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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, 2019 Edition.

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Hazardous Remediation Waste Management Options

If remediation wastes are determined to be hazardous, there are numerous options available under the RCRA regulations for managing them. The primary RCRA remediation options are summarized in Table 1. The allowable waste management activities and other information are given for each of the eight management options discussed in the table, as well as the regulatory citations and guidance documents relied upon in producing the table.

Some of the management options identified in Table 1 may be implemented onsite, while others will be conducted offsite. A discussion of these on- and offsite remediation waste management options is given in the sections that follow.

Table 1

Onsite waste management options

If hazardous remediation wastes are generated, they may be managed onsite in the areas/units that are discussed in the following eight subsections.

Areas of contamination

The area of contamination (AOC) policy may be applied to any hazardous remediation waste (including nonmedia waste) that is in or on the land. Defined as “a discrete area of generally dispersed contamination,” an AOC is equated to a RCRA land-based unit. The AOC policy was developed in the context of the CERCLA program. [December 21, 1988; 53 FR 51444, March 8, 1990; 55 FR 8758] However, it also applies to RCRA corrective action sites, cleanups under state law, and voluntary cleanups. [RO 11954]

According to OSWER Directive 9347.3-05FS (available at https://nepis.epa.gov/EPA/html/pubs/pubtitleOther.html by downloading the document numbered OSWER9347305FS), an AOC is delineated by the areal extent (or boundary) of contiguous contamination. Such contamination must be continuous, but may contain varying types and concentrations of hazardous substances. One or more AOCs may be delineated at a site; examples include:

  • A waste source (e.g., waste pit, landfill, waste pile) and the surrounding contaminated soil.
  • A waste source, and the sediments in a stream contaminated by the source, where the contamination is continuous from the source to the sediments.
  • Several lagoons separated only by dikes, where the dikes are contaminated and the lagoons share a common liner.

EPA’s key concept associated with its AOC policy is this: consolidation and in situ treatment of hazardous waste within the AOC do not create a new point of hazardous waste generation for purposes of RCRA. [RO 14291] With that concept in mind, the following guidance summarizes the usefulness of the AOC policy during site remediation:

  • If little information concerning site contamination is available, or if no visual contamination exists, site managers may use their best professional judgment to delineate AOCs. [EPA/540/G-91/009, May 1991, available at https://nepis.epa.gov/EPA/html/Pubs/pubtitleOSWER.html]
  • Normally, excavation of contaminated soil is considered the point of generation; but under the AOC policy, consolidation is not considered to be removal from the land (i.e., generation). Thus, contaminated soil can be consolidated within the AOC and a hazardous waste determination can be made after such consolidation. [RO 14283, 14338]
  • Remediation wastes can be consolidated or treated in situ within an AOC without triggering land disposal restrictions (LDR) or minimum technology requirements (i.e., liner and leachate collection standards). [RO 14291]
  • Hazardous remediation waste that is moved outside the boundaries of the AOC is generated and RCRA requirements apply. Thus, in cases where a site owner/operator wants to consolidate remediation waste from separate, noncontiguous contaminated areas, the AOC concept cannot be used. [November 30, 1998; 63 FR 65920, RO 11954]
  • Soil-like investigation-derived waste (IDW) generated during a site investigation may be left in the AOC without generating hazardous waste. For example, soil cuttings from a soil boring could be deposited in a small area immediately adjacent to the borehole if the surface soil is similar to soil from the borehole. [EPA/540/G-91/009, cited previously] Nonsoil IDW wastes (e.g., disposable bailers, PPE, purge water) cannot be managed under the AOC policy. For example, if ground water is purged prior to taking a sample, the purge water should be containerized and managed as solid and potentially hazardous waste.
  • Soil may be managed within the AOC to facilitate sampling, for example, to ensure that soil samples are representative or to separate soil from nonsoil materials. [May 26, 1998; 63 FR 28619]
  • The AOC policy may be used when managing contaminated soil during construction activities (e.g., digging a trench to install a pipeline or electrical conduit). As long as the contaminated soil remains in the AOC (i.e., the contaminated soil is not moved to an uncontaminated area of the plant or shipped offsite) and is subsequently put back in the ground from which it was excavated, such operations do not produce a hazardous waste or subject it to hazardous waste regulation. Therefore, the contaminated soil would not have to be counted, the piles next to the excavation are not regulated waste piles, and the dirt is not subject to LDR standards. [RO 11671, EPA/530/K-05/011]

At the federal level, advance approval is not required for facilities to take advantage of the AOC policy. However, EPA encourages them to consult with the applicable state agency to ensure they implement the AOC concept appropriately. [RO 11954] A 42-page packet of EPA guidance on the AOC policy is available at https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-04/documents/02_01aoc.pdf.

