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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, 2023 Edition.

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Treatment Standards for Characteristic Wastes

The key to understanding the treatment standards for characteristic wastes (or any waste for that matter) is knowing how to interpret the treatment standards table in §268.40. All hazardous wastes are subject to the treatment standards given in this table; however, alternative treatment standards are available for the following three classes of wastes:

  1. Hazardous soil may be treated by the alternative standards of §268.49,
  2. Hazardous debris may be treated by the alternative standards of §268.45, and
  3. Lab packs may be treated by the alternative standards of §268.42(c).

Before examining the treatment standards, some additional terminology is helpful in understanding the LDR regulations. When the agency uses the term “restricted” wastes, it is referring to hazardous wastes that are subject to the LDR program; all hazardous wastes currently fit into this category. When it uses the term “prohibited” wastes, it is referring to hazardous wastes having treatment standards that are in effect. The treatment standards for all hazardous wastes are currently in effect. Therefore, no distinction currently exists between “restricted” and “prohibited” wastes; every hazardous waste is both restricted and prohibited.

When EPA identifies new hazardous wastes via new listings, the wastes are typically subject to LDR treatment standards; hence, they are “restricted.” However, the effective date of the treatment standards for some forms of the waste (e.g., radioactive variants) may be delayed. Under these circumstances, the radioactive variants would be “restricted” but not “prohibited.”

Understanding the table of treatment standards

Figure 1 shows the start of the table of treatment standards as given in §268.40. Points of interest in this table are described below.

Figure 1

➊ This column contains the waste codes. You must know the waste code(s) for your waste to use this table.

➋ This column either specifies the characteristic or presents the listing description associated with the waste code. It also identifies any subcategories of the waste. Note that two subcategories are identified for D001 wastes: high-TOC liquids (the second entry) and all other ignitables (the first entry). Be very careful to select the right subcategory for your wastes when using this column. As you can see from the two right-hand columns, the treatment standards for the two D001 subcategories are different. Complying with the wrong treatment standard can involve significant enforcement penalties.

➌ If a concentration-based treatment standard is established for the waste, this column will identify the constituents subject to treatment and will also give their Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) number. For example, D001 wastes are regulated due to their flash point, not because they contain any specific chemical; therefore, no chemicals are identified in column ➌. On the other hand, D004 wastes are hazardous because they contain arsenic, which is identified along with its CAS number in column ➌.

➍ If the waste being handled is a wastewater, the applicable treatment standard will appear in this column. Footnote 3 at the head of this column essentially says that when the agency tests wastewaters to determine if they meet concentration-based treatment standards, they will collect and test a composite sample (rather than a grab sample) of the wastewater. Any concentrations given in this column are based on an analysis of the total concentration of a constituent in the waste (not an analysis of the leachable concentration of the constituent). If the treatment standard is a specified method (as evidenced by a five-letter code such as CMBST), Footnote 4 directs you to definitions of these specified methods in Table 1 of §268.42.

➎ If the waste being handled is a nonwastewater, the applicable treatment standard will appear in this column. Footnote 5 at the head of this column essentially says that when the agency tests nonwastewaters to determine if they meet concentration-based treatment standards, they will collect and test a grab sample (rather than a composite sample) of the nonwastewater. Where concentration values are given in this column (refer to the standard for D004), they may be based on two different analytical methods. If the standard says “mg/L TCLP,” the concentration is measured in a leachate from the waste obtained using the TCLP. If the standard does not say “mg/L TCLP,” the treatment standard refers to the total concentration of the constituent in the waste, not the leachable concentration. Concentration standards for organics will almost always be total concentration (mg/kg), but concentrations for metals will always be mg/L TCLP. Again, if the treatment standard is a specified method (as evidenced by a five-letter code such as CMBST), Footnote 4 directs you to definitions of these specified methods in Table 1 of §268.42.

