August 15, 2022

Open Burning and Open Detonation Permitting Guidance

Open burning/open detonation (OB/OD) is a thermal treatment process for “waste explosives,” including any “waste which has the potential to detonate and bulk military propellants which cannot safely be disposed of through other modes of treatment.” [§265.382] Waste explosives are characteristic for reactivity (D003) under §261.23(a)(6-8). OB/OD units must have a RCRA permit to treat D003 wastes and are regulated under Part 264 Subpart X. New guidance discusses implementation of these regulations and provides recommendations to agencies issuing and overseeing OB/OD permits.[RO 14946]

The permitting standards for Subpart X were finalized in 1987. The preamble to the 1987 rule states that applicable thermal treatment standards in Part 265 Subpart P will be incorporated during the issuance of Subpart X permits. Thus, EPA has interpreted Subpart X to include the §265.382 standards. EPA states that Subpart X permits should only be issued for OB/OD units treating “waste explosives,” and the permits will incorporate a prohibition on OB/OD except for waste explosives that “cannot safely be disposed of through other modes of treatment.” In other words, OB/OD units operate under an exception to the prohibition on open burning.

EPA emphasizes that permit issuance must consider all recent information on available alternative technologies to replace OB/OD and provides additional guidance on satisfying this requirement. In addition, EPA states that permitted facilities must periodically redemonstrate that wastes being treated via OB/OD are still eligible for the exception to the prohibition on open burning. If safer alternatives are discovered, these facilities must use those alternative technologies instead.

The agency pointed out two reports describing many alternative technologies now available to safely treat explosive waste instead of using OB/OD. One was published by EPA; the other was published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. EPA recommends permitting authorities carefully evaluate the two 2019 reports before issuing permits for OB/OD units and when re-evaluating current OB/OD permits.

RO 14946 goes into much more detail on the requirements for permitting OB/OD units, providing additional clarity on how to apply and implement the permitting requirements.


©2022-2023 McCoy and Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.

McCoy and Associates has provided in-depth information to assist environmental professionals with complex compliance issues since 1982. Our seminars and publications are widely trusted by environmental professionals for their consistent quality, clarity, and comprehensiveness.



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.