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EPA Response to BP Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Waste Management on the Gulf Coastline

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Waste Management Plans

The Coast Guard, in consultation with EPA and the states, has approved waste management plans outlining how recovered oil and waste generated as a result of the BP oil spill will be managed. The plans are available here for public review.

The plans take into consideration:

  • review of applicable federal, state, and local regulations
  • planning for waste characterization; and,
  • BP’s proposed locations for waste management activities in order to consider the suitability of specific sites and the impacts on the surrounding communities.

Given the unprecedented aspects of the BP oil spill, these plans may be updated as necessary to minimize any unforeseen environmental and human health impacts. EPA will post any updates to the plan.

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Coast Guard and EPA Directive on Waste Management

The U.S. Coast Guard, in consultation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, issued a Directive to BP on how the company should manage recovered oil, contaminated materials and liquid and solid wastes recovered in cleanup operations from the BP oil spill. The Directive, signed on June 29, 2010, is meant to complement the state’s activities by providing further oversight and imposing more specific requirements. The U.S. Coast Guard, along with EPA, and in consultation with the states, will hold BP accountable for the implementation of the approved waste management plans and ensure that the Directive are followed in the Gulf Coast states.

The Directive creates enforceable requirements, implementation procedures and oversight plans related to BP’s handling of waste materials. Specifically, the Directive will do the following:

  • Provides guidelines for community engagement activities and sets transparency requirements on information regarding the proper management of liquid and solid wastes.
  • Requires BP to give EPA and state agencies access to facilities or any location where waste is temporarily or permanently stored. Access includes allowing the agencies to perform any activities necessary, such as assessments, sampling or inspections.
  • Requires BP to comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations and to ensure that all facilities where waste is located or placed have obtained all permits and approvals necessary under such laws and regulations.
  • Finally, the Directive requires BP to submit to EPA and the Coast Guard specific plans, waste reports and tracking systems for liquid and solid waste.
On August 19, 2010, BP submitted to the U.S Coast Guard and EPA the final four specific plans required by the Recovered Oil, Contaminated Materials and Liquid and Solid Waste Management Directive issued to BP by the USCG on June 29, 2010. These plans include:

These plans were reviewed by EPA and the States impacted by the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf. They identify enforceable requirements, implementation procedures and oversight plans related to BP’s handling of waste materials. EPA and the States will continue to monitor BP’s waste management activities to ensure compliance with these plans in accordance with the waste management directive issued to BP.

The Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) is designed to guide sampling and characterization activities of waste for proper disposal purposes. This document summarizes the methods that shall be used by BP for the sampling and analysis of liquid and solid waste samples in support of BP Cleanup.

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EPA Waste Site Visit Plan and Results

EPA is visiting each staging/decontamination area and landfill that is receiving oil-contaminated waste from the Gulf oil spill cleanup. EPA will visit each staging and decontamination area once per week. EPA will visit each landfill two times per month. Any concerns identified during site visits will be referred to the appropriate state waste agency.

EPA Waste Staging Area Assessments June 28 ‐ October 4, 2010
(updated files posted October 6, 2010) EPA Landfill Assessments July 21 through September 29, 2010
(updated files posted October 6, 2010) EPA performed initial assessments on the sites that BP proposed to use for its waste management plan in response to the oil spill. These assessments were done before the final waste management plans and procedures were completed, so you'll notice that they are not formatted in the way the official site visit reports are formatted. (files posted November 30, 2010)

Map of decontamination sites, landfills, and staging areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida (note: this map is 1200 pixels wide, so you may need to scroll across the screen to see the entire map)

Handling wastes from the BP spill (3:08)

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Waste Sampling Strategy and Results

EPA is collecting and analyzing samples of oily wastes that are temporarily stored at waste staging areas prior to recycling or final disposal of the waste materials. EPA is collecting representative samples of solid wastes, liquid wastes that are sent to underground injection and/or non-reclaimable liquids that are sent for processing. The waste sampling will be conducted two times per month. See results of the analysis.

If the waste stream samples collected and analyzed by EPA from BP waste staging areas fail any of the three tests listed below (for toxicity, liquidity, or flammability) EPA will advise the U.S. Coast Guard, as Federal On Scene Coordinator for the Gulf oil spill response, that they direct BP to dispose of the waste in a facility appropriately designed and permitted to manage hazardous waste. EPA is conducting its own independent sampling and analysis strategy at BP waste staging areas to verify that waste is properly characterized and appropriately managed. This is being done in concert with the Waste Management Directives issued by the U.S. Coast Guard in consultation with EPA on June 29th, 2010. During EPA's collection and analysis of samples of oily liquid wastes, an exceedance of the Toxicity Characteristic (TCLP) for benzene was noted on July 28, 2010 at a waste staging area in Venice, Louisiana.

EPA will use these three tests (see below for a description of these tests) to analyze the solid and liquid waste samples. EPA will use the Toxicity Characteristics Leaching Procedure (TCLP) for volatiles, semi-volatiles and metals. In addition, the Paint Filter Liquids Test will also be used to analyze the solid waste and the ignitability test will be used on the liquid wastes.

TCLP: The Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP; EPA Method 1311) is a regulatory test used to determine whether a waste may be RCRA hazardous because it exhibits the Toxicity Characteristic (TC). The TC regulation is intended to identify waste that when landfilled may leach hazardous constituents at a concentration that could contaminate a nearby drinking water well. The TCLP test is designed to simulate the leaching of constituents from landfilled wastes. A waste that produces leachate containing contamination at or above any of the values in Table 1 (PDF) (1pg, 17K) when tested using the TCLP would be considered hazardous waste.

Paint Filter Test: The Paint Filter Liquids Test (EPA Method 9095B) is a simple physical test that determines whether a waste contains free liquids, and is used to implement regulations that prohibit the disposal of free liquids in landfills. In the test, a sample of the waste is placed in a commercially available paper and mesh paint filter that is supported in a glass funnel, and placed over a collection container. If any liquid collects in the container over the 5 minute test period, the waste is considered to contain free liquids. Any waste that contains free liquids would need to undergo solid/liquid separation before the solid and liquid portions are separately disposed.

Ignitability Testing: The ignitability hazard of liquid wastes is evaluated using a test called a Flash Point Test, which identifies wastes that can release ignitable vapor. In this test, a sample of the waste is placed in an enclosed cup test device, which is heated in a controlled manner to drive off vapor from the test material. A flame is periodically introduced into the air space above the liquid. The temperature at which the sample releases enough ignitable vapor to flash, or ignite, is called the flash point. Materials with lower flash points (that is, release ignitable vapors at lower temperatures) are more easily ignitable (and so more hazardous) than materials with higher flash points. Liquid wastes with flash points less than 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) are considered hazardous wastes.

Waste Visit Locations and Reports:

EPA Waste Sampling Data

Download liquid and solid waste sampling data.

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Oil Sampling

The sampling results of the oily debris, tar balls, mousse and other petroleum waste products collected in Gulf coast waters have been moved to the Coastal Water Sampling page.

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Simple Steps You Can Take to Protect Yourself from Contaminated Waste

  • Pay attention to local authorities and avoid areas affected by the oil spill. The oil could cause health problems, including skin and eye irritation or breathing problems.
  • Keep your pets from entering oil-contaminated areas.
  • If you get contaminated water on your skin, wash it off immediately with soap and water or a hand cleanser meant to remove oils and grease.
  • If you accidentally drink some oil-contaminated seawater and symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or dizziness occur, seek medical attention.

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