➏ Footnote 9, which appears on every characteristic waste code except radioactive high-level waste variants, has major implications for wastes that are to be disposed of by underground injection. In essence, this footnote says that if a waste is decharacterized, it may be disposed of in a Class I underground injection well regulated under the SDWA without having to comply with the LDR treatment standards. The basis for this footnote is §268.1(c)(3), which reads:

“(3) Wastes that are hazardous only because they exhibit a hazardous characteristic, and which are otherwise prohibited under this part, or part 148 of this chapter, are not prohibited if the wastes:

“(i) Are disposed into a nonhazardous or hazardous injection well as defined under 40 CFR 146.6(a) [we believe the correct citation is §146.5(a)]; and

“(ii) Do not exhibit any characteristic of hazardous waste identified in 40 CFR Part 261, Subpart C at the point of injection.”

The statutory basis for Footnote 9 (as well as Footnote 8) is the Land Disposal Program Flexibility Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-119).

Although not specifically stated in the regulations, a characteristic may be removed by dilution through aggregation of different waste streams prior to underground injection. [April 8, 1996; 61 FR 15661, RO 14547]

➐ Footnote 8, which appears with the treatment standards for most characteristic wastes, is perhaps the most important footnote in the table of treatment standards. It is based on §268.1(c)(4), which reads:

“(4) Wastes that are hazardous only because they exhibit a hazardous characteristic, and which are otherwise prohibited under this part, are not prohibited if the wastes meet any of the following criteria, unless the wastes are subject to a specified method of treatment other than DEACT in §268.40, or are D003 reactive cyanide:

“(i) The wastes are managed in a treatment system which subsequently discharges to waters of the U.S. pursuant to a permit issued under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act [i.e., NPDES-permitted discharges]; or

“(ii) The wastes are treated for purposes of the pretreatment requirements of Section 307 of the Clean Water Act [i.e., discharges to POTWs]; or

“(iii) The wastes are managed in a zero discharge system engaged in Clean Water Act-equivalent treatment as defined in §268.37(a); and

“(iv) The wastes no longer exhibit a prohibited characteristic at the point of land disposal (i.e., placement in a surface impoundment).”

In other words, when most characteristic hazardous wastes are treated in one of the systems identified in §268.1(c)(4) cited above, they only have to be decharacterized before they enter a land disposal unit (i.e., a surface impoundment). Under these conditions, the treatment standards of §268.40 do not apply. [RO 14547] This “exemption” does not apply to any of the following wastes:

  • D001—High-TOC ignitables,
  • Any of the characteristic radioactive high-level waste variants,
  • D003—Reactive cyanides,
  • D006—Cadmium-containing batteries,
  • D006—Radioactive cadmium-containing batteries,
  • D008—Lead-acid batteries,
  • D008—Radioactive lead solids,
  • D009—High-mercury organics,
  • D009—High-mercury inorganics,
  • D009—Elemental mercury contaminated with radioactive materials,
  • D009—Hydraulic oil contaminated with mercury radioactive materials,
  • D009—Radioactive mercury-containing batteries,
  • D011—Radioactive silver-containing batteries, or
  • D012–D017—Pesticide wastewaters.

Zero-discharge systems described in §268.1(c)(4)(iii) are termed “CWA-equivalent systems” and are defined in §268.37(a) as follows:

“CWA-equivalent treatment means biological treatment for organics, alkaline chlorination or ferrous sulfate precipitation for cyanide, precipitation/sedimentation for metals, reduction of hexavalent chromium, or other treatment technology that can be demonstrated to perform equally or greater than these technologies.”

➑ This is an example of a treatment standard that is a specified method (RORGS, CMBST, or POLYM). Definitions for each of these methods can be found in §268.42, Table 1. The specified method must be used before the waste may be land disposed.

➒ This is an example of a concentration-based treatment standard (5.0 mg/L TCLP). A waste may be treated by any method (except impermissible dilution) to achieve this standard.

➓ The language “and meet §268.48 standards” in this table is EPA’s shorthand method of saying the waste must be treated for any UHCs that might be present in the waste.

Figure 2 summarizes how the §268.40 table of treatment standards should be used and interpreted. The information that follows provides an explanation of how the LDR treatment standards apply to specific characteristic wastes. Useful examples are also presented.

