September 12, 2012

Diesel Spill Frequently Asked Questions

Diesel fuel is widely used throughout industry. Being more efficient and safer to use than gasoline, diesel is regularly used to power forklifts, fleet vehicles, turbines, back-up generators, etc. Unfortunately, diesel spills happen despite the best planning, employee training, and facility operations. This month we address commonly asked questions regarding spills of diesel fuel.

  1. Do I need to clean up a spill of diesel?

If a facility decides not to clean up a spill, it has made the decision to “discard” the diesel. A discarded material is a solid waste, and a hazardous waste determination must be made per §262.11. If the facility does not “promptly” clean up the spill, it is considered a hazardous waste land disposal site subject to RCRA permitting requirements (assuming the diesel is ignitable and/or toxic). The term “promptly” has not been defined by EPA and must be judged by the persons responding to the spill on a case-by-case basis. [RO 12748]

  1. Where is the point of generation for diesel spills?

It appears from the preponderance of EPA guidance that the point of generation of a solid waste during a spill response is when the spill residue is cleaned up. [May 26, 1998; 63 FR 28617, RO 12748, 14283, 14291, 14588]

  1. If I can recover free product diesel, must I dispose of it or can I continue to use it for its intended purpose?

There is neither a RCRA regulation nor guidance that requires recovered product to be disposed. If the facility can still use the diesel for its intended purpose, it never becomes a solid waste and therefore avoids regulation as a hazardous waste. [RO 14650]

  1. Can I filter or recycle recovered diesel and use it for its intended purpose?

Yes. Commercial chemical products (e.g., diesel) and off-specification commercial chemical products (e.g., contaminated diesel) that are destined for reclamation are not solid waste and thus not hazardous waste. [April 11, 1985; 50 FR 14219, RO 11713, 11726, 13356, 13490] This comes from Table 1 in §261.2. The dash at the intersection of “Commercial chemical products” and “Reclamation” indicates that those materials recycled in that fashion are neither solid nor hazardous waste. Similarly, off-spec fuels are not solid waste if they are burned for energy recovery or reclaimed to produce on-spec fuels. [RO 11138, 11449, 11713, 11848, 12825, 14503]

  1. If I dispose of diesel fuel spill residue, will it be hazardous waste?

If a decision is made to dispose of the free product and/or spill cleanup residue, the material is a solid waste and the facility would need to ask three more questions: 1) Is it exempt? No, there are no exemptions for the disposal of diesel spill cleanup residues, unless the release is from an underground storage tank subject to the conditions in §261.4(b)(10). 2) Is it listed? There are no listed codes for diesel. 3) Is it characteristic? Maybe. The facility would have to evaluate the solid waste to determine if it exhibits any characteristic (e.g., ignitability and/or toxicity).


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