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Frequent Questions for Final OECD Rule Revisions

Questions and Answers for Final Rule: Revisions to the Requirements for Transboundary Shipments of Waste between OECD Countries, the Requirements for Export Shipments of Spent Lead Acid Batteries, the Requirements on Submitting Exception Reports for Export Shipments of Hazardous Waste, and the Requirements for Imports of Hazardous Waste ("OECD-SLAB Rule")

What revisions does this final rule cover?

EPA is revising its regulations regarding the transboundary shipment (i.e., international shipment) of hazardous waste. Specifically, this rule is amending:

  1. The existing RCRA regulation regarding the transboundary movement of hazardous waste for recovery among countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
  2. The RCRA regulations for spent lead-acid batteries (SLABs) by requiring notification and consent for the export of SLABs to ensure that the batteries are managed in an environmentally sound manner.
  3. The EPA address for submission of exception reports for export shipments of hazardous waste (now the Office of Federal Activities, rather than the Administrator).
  4. The requirements for US hazardous waste management facilities to require that a copy of the relevant import consent documentation be submitted by the US receiving facility to EPA along with the RCRA hazardous waste manifest within thirty days of import shipment delivery.

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How are these new rules protecting human health and the environment?

The revision to the OECD regulations for transboundary movements of hazardous waste for recovery between OECD Member countries increases the level of regulatory oversight and should ensure the recovery of these wastes in an environmentally sound manner. The revision to the spent lead-acid battery (SLAB) regulations provides stricter controls and greater transparency for exports of SLABs, and should ensure that SLABs are sent to countries and reclamation facilities in those countries that can manage the SLABs in an environmentally sound manner. The revisions to the import-related requirements for US hazardous waste management facilities and to the export exception report address should ensure better oversight of returned export shipments and import shipments [into the US] of hazardous waste.

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What is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)?

The OECD is an international organization established in 1960 to assist Member countries in achieving sustainable economic growth, employment, and an increased standard of living, while simultaneously ensuring the protection of human health and the environment. OECD Member countries concern themselves with a host of international socio-economic and political issues, including environmental issues such as the transboundary movement of waste, which is the subject of the final rule. Presently, there are 30 OECD Member countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The OECD Web site Exit EPA contains the most current list of OECD Member countries and updates.

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How does the OECD control the shipment of hazardous waste between Member countries?

On March 30, 1992, the OECD passed a decision that applies to transboundary movements of waste destined for recovery operations between OECD Member countries ("Decision of the Council C(92)39/Final Concerning the Control of Transfrontier Movements of Waste Destined for Recovery"). The 1992 Decision provides a framework for OECD Member countries to control transboundary movement of recoverable waste in an environmentally sound manner. For more information on subsequent Council decisions on the shipment of waste please visit the OECD Control System for waste recovery Exit EPA.

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Why is the United States required to comply with OECD Council Decisions?

OECD Council Decisions are international agreements that create binding commitments on the United States under the terms of the OECD Convention. By consenting to the Amended 2001 Decision, the United States Government has agreed to promulgate regulations necessary to ensure that the United States can implement the agreement.

EPA must implement the Amended 2001 Decision without material deviations, as modifications would defeat the goal of achieving an internationally consistent regime to control the import and export of hazardous and other waste destined for recovery. EPA believes that universal implementation of the Amended 2001 Decision within the United States and other OECD Members is crucial to ensuring that the import and export of waste destined for recovery proceed in accordance with an internationally integrated regime. The OECD system provides for intergovernmental cooperation and robust notification, tracking, and reporting of waste shipments to ensure environmentally sound management of these materials.

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How is EPA revising the existing regulations to implement the latest OECD decision?

This rule is amending EPA's OECD rule to reflect the procedural and substantive amendments in the Amended 2001 Decision. The changes, largely in 40 CFR part 262, subpart H, include: (1) reducing the number of control levels from three (Green, Amber and Red) to two (Green and Amber) and updating references to reflect the revised OECD waste lists; (2) exempting qualifying shipments sent for laboratory analyses from certain paperwork requirements; (3) requiring recovery facilities to submit a certificate of recovery to all interested parties no later than thirty (30) days after recovery has been completed and no later than one (1) calendar year following the receipt of waste by the recovery facility; (4) adding provisions to ensure that wastes that are subject to the Amber control procedures are returned to the country of export within 90 days from the time the country of import or transit first informs the country of export, unless an alternative timeframe is allowed; and (5) adding new procedures for hazardous wastes that are managed at US accumulation and transfer facilities receiving imported hazardous wastes to better track and document that the subsequent recovery by a separate recycling facility is completed in an environmentally sound manner. This rule also seeks to clarify certain existing OECD regulatory provisions that have been identified as potentially ambiguous to the regulated community. For more details on the Amended 2001 Decision please visit Decision of the Council C(2001)107/Final Concerning the Control of Transboundary Movements of Wastes Destined for Recovery Operations, as Amended by C(2004)20 (PDF) (42 pp, 326K, about PDF) Exit EPA.

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What are spent lead-acid batteries (SLABs) and why are they hazardous?

Lead-acid batteries are secondary, wet cell batteries, meaning they can be recharged for many uses and they contain liquid. They are the most widely used rechargeable battery in the world. Lead-acid batteries are mainly used as starting, lighting, and ignition power batteries found in automobiles and other vehicles. Lead-acid batteries are typically composed of an outside plastic casing and six inner cells containing lead strips and positive and negative lead terminals. Each cell is made up of two lead frameworks, the positive plate being lead dioxide and the negative plate being spongy lead (a metallic lead in a high-surface-area porous structure). Each cell is filled with sulfuric acid as the electrolyte. When the battery is in use, the spongy lead, sulphuric acid, and lead dioxide react. Through this reaction, an electrical current is produced. Both electrodes are converted to lead sulfate, a process which is reversed during recharge. A rechargeable lead-acid battery is spent if it no longer performs effectively and cannot be recharged. Battery failure is most commonly attributed to water loss and grid corrosion during normal use.

