October 10, 2022

Drum Reconditioner Damage Case Report

In September 2022, EPA published a damage case report on drum reconditioning facilities reviewing the growing number of violations at drum reconditioners in the United States. Drum reconditioning facilities clean and recondition metal and plastic drums for resale, reuse, or disposal, but incidents at these facilities are causing significant and lasting damage to human health and the environment.

The two main processes used for drum reconditioning are 1) burning metal drums in a burn-off oven or furnace and 2) washing metal and plastic drums with water or a caustic solution to remove residues and clean the container surfaces. Based on publicly available industry data, EPA estimates that of 181 drum reconditioning facilities, 106 are currently operating, and 75 are closed. EPA also estimates upwards of 40 million drums are processed each year. With this volume, the hazards of mismanagement can be far-reaching even if only a small fraction of these containers are insufficiently emptied or cleaned.

Per §261.7, if the empty-container provisions are met, hazardous waste residues remaining in a container are exempt from RCRA. However, because the containers would be “emptied” at a generator facility, an industry trade association has confirmed it is impossible to ensure reconditioners only receive RCRA-empty containers. Since the reconditioning facilities manage such a high volume of containers, they are likely accepting many that are not RCRA-empty and possibly mismanaging millions of gallons of hazardous waste residues. Unfortunately for these facilities, there are also no provisions that allow drum reconditioners to store rejected non-empty hazardous waste containers. Unemptied containers combined with poor practices and procedures have resulted in many damage cases at these facilities.

EPA indicated that 86 of these 181 facilities have had one or more reported damage cases, many of which come directly from improper reconditioning processes. Some facilities have even faced million-dollar cleanups resulting from poor practices and procedures. The report highlights damages which include:

Some additional considerations arise when analyzing drum reconditioning. Facilities operating the combustion units that process empty steel containers are not required to obtain a hazardous waste incineration permit; the RCRA hazardous waste combustion standards don’t apply as long the containers meet the definition of RCRA-empty. CAA requirements may apply to the combustion units, but no federal emission standards currently apply to burn-off ovens. These combustion units may require a permit under CAA state implementation plan requirements.

Additionally, using certain solvents while rinsing containers can generate more hazardous waste. For example, using toluene to rinse a container previously holding an organic chemical could generate F005 waste. If the container wasn’t RCRA-empty to begin with, then applying the mixture and derived-from rules may result in even more waste codes for the newly generated waste.


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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.