Satellite accumulation units

Although SAAs are not included in our table of RCRA remediation options (Table 1), we see no reason why remediation wastes (such as contaminated PPE, purge water, waste samples) could not be put into a satellite accumulation container. Note that the satellite accumulation regulations did not envision facilities generating one-time wastes (such as soil borings) and essentially abandoning the wastes in an SAA. We are not aware of any specific EPA guidance on this issue; however, we suspect that some state agencies may not allow SAA containers to be used during remediation waste management.

The useful aspects of designating drums containing remediation wastes as satellite accumulation containers are that 1) there is no clock running, and 2) the drums are subject only to minimal labeling and RCRA container standards as noted in §262.15. If alternatively, the generator designates drums holding remediation wastes as 90/180/270-day accumulation containers, then there would be a clock running and these units would be subject to additional labeling and RCRA container standards as noted in the following section.

90/180/270-day units

The first nonearthen units listed in Table 1 that can be used for onsite management of hazardous remediation wastes after they are generated are 90-day units. Of course, small quantity generators may use 180/270-day units for this purpose. Typically, such 90/180/270-day units would be tanks or containers, and these units would be subject to all of the RCRA requirements when in remediation waste service just as they are when in process waste service. In addition to the summary given in Table 1, §§262.16–17 detail the regulatory requirements for these units when used for accumulation and treatment.

Examples of the use of 90/180/270-day units for managing hazardous remediation waste include:

  • Blending hazardous contaminated soil and/or coal tar wastes from manufactured gas plant sites with coal or other fuels to produce a burnable, nonhazardous fuel [RO 11675, 11739, 14024, 14338, 14344];
  • Accumulating F001 soil in roll-off boxes; and
  • Treating hazardous soil during site remediation. [RO 14112, 14291, 14471]

There is one exemption from RCRA requirements for 90-day tanks and containers used to manage remediation wastes. Onsite units used to manage remediation wastes are exempt from Subpart CC air emission standards. [§265.1080(b)(5)] Note that this exemption applies only to remediation wastes generated during RCRA corrective action or CERCLA cleanups or cleanups required under similar state or federal authorities. Remediation wastes from voluntary cleanups, with no state involvement or oversight, would not qualify. Also, as soon as the waste is moved offsite, the exemption no longer applies. [RCRA Subpart CC: Questions and Answers, March 2002, available at https://www.trainex.org/web_courses/subpart_x/EPA CD Content/TopicSearch.htm]

Temporary units

Temporary units are noted in Table 1 as tanks or containers that may be used to treat or store hazardous remediation wastes. A summary of the regulatory provisions applicable to these units is given in Table 1. These units are primarily used during corrective action at RCRA-permitted facilities.

Staging piles

A staging pile is an accumulation of solid, nonflowing remediation waste that is used only during remedial operations for temporary storage at a facility. [§260.10] As noted in Table 1, such piles may also be used to pretreat (e.g., mix, size, blend) hazardous remediation wastes. A summary of the regulatory provisions applicable to these units is given in Table 1. These units are primarily used during corrective action at RCRA-permitted facilities.

Corrective action management units (CAMUs)

A CAMU is an area at a facility used to manage remediation wastes during implementation of corrective action (a more exact definition is given in §270.2). Hazardous remediation wastes can be stored, treated, and even disposed in a CAMU. A summary of the regulatory provisions applicable to these units is given in Table 1. These units are primarily used during corrective action at RCRA-permitted facilities.

Remediation waste management sites

On November 30, 1998, EPA published a final rule referred to as the “hazardous waste identification rule for contaminated media,” often called the HWIR-media rule. [63 FR 65874] In that rule, EPA emphasized that, to stimulate cleanup, remediation waste management activities should be regulated differently from as-generated process waste management. One of the provisions of the HWIR-media rule was the establishment of a unit called a “remediation waste management site,” defined in §260.10 as:

“[A] facility where an owner or operator is or will be treating, storing or disposing of hazardous remediation wastes. A remediation waste management site is not a facility that is subject to corrective action under 40 CFR 264.101, but is subject to corrective action requirements if the site is located in such a facility.”

This concept allows the identification of an area at a facility that will be used solely to treat, store, and/or dispose hazardous remediation waste. To limit application of this new type of unit to cleanup activities, EPA defined “remediation waste” in §260.10 as:

“[A]ll solid and hazardous wastes, and all media (including ground water, surface water, soils, and sediments) and debris, that are managed for implementing cleanup.”