SLABs are considered both solid and hazardous waste under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) because they can be classified as spent materials being reclaimed and they exhibit the toxicity characteristic for lead, and the corrosivity characteristic for the sulfuric acid electrolyte in the battery.

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How are spent lead-acid batteries (SLABs) currently managed and how will this final rule change these practices?

Currently, SLABs are either recycled or disposed. Battery Council International (BCI) reported a 99.2 percent domestic SLAB recycle rate for the years 1999 - 2003. SLABs are one of the most recycled consumer products. When a spent battery is collected, it is sent to a recycler where the lead, plastic and battery acids can be reclaimed and sent to a new battery manufacturer.

Although most domestic SLABs are recycled in the US, some are exported to Canada, Mexico, and other countries. EPA is amending the RCRA regulations for SLABs specified in 40 CFR part 266 subpart G by requiring notification and consent for the export of SLABs to provide greater assurance that SLABs are sent to countries and reclamation facilities in those countries that can manage the SLABs in an environmentally sound manner. The notification and consent requirements are intended to: (1) reduce potential risk to human health and the environment, including potential risk from the transboundary movement of pollution from other countries to the US, and (2) harmonize the notice and consent procedures with international practices under the OECD's Amended 2001 Decision and with RCRA universal waste regulations for the export of SLABs, resulting in a more uniform practice for notification and consent for SLABs. Establishing a more uniform practice will facilitate opportunities for cooperation between the United States and its partner trading countries on compliance monitoring and enforcement in transboundary movements of hazardous waste.

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What international agreements apply to the export of spent lead-acid batteries (SLABs)?

There are two major international agreements that expressly address the export of SLABs: (1) the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and Their Disposal (Basel Convention); and (2) the OECD's Amended 2001 Decision. The final amendments harmonize EPA export requirements for SLABs with both of these international agreements.

The Basel Convention is a multilateral international agreement governing transboundary movements of hazardous waste. Among other things, the Basel Convention includes a requirement for notice and written consent for transboundary movements of hazardous waste between trading countries. SLABs are covered under the Basel Convention as a hazardous waste and are thus subject to the notice and consent requirements of the Basel Convention. 172 countries are party to the Basel Convention. The United States is a signatory to the Convention, but has not yet ratified it.

The OECD regulates the transboundary movements of hazardous waste destined for recycling within the 30 OECD Member countries. The OECD identifies SLABs, whether whole or crushed, as subject to the Amber (e.g., hazardous waste) control procedures.

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How is EPA revising the requirements for submitting exception reports under subparts E and H?

EPA is replacing "EPA Administrator" with "the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Office of Federal Activities, International Compliance Assurance Division (2254A), Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20460" in both §262.55 and in §262.87(b).

This establishes a uniform address for all exception reports submitted to comply with the hazardous waste requirements and should ensure better oversight of (1) return shipments to the US and (2) compliance with the exception report requirements without any additional regulatory burden for US exporters.

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How will the final import revision change the documentation requirements for US importers and receiving facilities?

We are amending the hazardous waste import related requirements in §§ 264.71(a)(3) and 265.71(a)(3) to require US treatment, storage and disposal facilities (TSDFs) to submit to EPA a matched set of the EPA-provided import consent documentation and the RCRA hazardous waste manifest for each import shipment within thirty (30) days of delivery. Ultimately it was decided that this provided a more predictable and streamlined approach to tracking waste imports than working through the importers, as proposed.

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When do all these revisions go into effect?

All of the requirements in this final rule take effect in all States six months after the final rule is published in the Federal Register. For exporters of spent lead-acid batteries (SLABs) for reclamation, this means that export shipments of SLABs will be prohibited after the effective date unless the exporter has submitted a notification and obtained consent from EPA and the receiving country. SLAB exporters may submit such notifications to EPA before the effective date of the final rule, and EPA encourages the submission of these notifications as soon as possible to avoid potential delays to SLAB exports. While we normally suggest that notifications be received at EPA at least sixty days before the expected initial date of shipment, for the initial implementation of the SLAB rule we believe more time will likely be necessary as the various countries become familiar with the new US requirements and the flow of SLABs for recovery. The prospective country of import will need time to review the proposed shipments and transmit its decision (i.e., consent, objection) to EPA and the exporter. If there are a significant number of SLAB notices from US exporters, this could result in some processing delays.

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What will happen if companies do not comply with the requirements in this final after the effective date?

Failure to comply with the new requirements after the effective date would be a violation of federal law. Spent lead-acid battery (SLAB) recyclers and brokers who export SLABs directly or through exporters who have not completed the notification and consent process with US EPA may also be in violation of federal law.

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Why hasn't the US ratified the Basel Convention?

The US signed the Basel Convention in 1990 and the Senate gave its advice and consent to ratification in 1992, but before the President can ratify the treaty, implementing legislation is required. The US supports ratification of the Convention, but to date no implementing legislation has been enacted.

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What is the relationship between the OECD Multilateral Waste Agreement and the Basel Convention?

The Basel Convention is a multilateral international agreement governing all transboundary movements of hazardous waste for recovery or disposal. There are 172 countries that are parties to the Basel Convention, but the US is not a party. The OECD waste agreement is a multilateral international agreement governing the smaller subset of transboundary movements of hazardous waste between the 30 OECD Member countries for recovery only. This agreement qualifies as an Article 11 multilateral agreement under the Basel Convention and is considered to provide a level of environmentally sound management equivalent to that of the Basel Convention requirements. The US is a Member of the OECD.

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