Figure 2

D001 ignitable wastes

In the table of treatment standards, D001 wastes are divided into two subcategories: high-TOC ignitable liquids (the second entry in the table), and all other ignitable wastes. The high-TOC subcategory applies to ignitable liquid wastes containing greater than or equal to 10% TOC; hence, all wastes in this subcategory are nonwastewaters. When these wastes or residues from treating these wastes are destined for land disposal, they must be: 1) treated to recover the organics (RORGS), 2) combusted (CMBST), or 3) polymerized (POLYM).

Table 1 of §268.42 requires that high-TOC ignitables managed per RORGS be recycled in a recovery unit of some kind, such as in a distillation or liquid-liquid extraction column. If CMBST is chosen, the ignitable waste would have to be burned in a RCRA-permitted or interim status incinerator or BIF. If the waste is a monomer that originates in the plastics industry, POLYM can be used to form high-molecular weight solids that may be disposed of. Regardless of whether RORGS, CMBST, or POLYM is chosen, UHCs would not have to be identified or treated. [§268.9(a)]

All D001 wastes other than high-TOC ignitable liquids have a treatment standard of deactivate (DEACT) and meet §268.48 standards, or RORGS, or CMBST. The RORGS and CMBST treatment standards would be the same as discussed above for high-TOC D001 wastes. The DEACT and meet §268.48 standards option requires that the D001 waste be treated without dilution to render it nonignitable, and all UHCs must additionally be treated to meet UTS standards in §268.48.

Footnote 9 applies to both subcategories of D001, while Footnote 8 applies only to the low-TOC ignitables.

Today we are a little uneasy with this 1990 answer because it predates the principle established in 1993 [58 FR 29872] that wastes that exhibit a characteristic at the point of generation remain subject to the land disposal restrictions even if they are subsequently decharacterized. (As discussed previously, this principle does not apply to most characteristic wastes when they are managed in CWA treatment systems or injected into Class I SDWA wells.)

The only way we can rationalize EPA’s 1990 answer as still being valid is if a case can be made that the filtration/decantation step is actually a well designed, well operated part of a “recovery of organics” treatment method.

A determination as to whether a thermal treatment technology will meet the definition of CMBST will have to be made on a case-by-case basis. One way to initiate such a determination is to submit an application for approval of an alternative treatment method as described in §268.42(b).

D002 corrosive wastes

The treatment standard for D002 wastewaters and nonwastewaters is “DEACT and meet §268.48 treatment standards8.” Both Footnotes 8 and 9 apply to these wastes in the §268.40 table of treatment standards; hence, these wastes only have to be rendered nonhazardous when treated in a CWA/CWA-equivalent system with a land disposal unit or when disposed of in a Class I injection well. Much of the discussion in the previous section dealing with D001 wastes also applies to D002 wastes.

Note that corrosive radioactive high-level wastes generated during the processing of fuel rods have a specified method of vitrification (HLVIT).

D003 reactive wastes

Reactive wastes are divided into a number of subcategories. Only reactive cyanides have a concentration-based treatment standard; all other reactive wastes have a treatment standard of DEACT, some with a requirement to treat UHCs, some without. Footnote 9 allows all D003 wastes to simply be deactivated prior to injection in a Class I well, while Footnote 8 allows explosives, water reactives, and other reactives to simply be decharacterized in CWA/CWA-equivalent systems (i.e., UHCs do not have to be treated under these circumstances). [April 8, 1996; 61 FR 15661]

TC wastes (heavy metals, pesticides, and organics)

For the most part, the treatment standards for the D004–D043 toxicity characteristic (TC) wastes are very similar to those discussed previously for D001–D003:

  • Footnote 9 allows all D004–D043 wastes to simply be deactivated (without treatment for UHCs) prior to injection in a Class I well [April 8, 1996; 61 FR 15661];
  • Footnote 8 allows wastes with concentration-based treatment standards to simply be decharacterized in CWA/CWA-equivalent systems (i.e., UHCs do not have to be treated under these circumstances); and
  • Certain wastes have specified treatment methods, including D004–D011 radioactive high-level wastes, cadmium-containing batteries, lead-acid batteries, radioactive lead solids, high-mercury and radioactive-mercury wastes, and pesticide wastewaters.


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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.