RCRA – Resource Conservation & Recovery Act

RCRA, RCRA vs CERCLA, hazardous waste acid spill, rcra 8 metals

RCRA Hazardous Waste Regulation


Ensuring public safety against the dangers of hazardous waste releases remains a primary focus for regulatory authorities globally. The enactment of laws such as the RCRA, that oversee the discharge of hazardous waste, constitutes a pivotal strategy in safeguarding both the environment and the general population. As the owner or operator of a facility, it is imperative to give priority to environmental preservation when managing hazardous waste, including the RCRA 8 metals. In the United States, the regulatory framework addressing this concern is encompassed within the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). HazChem can provide valuable guidance concerning compliance with these regulations. This legislation delineates precise classifications for various waste types, encompassing both hazardous and non-hazardous waste, thereby ensuring the protection of our environment. Also learn the differences between the RCRA vs CERCLA acts of legislation.


HazChem has over 30 years Experience in Waste Management


Navigating the extensive regulations surrounding compliant hazardous waste management can be a time-consuming and overwhelming endeavor. This is precisely why turning to HazChem Environmental is your best choice. We have the expertise and proficiency to ensure the proper disposal of your hazardous materials. The legal responsibility for the correct handling of hazardous materials rests with the company generating the waste. Inadequate disposal of such waste can have far-reaching detrimental repercussions, encompassing environmental harm and potential fines or other punitive measures imposed on your business.

We possess an in-depth understanding of the applicable laws and can guide you through every facet of compliant waste disposal, whether it’s hazardous or non-hazardous. This comprehensive approach covers the identification, storage, transportation, and environmentally sound disposal of your hazardous waste at approved treatment facilities. It’s crucial to note that the transportation of hazardous waste necessitates specific permits, licenses, and insurance. It’s imperative to ensure that the waste disposal company you engage is fully compliant in these aspects.  If you would like more information, check these resources: RCRA Online and EPA’s RCRA Regulations


Historical information on the RCRA:

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) holds jurisdiction over the disposal of hazardous waste. The origins of RCRA can be traced back to the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965, which primarily aimed to enhance solid waste disposal methods. Observing an escalation in municipal and solid waste concerns, this legislative foundation evolved into the comprehensive RCRA in 1976. This Act was established to manage challenges linked to municipal and solid waste, and it has since undergone amendments to address hazardous waste regulation more comprehensively. Notable amendments such as the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA) of 1984 introduced crucial elements like land disposal restrictions, corrective actions, and waste minimization. Subsequent amendments in 1986 further addressed issues concerning non-hazardous waste, underground petroleum storage tanks, and other hazardous materials. Additional modifications followed in 1992 and 1996 to strengthen enforcement and provide regulatory flexibility.


Key Objectives of RCRA:

RCRA delineates three primary objectives that form the cornerstone of its purpose:

    • Protection of Human and Environmental Health: Mitigating the adverse impacts of improper hazardous waste management and disposal on human health and the environment.
    • Resource Conservation: Promoting effective resource utilization through practices such as recycling, source reduction, and resource recovery methods.
    • Waste Generation Reduction: Aiming to curtail the generation of hazardous waste by fostering strategies that minimize the need for corrective actions.

Scope of RCRA Regulation:

RCRA exerts its authority over various facets of hazardous waste, encompassing its generation, transportation, storage, and disposal. The Act empowers the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to oversee the entire lifecycle of hazardous waste, from its inception to its final disposition. There are four categories of hazardous waste coded as F, K, P, and U.

Every waste listed on the four categories is inherently hazardous. However, some extend beyond the general hazardous classification. For instance, the entire P-list consists of acutely toxic wastes, and the U-list comprises toxic wastes. The F-List and K-List are associated with wastes originating from manufacturing processes conducted within a facility. On the other hand, the P-List and U-List typically include unused, expired, or spilled commercial chemicals.

