EPA Proposes RCRA Conditional Exclusions for Certain Solvent-Contaminated Industrial Wipes

Date: Jan 13, 2004

  1. Background

    Under a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal, many industrial wipes would be excluded from the full range of hazardous waste regulations when sent off for cleaning and subsequent reuse or for ultimate disposal if the user complies with certain conditions, and providing certain solvents are used. "Industrial wipes" affected by this proposal are defined as "non-woven industrial wipes made of wood pulp or polyester blends; industrial shop towels, a woven textile made of cotton or polyester blends; and industrial rags, non-homogenous materials consisting of cotton or polyester blends" generally "used for a variety of purposes, including removing small quantities of solvents from machinery parts, hands, tools, and the floor." 68 Fed. Reg. 65586, 65618 (Nov. 20, 2003). If facilities do not comply with EPA's proposed handling conditions and do not use approved solvents, then the wipes would be managed according to applicable federal and state hazardous waste management rules, hence the term "conditional" exclusion is used to describe the proposed handling changes.

    Comments on the proposal are due February 18, 2004.

  2. Highlights

    The proposed rule would eliminate the onerous Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) container, marking and labeling requirements as well as manifesting requirements for the disposal of certain solvent-contaminated industrial wipes. Significantly, this proposal could serve as the impetus for states to deregulate these wipes, and lower the burden on industry for their management. Currently, states largely treat disposable wipes as hazardous wastes, and regulate wipes sent for cleaning as non-hazardous waste (with a few exceptions).

    Specifically, the proposed rule addresses industrial wipes "when they contain an F-listed spent solvent (F001-F005), a corresponding P- or U-listed commercial chemical product, or when they exhibit the hazardous characteristic of ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity or toxicity when that characteristic results from the F-listed spent solvent or corresponding P- or U-listed commercial chemical products." 68 Fed. Reg. at 65619. EPA is proposing to exclude these wipes from the definition of solid waste when they are sent to an industrial laundry or a dry cleaner for cleaning, or to an industrial wipes handling facility, provided they comply with certain accumulation, container and transport requirements.

    EPA also is proposing to exclude industrial wipes from the definition of hazardous waste when they are sent for disposal, provided the generator complies with certain additional requirements.

  3. Requirements for the Conditional Exclusion

    1. Universal Requirements

      Under EPA's proposal, whether a facility sent industrial wipes off for cleaning or for disposal, it would be required to comply with the following management requirements. The facility would be required to accumulate and store solvent-contaminated wipes on site in non-leaking, covered containers. In the preamble to the proposed rule, EPA indicates that appropriate containers could range from a spring-operated safety container to a covered 55-gallon drum. 68 Fed. Reg. at 65595. The facility would need to handle any solvent extracted from the wipes in accordance with applicable disposal rules if the solvent is hazardous waste. Finally, if the wipes are transported off-site, they must be transported in containers specifically designed, constructed, and managed to minimize solvent loss to the environment. EPA indicates that the use of containers such as plastic bags or cloth bags that were cinched shut may be used to meet this condition. 68 Fed. Reg. at 65596.

    2. Requirements for Wipes Sent for Cleaning

      Facilities that send wipes for cleaning must ensure that the wipes contain "no free liquids" when transported off-site. Under the proposed rule, the "no free liquids" standard would mean "that no liquid solvent may drip from industrial wipes, and that there is no liquid solvent in the container holding the wipes." 68 Fed. Reg. at 65618. Wipes that have been subjected to solvent extraction are presumed to contain no free liquids. Id.

      Notwithstanding a generator facility's obligation to meet the "no free liquids" standard for the shipping container, the receiving facility must ensure that free liquids which accumulate in the containers during transport are removed and managed in accordance with the RCRA hazardous waste regulations. 68 Fed. Reg. at 65619. In the alternative, the receiving facility would have the option of returning the closed container with the industrial wipes and free liquid to the generator as soon as reasonably practicable, but no later than the next scheduled delivery.

      Wipes sent to industrial wipes handling facilities for cleaning or disposal would also need to meet these requirements.

    3. Requirements for Wipes Sent for Disposal

      Under the proposal, facilities opting to dispose of their industrial wipes could do so at a municipal waste combustor, other combustion facility, or a municipal waste or other non-hazardous waste landfill that meets the standards under 40 C.F.R. Part 257, Subpart B, the federal standards for landfills that receive Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generator waste. Facilities transporting wipes to a combustion facility for disposal would need to meet the same requirements as specified for transfers to cleaning facilities, including the "no free liquids" requirement. In addition, the wipes also must be in containers labeled "Exempt Solvent-Contaminated Wipes."

      For facilities opting to dispose of their wipes in a non-hazardous waste landfill, EPA is proposing more stringent requirements. The wipes would be required to contain less than 5 grams of solvent or to have been treated by solvent extraction. 68 Fed. Reg. at 65619.

    4. Prohibited Solvents

      In addition, EPA is proposing to prohibit the disposal in non-hazardous waste landfills of wipes that contain the following eleven solvents: 2-nitropropane, nitrobenzene, methyl ethyl ketone, methylene chloride, pyridine, benzene, cresols (o,m,p), carbon tetrachloride, chlorobenzene, tetrachloroethylene, and trichloroethylene.

  4. EPA is Seeking Comments

    EPA is requesting comments on several aspects of the rule by no later than February 18, 2004. As proposed, one of the significant benefits for generators is that there would be no limit on the time to accumulate solvent-contaminated industrial wipes prior to transport for cleaning or disposal. EPA is asking whether it should impose a 90- or 180-day accumulation time limit.

    EPA is also requesting comment on the range of solvents used in association with rags permitted to be disposed of in a municipal landfill. As part of the background proposal, EPA conducted a risk assessment on the solvents represented in the RCRA F001-F005 waste categories. The Agency's initial determination was to exclude the eleven solvents listed earlier, allowing rags containing residues of 19 solvents to be disposed of in a municipal or solid waste landfill including: ethyl ether, acetone, methanol, butanol, toluene, carbon disulfide, xylenes, cyclohexanone, 2-ethoxyethanol, ethyl benzene, isobutyl alcohol, ethyl acetate, trichlorofluoromethane, methyl isobutyl ketone, dichlorodifluromethane, 1,2-dichlorobenzene, 1,1,2-trichlorofluoroethane, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, 1,1,2-trichloroethane. The Agency is seeking comments on this initial determination, and on whether to increase or decrease the number of solvents allowed to be disposed of in a municipal landfill.

    EPA is also considering a "no free liquids when wrung" condition instead of a "no free liquids" condition for transport of the wipes for cleaning or incineration or to industrial wipes handling facilities. The alternative condition would require that each wipe could not drip solvent when hand wrung, which is considered to be a more stringent requirement.

    Finally, EPA is requesting comment on whether the wipes must be transported in containers that meet a performance-based standard (i.e., "designed, constructed, and managed" to minimize loss to the environment) or specify an impermeable closed container requirement. EPA has noted that the "designed, constructed, and managed" standard could be met by a variety of containers, including those that meet Department of Transportation (DOT) packaging requirements as well as plastic or cloth bags that were cinched shut. In contrast, a "closed container" specifically would require a container with a lid that screws on to the top and must be sealed to be considered "closed." 65 Fed. Reg. at 65597.