Overview of Hazardous Waste Regulation at Federally-owned Medical Facilities
Federally-owned medical facilities are subject to Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste requirements in the same manner and to the same extent as privately-owned medical facilities. RCRA requires generators and transporters of hazardous waste to appropriately manage their waste to prevent harm to human health and the environment.
Specifically, the federal RCRA regulations include requirements for the identification, storage, documentation, and treatment of hazardous waste, as well as training requirements for employees and facility staff who handle hazardous waste.
EPA and State Roles in Hazardous Waste Regulation
EPA has delegated the RCRA program to most states, which means that those states have the primary responsibility of implementing the hazardous waste regulations. EPA works closely with these states to inspect federal facilities, including federally-owned medical facilities, and take enforcement action where appropriate. Importantly, where the state has an authorized RCRA program, federally-owned medical facilities must comply with these state hazardous waste requirements, some of which may be more stringent than the federal requirements.
Commonly Found Violations at Federally-Owned Medical Facilities
Based on the results of years of on-site inspections, EPA has identified the following areas that experience consistent and persistent noncompliance:
- Hazardous Waste Determination/Characterization. Facilities frequently fail to make proper hazardous waste determinations at the time hazardous waste is generated.
- Generator Status. Commonly, generators of hazardous waste fail to obtain EPA Identification Numbers, generate hazardous waste under incorrect generator classifications, and fail to notify regulators of changes in generator status.
- Use and Management of Containers. In both central and satellite accumulation areas, facilities fail to appropriately label/date drums, fail to close containers, and store hazardous waste for greater than permitted times and volumes.
- Records. Facilities often fail to conduct weekly inspections, implement training programs, and maintain contingency plans.
- Hazardous Waste Manifests. Facilities frequently fail to complete manifests for shipments of hazardous waste, fail to receive completed manifests with TSD signatures, and fail to retain signed copies of manifests.
- Universal Waste. Based on EPA observations at compliance evaluation inspections, facilities often lack a system to manage universal waste, fail to demonstrate accumulation times, and fail to label and close containers.
- Waste Treatment. Facilities frequently abandon hazardous waste in place (e.g., under lab hoods) and fail to utilize evaporation, heat treatment, or drain disposal as viable treatment options.
- Storage of incompatible materials. Facilities commonly fail to separate incompatible hazardous wastes, or to provide a form of protection between the incompatible hazardous wastes, such as a dike, berm or wall.
- Special chemicals hazards. Facilities fail to manage special medical facility chemicals appropriately, such as picric acid, sodium azide, ethylene oxide, and chemotherapy drugs.
Efforts to Address RCRA Non-Compliance at Federally-Owned Medical Facilities
EPA works closely with its state partners to regularly inspect medical federal facilities across the country. When EPA finds RCRA violations at these facilities, the agency has utilized its full range of enforcement and compliance tools to address cases of consistent and persistent non-compliance.
Formal enforcement actions illustrate one way EPA addresses RCRA non-compliance at federally-owned medical facilities, particularly for violations that impact human health and the environment. For example, in recent years, EPA took formal enforcement actions, issuing penalties and requiring complying actions for federally-owned hospitals in many states (e.g., Nebraska, Florida, Missouri, Arkansas, New Mexico, and Texas) for RCRA violations. These violations included failure to make hazardous waste determinations/identifications, improper labelling and dating, and open containers, as well as recordkeeping, training, and reporting violations.
EPA works collaboratively with states and federal agencies across the country to prevent non-compliance and address common concerns in the federal medical community. EPA has traveled to medical facilities and conferences to engage directly with facility personnel on RCRA compliance concerns. Additionally, EPA frequently hosts trainings for the federal community, which highlight compliance issues impacting federal facilities, provide tools for returning to compliance, and discuss EPA initiatives, priorities, and regulatory updates likely to impact federal facilities. These trainings present opportunities for EPA, the states, and federal facilities to discuss and address specific compliance issues.
Compliance Assistance Opportunities
FedCenter has a host of regulatory information helpful to the federal medical community. For instance, FedCenter's Facility Regulatory Tour contains information about RCRA and other regulatory requirements applicable to federal medical facilities. To explore the FedCenter Regulatory Tour on medical facilities, click here: https://www.fedcenter.gov/assistance/facilitytour/medical.
To help federally owned medical facilities improve their compliance with the RCRA requirements, EPA is hosting a compliance assistance webinar focusing on the most common RCRA hazardous waste violations found at federally-owned and operated medical facilities.
The goal of the webinar is to help federal agencies that own or operate medical facilities or hospitals better understand their responsibilities under RCRA. In addition to providing information on these common issues, EPA will also provide insights from a regulator's perspective, and allow participants to ask questions of EPA inspectors.
EPA will host the webinar on October 23, 2018 from 2-3:30pm EST. This training is open to federal facilities and states. Federal facility contractors may also participate if they have sponsorship from their federal agency. To register for the webinar, please click here: https://www.fedcenter.gov/training/rcra_noncompliance/rcra_webinar_application.