Identifying the specific type of waste you’re generating is essential as it enables you to manage, dispose of, and treat it more effectively. Additionally, it aids in comprehending the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) stricter regulations concerning manifests and recordkeeping, particularly for certain listed wastes.  Generators of hazardous waste are categorized into 3 categories based on the quantity of the waste the generate. (Large, small, and tiny)


3 Principal programs of the RCRA:


This regulatory framework comprises three principal programs:

    • Hazardous Waste Management Program – RCRA Subtitle C: Establishes national standards governing hazardous waste management, encompassing criteria for waste generators, permitting, corrective actions, and cleanup procedures.
    • Solid Waste Management Program – RCRA Subtitle D: Defines national standards for solid waste management, including restrictions on open dumping, requirements for industrial waste landfills, financial assurance, and closure protocols.
    • Underground Storage Tank Program – RCRA Subtitle I: Monitors underground storage tanks to prevent leaks that could endanger groundwater, banning unprotected steel tanks and mandating preventive measures for existing underground tanks.


What Constitutes the RCRA 8 Metals?


The Resource Recovery and Conservation Act (RCRA) designates a set of eight heavy metals, collectively known as the RCRA 8, for monitoring and regulation. This designation stems from the fact that even minute concentrations of these eight metals can pose severe toxicity risks.  Consequently, stringent regulations govern the permissible levels of these metals in waste, which can encompass a wide range of items, from light bulbs to batteries. Thus, it is imperative to acquaint oneself with each metal and the allowable limits associated with them.

The RCRA 8 metals consist of:

  1. Arsenic (As)used in processing of glass, textiles, paper, ammunition and more.
  2. Barium (Ba) found in fluorescent light bulbs, floor tiles, and firework coloring
  3. Cadmium (Cd) byproduct of copper and zinc production
  4. Chromium (Cr) often used in electroplating
  5. Lead (Pb)  may be found in batteries, old paint, and ammunition
  6. Mercury (Hg) Examples: thermometers, batteries and some dental fillings
  7. Selenium (Se)usually found in soil, but electronic semiconductors as well.
  8. Silver (Ag)coins, dental fillings, mirrors, jewelry and silverware
Heavy Metal Hazardous Waste Code EPA Allowable Limits
Arsenic D004 5.0 ppm (mg/L)
Barium D005 100.0 ppm (mg/L)
Cadmium D006 1.0 ppm (mg/L)
Chromium D007 5.0 ppm (mg/L)
Lead D008 5.0 ppm (mg/L)
Mercury D009 0.2 ppm (mg/L)
Selenium D010 1.0 ppm (mg/L)
Silver D011 5.0 ppm (mg/L)

Enforcement of RCRA:

The enforcement of RCRA is orchestrated by the EPA in conjunction with state regulations. Striving for strict compliance, the Act employs rigorous monitoring procedures and delegates certain responsibilities to states and local authorities. Compliance monitoring encompasses facility inspections, record reviews, and appropriate enforcement measures when necessary. This multi-faceted approach aims to ensure adherence to the regulatory mandates of RCRA.


What is the Definition of Nonhazardous Waste under RCRA?

Waste categorized as nonhazardous poses no immediate risk to human health. Determining whether your waste falls under the nonhazardous classification involves a systematic process. According to RCRA guidelines, there exist distinct criteria and directives to ascertain the hazardous nature of waste. This entails thorough inquiry to establish if the waste meets the criteria for a ‘solid waste,’ verifying whether it is explicitly designated as hazardous waste, or confirming its exclusion from the RCRA regulations.


What Data is Gathered Through RCRA? How is RCRA Upheld?

Navigating the extensive scope of this far-reaching regulation can present challenges in comprehending the multitude of reports, permits, and forms essential for maintaining adherence. The implementation and enforcement of RCRA necessitate a diverse range of information. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates the collection of specific data under RCRA, encompassing details related to hazardous waste sites, the Biennial Report, permitting procedures, corrective actions, financial assurance measures, and the monitoring of shipments via the e-Manifest system. This section will provide a comprehensive breakdown of these facets within RCRA and offer practical insights to facilitate the completion of these obligations.


