids, or protruding waste to ensure that the hazardous debris is completely encapsulated.” [RO 14685] This memo also provides information on specific factors that should be considered when evaluating macroencapsulation for treatment and disposal of mercury-contaminated debris.


Topic: Spent Solvents

©2018 McCoy and Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.


Considerable care has been exercised in preparing this document; however, McCoy and Associates, Inc. makes no representation, warranty, or guarantee in connection with the publication of this information. McCoy and Associates, Inc. expressly disclaims any liability or responsibility for loss or damage resulting from its use or for the violation of any federal, state, or municipal law or regulation with which this information may conflict. McCoy and Associates, Inc. does not undertake any duty to ensure the continued accuracy of this information.

This document addresses issues of a general nature related to the federal RCRA regulations. Persons evaluating specific circumstances dealing with the RCRA regulations should review state and local laws and regulations, which may be more stringent than federal requirements. In addition, the assistance of a qualified professional should be enlisted to address any site-specific circumstances.