While temporary units, staging piles, and CAMUs (as discussed in the preceding sections) are primarily used during corrective action at a RCRA-permitted site, a remediation waste management site (RWMS) may be used to manage hazardous remediation wastes generated during a wide range of cleanups conducted under many different types of cleanup authorities—not just RCRA corrective action. For example, a RWMS could be used during a voluntary cleanup at a site with no RCRA Part B permit. [63 FR 65881–2]

There are three primary benefits to using a RWMS: 1) use of a simplified permit to establish the site, 2) exclusion from facility-wide corrective action, and 3) compliance with performance standards instead of the stringent Part 264 requirements. These three benefits and other provisions of the RWMS option are discussed below.

A streamlined RCRA permit, called a remedial action plan (RAP), is the enforceable document that EPA or a state can issue to authorize treatment, storage, or disposal of remediation waste at a RWMS. [§270.80(a)] Note that a RAP would not be required if the treatment and storage of hazardous remediation waste can be conducted in a 90/180/270-day accumulation unit and if no land disposal of hazardous remediation waste will occur at the site.

Neither a RAP nor a RWMS will trigger facility-wide corrective action at the facility. [§§260.10 (paragraph (3) of the “facility” definition), 264.1(j), 264.101(d)] EPA believes that applying the corrective action program to facilities not already subject to these requirements is a disincentive to voluntarily initiated cleanup actions. However, if the facility is already subject to the corrective action program because it has a conventional RCRA Part B permit or is operating under interim status, then corrective action requirements will apply to the entire facility, including the RWMS. A RWMS could be part of an operating (or closing) RCRA hazardous waste management facility that is already subject to the corrective action requirements; in those cases, identifying an area of the facility as a RWMS would not have any effect on the corrective action requirements for that site or the rest of the facility. [63 FR 65884] One final note on the applicability of corrective action—facilities that obtain a traditional RCRA Part B permit solely for the management of remediation waste are also not subject to corrective action. [§264.101(d), November 30, 1998; 63 FR 65883]

Performance standards for RWMSs are specified in §264.1(j) that replace the detailed requirements in Part 264, Subparts B, C, and D (general facility standards, preparedness and prevention, and contingency plans and emergency procedures, respectively).

To maximize flexibility, there is no limitation that remediation waste managed in a RWMS must originate from within the facility boundary. When EPA codified these provisions in the HWIR-media rule at §270.80(a), the agency said a RAP may be issued for a RWMS that will manage remediation wastes that originate from 1) onsite areas of contamination, 2) offsite areas “in close proximity to the [onsite] contaminated area,” or 3) remote offsite locations per §270.230. These three locations are discussed in more detail below.

  1. When used for onsite management of remediation waste, the RWMS can, but does not have to, be located near or in contaminated areas. For example, it might make more sense to locate the RWMS in another, noncontaminated area of the facility where utilities (e.g., electricity, steam, roadways, wastewater treatment plant) are available. Additionally, it may be more environmentally beneficial to locate the RWMS away from the area of contamination if the contaminated area is located in a potable well field, over a sole-source aquifer, or in a floodplain. [63 FR 65903]
  2. The “close proximity” language in §270.80(a) allows remediation wastes that originate from outside the facility fence line, but in close proximity to an onsite contaminated area, to be managed in the onsite RWMS. For example, wastes that have migrated beyond the facility boundary may be excavated and managed in the onsite RWMS. [63 FR 65881]
  3. Sometimes, it makes sense to locate the RWMS at an offsite location that is remote from the contaminated areas from which remediation wastes are generated. For example, it would likely be more cost-effective to establish a centralized RWMS to manage waste generated from the remediation of historical soil contamination at multiple remote pumping stations along a pipeline rather than to carry out remedial treatment at each station. Thus, the RCRA regulations allow designation (via a RAP) of a remote offsite location as a RWMS under §270.230. Keep in mind, however, that if owners/operators manage hazardous remediation waste during cleanup at their facility and ship that waste to an offsite RWMS, they must comply with all hazardous waste generator requirements, such as manifesting and transportation requirements. [63 FR 65904]

A RWMS may be used only to manage wastes generated because of cleanup; such a unit cannot be used to manage wastes generated from ongoing maintenance or manufacturing operations. [63 FR 65881] Both hazardous and nonhazardous solid wastes generated as a result of cleanup may be managed in a RWMS, including any wastes generated from treating remediation wastes (e.g., carbon canisters and sludges generated from ground water pump-and-treat or soil vapor extraction systems). [63 FR 65881]

RCRA-permitted units

Although generally used for the treatment, storage, and/or disposal of process wastes, RCRA-permitted units, such as a hazardous waste container storage area, tank, landfill, or even surface impoundment, can be used for the onsite management of hazardous remediation wastes. The requirements for obtaining a RCRA Part B permit for a unit that will manage hazardous remediation wastes are the same as those for permitting a process waste management unit. As noted in Table 1, these requirements are expensive, time-consuming, and trigger other RCRA provisions (e.g., the corrective action program).