Identification of Hazardous Waste Sites:

Identifying hazardous waste sites involves meticulous site inspections adhering to predefined protocols. These protocols ascertain the site’s classification based on ownership. Five distinct ownership categories govern the enforcement of regulations and the prerequisites for permits. These categories encompass federal, state, tribal, local, and private ownerships. In cases where multiple ownerships are involved, the site is regulated under the jurisdiction of the highest ownership level. Each ownership category is associated with unique enforcement methodologies as outlined below:

    • Federal Sites: Compliance extends across an array of regulations, spanning state, interstate, and local solid hazardous waste requirements, along with stipulations for storage tank operations.
    • States: States possess the authority to execute and enforce RCRA programs, capitalizing on authorization to utilize violation-generated funds for environment-focused state initiatives.
    • Tribal Entities: Recognized as ‘municipalities’ by RCRA, tribes possess the capacity to formulate comprehensive schemes for solid and hazardous waste management within the bounds of tribal law.
    • Private Entities: Private citizens hold the right to initiate legal actions against federal agencies for permit or regulation violations. Additionally, reporting hazardous waste activities that endanger human health or the environment is within their purview.
Biennial Hazardous Waste Report:

Integral to RCRA enforcement, the Biennial Hazardous Waste Report is a critical obligation. Large Quantity generators engaging in on-site waste treatment, storage, or disposal are mandated to submit this report biennially. By adhering to this requirement, generators report their hazardous materials, thus ensuring compliance.

Permitting Framework:

RCRA enforcement incorporates a permitting mechanism as a potent tool. RCRA permits, legally binding documents, establish the operational prerequisites for waste management at a facility. These permits encompass a spectrum ranging from facility design and operational standards to monitoring, reporting, and safety protocols. The RCRA Subtitle C program, overseeing Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facilities (TSDFs), operates within the framework delineated by the regulations 40 CFR Parts 124 and 270. The issuance of RCRA permits falls under the jurisdiction of the EPA, authorizing facility owners to undertake hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal activities.

The permit itself is site-specific and can encompass multiple units within a given location. Specific activities may not necessitate permits, such as short-term waste storage or operations involving enclosed treatment facilities. Initiating the permit application process demands meticulous planning, including submission at least 180 days before the initiation of facility construction. The issuance of permits typically spans one to five years, necessitating proactive preparation. Facilitating compliance and streamlined reporting to government agencies, HazChem can provide valuable assistance through meticulous permit reviews, ensuring your company’s adherence to regulations.

Analyzing Hazardous Substance Concentrations in Waste: The Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP)

The sole method to determine the concentration of hazardous compounds within waste is through a procedure known as the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP). TCLP is a technique designed to mimic leaching that occurs within a landfill and assesses the presence and quantity of hazardous substances within the waste. The TCLP comprises four primary components, which are as follows:

    1. Preparation of samples for leaching.
    2. Leaching of samples.
    3. Preparation of leachate for analysis.
    4. Analysis of leachate.

This examination aids in gaining a better understanding of whether your waste can be disposed of in a landfill or if it necessitates treatment and disposal as hazardous waste.  Comprehending the attributes and regulations surrounding hazardous wastes is of utmost importance and can determine whether you achieve compliance or face potential fines.

Addressing Hazardous Waste Contamination: Corrective Measures

Corrective measures play a pivotal role in addressing hazardous waste releases and contamination. The overarching objective of the RCRA corrective action plan is to foster resilient and healthy communities, safeguarding individuals from the perils of contamination. This facet of the regulation is dedicated to remediating contamination at Treatment, Storage, and Disposal (TSD) sites. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wields the authority to mandate facility cleanup as a means of enforcing RCRA compliance. Corrective action encompasses a range of strategies, including groundwater management, institutional controls, engineering interventions, and permit tools. The cleanup process encompasses distinct phases:

