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New England Universities Laboratories

New England University Labs Proposal
Table 2: Examples of RCRA Challenges in Laboratories

Satellite Accumulation 40 CFR 262.34(c)(1) - Environmental, Health and Safety Technicians must respond quickly when they are notified by laboratories of full containers that require removal within the three day limit. Under the existing satellite accumulation requirements, additional accumulation cannot occur until these containers are removed, or the laboratory itself becomes subject to full regulation as an accumulation area. Due to space and experimental apparatus limitations in laboratories, researchers typically use small containers to accumulate waste. Because of the short time frame for removal from satellite accumulation areas, large institutions with hundreds or thousands of laboratories spend a considerable percentage of their time reacting to requests for removal, rather than productively focusing efforts on planning, waste minimization and support.

Satellite accumulation 40 CFR 262.34(c)(1) - Under the current regulations, satellite accumulation areas are set up in each laboratory because a suite of laboratories is not currently allowed to "share" one area in a designated laboratory room. Such sharing is not allowed since these shared areas would not meet the "under the control, at or near the point of generation" section of the satellite accumulation regulations. As a result, more small pockets of waste are dispersed through the campus resulting in increased hazard and risk. At the same time, many of the same unused reagents, solutions and chemicals are stored in central locations for the use by multiple laboratories.

Compliance Resources - The University of Vermont employs 5.5 FTE technical professionals in the Environmental, Health and Safety Department who deal with laboratory safety. While laboratory worker safety, including training, should represent the priority issue, 3.25 of these professionals deal only with RCRA compliance, while two people are responsible for occupational health issues associated with the more than 1,000 laboratory workers.

Closed Containers 40 CFR 265.173(a)- Some types of laboratory equipment (e.g., DNA synthesizers, HPLC units) require small (several liter) bottles to collect small discharges of solvent hazardous wastes. The bottles are often linked to the equipment with a small plastic tube which leads from the equipment to the opening of the bottle. The material discharges from the equipment to the bottle on a non-routine basis over time. Typically, laboratory personnel leave the bottle with the tube in-place at all times. Under current regulations, RCRA inspectors may regard this bottle as an open container since at times waste is not being added or removed and the tube in the opening would not be considered "securely" closed.

Labeling 40 CFR 262.34(a)(3) - RCRA inspections have cited institutions for failing to meet the hazardous waste labeling requirements as applied to test tubes, vials or small (<100ml) containers containing hazardous wastes in laboratories, despite the fact that there is insufficient room on the container to satisfy the labeling requirement.

When is a Waste a Waste 40 CFR 262.11 - A researcher's experiment results in a hazardous waste. The researcher may wish for prudent safety considerations to have the hazardous substance off-gas for a period of several days to allow for the slow release of carbon dioxide gas. Under strict RCRA requirements, the container should be kept closed and the material declared a waste. However, following the strict RCRA requirement could potentially result in a ruptured container and a release into the environment of a hazardous waste.

Manifesting 40 CRF 262.20 (a-e) - Some universities that do not strictly meet the contiguous property definition of "on-site" are required to manifest laboratory hazardous wastes when shipped across the campus from a laboratory building to a storage area at a different non-contiguous location. Institutions are thus faced with an extensive paperwork burden or, as most currently do, must operate multiple accumulation areas in different locations in buildings throughout the campus.

Convincing Faculty to Comply with Counterintuitive Regulations - One significant aspect of the trouble with RCRA is trying to convince faculty (who are responsible for making sure laboratories are safe and clean) that the regulations make sense. For example, if a 5% nitric acid reagent is mixed with a soil sample, filtered and then sent through an instrument and into a waste bottle are the hazards and risks for the nitric acid different as a raw material (regulated by OSHA) as compared to a waste regulated under RCRA. Knowledgeable researches cannot identify a substantive difference, although the regulatory requirements may significantly diverge. This creates a damaging "credibility gap".

Credibility with Researchers/Treatment - Informing a researcher that after completing a series of multi-step, complex chemical manipulation experiments in multiple laboratories that the wastes cannot then be aggregated for simple, precipitation treatment in a common container likewise exaggerates the credibility gap.

RCRA Does Not Cover All Wastes - Ethidium Bromide (Et Br is widely employed for rapid visualization of nucleic acids in electrophoretic gels. EtBr is also a potent mutagen and has been termed "moderately toxic." It is not, strictly speaking, a RCRA hazardous waste. Nevertheless, laboratories typically handle it as such and either decontaminate the gels in the experimental process or manage it as a hazardous waste. The generation and management of "hazardous" wastes that either don't fall under RCRA or that TSDFs are not licensed to accept (e.g., P or U waste, unused TCDD) is not uncommon.

Definitions 40 CFR 260.10 - RCRA terms which have clear meaning in the industrial setting, such as "generator", "process" and "operator" are not clear as applied to laboratories.

Training 40 CFR 262.34/265.16 - Inspectors may apply RCRA training requirements to laboratory workers who, under the current regulatory model, may be considered to generate the waste at satellite accumulation areas. Such workers do not manifest or lab pack the wastes. Rather, they are responsible solely for placing the appropriate labels on the waste. Laboratory workers already receive training regarding the proper handling of hazardous chemicals and the hazards associated with the chemicals that they use in the laboratory either under the OSHA Laboratory Standard (1910.1450) or the Hazard Communication Standard (1910.1200). Training of these workers in the full set of RCRA procedures is duplicative and enormously costly at large institutions. Moreover, the focus of spending limited training time on regulatory compliance minimizes the opportunity to focus training on waste minimization and hazard reduction.

Small Scale Treatment - Established methods have been developed for the treatment of laboratory process byproducts (e.g., Armour/Browne/Weir, Prudent Practices). However, treatment of laboratory process byproducts does not occur, in many instances because of: (a) confusion and controversy surrounding regulatory interpretations of what is and is not allowed; (b) Part B or state equivalent permit requirements are based on an industrial model (e.g., known volumes of waste streams, consistent wastestreams, etc.; (c) permit by rule provisions are often confusing and do not adequately take into account the non-routine types of activities of laboratories at academic institutions; and (d) Treatment, Storage and Disposal permits are prohibitively expensive.

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