There is one exemption from RCRA requirements for permitted tanks, containers, and surface impoundments used to manage remediation wastes. Onsite units used to manage remediation wastes are exempt from Subpart CC air emission standards. [§264.1080(b)(5)] Note that this exemption applies only to remediation wastes generated during RCRA corrective action or CERCLA cleanups or cleanups required under similar state or federal authorities. Remediation wastes from voluntary cleanups, with no state involvement or oversight, would not qualify. Also, as soon as the waste is moved offsite, the exemption no longer applies. [RCRA Subpart CC: Questions and Answers, cited previously]

Is soil consolidation considered dilution?

Sometimes, people ask if dilution is occurring if, during a site remediation, contaminated soil from various onsite locations is consolidated. The only guidance we have found that addresses this issue is as follows:

“If mixing occurs through the normal consolidation of contaminated soil from various portions of a site that typically occurs during the course of remedial activities or in the course of normal earthmoving and grading activities, then the agency does not consider this to be intentional mixing of soil with nonhazardous soil for the purposes of evading LDR treatment standards. Therefore, it is not viewed as a form of impermissible dilution….

“Some situations may require soil mixing, as part of a pretreatment process, to facilitate and ensure proper operation of the final treatment technology to meet the LDR treatment standards. If the mixing or other pretreatment is necessary to facilitate proper treatment in meeting the LDR standards, then dilution is permissible. For example, addition of less-contaminated soil may be needed to adjust the contaminated soil Btu value, water content, or other properties to facilitate treatment. These adjustments would be for meeting the energy or other technical requirements of the treatment unit to ensure its proper operation. The agency views this type of pretreatment step as allowable, provided the added reagents or other materials produce chemical or physical changes and do not 1) merely dilute the hazardous constituents into a larger volume of waste so as to lower the constituent concentration, or 2) release excessive amounts of hazardous constituents to the air.” [EPA/530/R-02/003; see also RO 14338]

Offsite waste management options

In addition to the onsite management options discussed above, hazardous remediation waste may be managed at offsite facilities, as discussed in the following three subsections.

Remediation wastes to Subtitle C TSD facility

The most likely option for the offsite management of hazardous remediation wastes is simply to send them to a commercial TSD facility. Such facilities are RCRA-permitted to accept and treat, store, and/or dispose hazardous wastes, including hazardous remediation wastes. If this option is chosen, the generating facility would manage the hazardous remediation wastes just like any other hazardous waste at its facility, and it would comply with all hazardous waste generator requirements, such as 90/180/270-day accumulation and manifesting requirements.

CAMU-eligible wastes to offsite Subtitle C landfill

A CAMU may be used to store, treat, and even dispose hazardous remediation waste during implementation of corrective action at a facility (see §264.552). However, the requirements (and accompanying expense) to get a CAMU designated, built, and in operation are significant.

Instead of complying with these stringent requirements, the same remediation wastes that are eligible for management in an onsite CAMU can alternatively be shipped to an offsite Subtitle C hazardous waste landfill. These “CAMU-eligible wastes” are defined in §264.552(a)(1), and the regulatory requirements associated with this alternative are specified in §264.555. One noteworthy provision in §264.555(a) allows CAMU-eligible wastes that meet certain conditions to be land disposed without meeting the land disposal treatment standards in Part 268.

Hazardous remediation waste is subject to the LDR program

Remediation waste will be subject to the LDR program only if 1) it is generated (i.e., excavated), 2) it is hazardous (i.e., it exhibits a characteristic or contains a listed waste), and 3) it will be placed in a land disposal unit. For example, if hazardous soil is excavated and will be disposed in an offsite landfill, it will be subject to the LDR program just like any other hazardous waste, unless the hazardous soil is managed under §264.555, discussed above. Note that EPA has developed less-stringent LDR treatment standards for hazardous soil; these standards are contained in §268.49.


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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.