    1. Preliminary Site Assessment: Some entities conduct RCRA Facility Assessments (RFA), marking the initial step in corrective action. These assessments involve the collection of data on existing and potential releases, culminating in a determination of the necessity for cleanup.
    2. Site Characterization: This phase entails a comprehensive evaluation of the extent and urgency of contamination, leading to the identification of appropriate remedies. Termed the RCRA Facility Investigation (RFI), this step outlines the chemical and physical attributes of hazardous materials, guiding decisions on containment or comprehensive cleanup.
    3. Interim Actions: Vital during the characterization phase, interim actions are imperative in mitigating ongoing health risks. For instance, in cases of contamination threatening drinking water sources, a contingency plan for alternative water supply is imperative. The EPA provides a valuable guide to interim actions to facilitate effective corrective measures.
    4. Evaluation of Remedial Alternatives: A Corrective Measures Study (CMS) precedes the implementation of solutions. This involves a thorough assessment of available options, ensuring the chosen remedy aligns with the facility’s unique parameters.
    5. Remedy Implementation: The selected remedy is executed through meticulous design, construction, operation, and maintenance, constituting the Corrective Measures Implementation (CMI) phase.
    6. Progress Monitoring: EPA oversight extends throughout the corrective action process, tracking milestones to ensure the effective implementation of chosen strategies.
    7. Long-Term Care: A pivotal aspect involves mitigating ongoing hazardous waste exposure within the facility. This safeguarding necessitates administrative controls to sustain the efficacy of remedies. Long-term care encompasses permits, zoning measures, and other restrictions aimed at maintaining the achieved outcomes.

The EPA extends educational resources to elucidate the intricacies of the RCRA Corrective Action Plan, accompanied by comprehensive goals for 2030. This concerted effort aims to realize cleaner and safer environments, free from the shadow of hazardous waste contamination.



CERCLA is the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act passed in 1980.  Both acts were passed by Congress to address cleanup of hazardous waste.  CERCLA was passed due to unacceptable practices relating to hazardous waste management and practices in the 1970’s. This legislation generated a tax on chemical and petroleum industries.In the initial five-year period, the federal government amassed $1.6 billion, which was allocated to a trust fund designated for the remediation of poorly managed or deserted hazardous waste locations.

CERCLA had several key objectives:
    1. Assigning liability to individuals accountable for hazardous waste site releases.
    2. Formulating prerequisites and prohibitions for the remediation of shuttered or abandoned hazardous waste sites.
    3. Establishing a trust fund for cleanup efforts when no responsible party could be identified.
    4. Overhauling the National Contingency Plan (NCP), which delineated the necessary procedures and guidelines for addressing the release or potential release of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants.

CERCLA VS RCRA: Similarities and common goals:

The EPA’s “Cradle-to-Grave” Hazardous Waste Management (HWM) program shares a common goal with CERCLA in addressing concerns like hazardous waste production and disposal costs. The program encompasses the management of hazardous waste, including cleanup activities at both operational and closed waste management facilities.

These cleanups, whether under CERCLA or RCRA, are essential components of a regulatory framework aimed at overseeing waste management across its entire lifecycle, which comprises various stages:

  1. Generation
  2. Transportation
  3. Treatment
  4. Storage
  5. Disposal

The main goal of both RCRA and CERCLA is to protect human health and the environment. Although the two legislative acts employ varying terminology, they essentially carry out analogous procedures. For example, CERCLA utilizes the terms Remedial Investigation (RI) for investigation and sampling, as well as Feasibility Study (FS) for evaluating potential remedy options.

In RCRA, these corresponding processes are termed RCRA Facility Investigation (RFI) and Corrective Measures Study (CMS). Upon completing RFI and CMS in the RCRA process, the EPA proceeds to issue a Proposed Statement of Basis, invites and evaluates public input, and ultimately releases a Final Decision along with a Response to Comments.

The public engagement and involvement procedures share similarities in both RCRA and CERCLA endeavors. They actively encourage public participation during the investigation and cleanup phases, as well as in the selection of response actions.

RCRA vs CERCLA Differences:

RCRA primarily governs the handling of hazardous waste at active facilities, while CERCLA is centered on remediating environmental harm at inactive and abandoned sites. An associated concern pertains to the individuals or entities overseeing RCRA facilities, as they are currently responsible for the utilization, management, and disposal of hazardous wastes. Additionally, RCRA includes regulations for the transportation of hazardous waste, a facet not applicable to CERCLA cleanups due to the non-operational status of solid waste facilities.

Administrative Differences:

The administration of the two legislative acts follows distinct paths. The CERCLA Superfund program falls under the management of the EPA’s Superfund Division, while the Corrective Action Program (RCRA) is overseen by the EPA’s Land and Chemicals Division. Even with their differences between the two programs RCRA & CERCLA, the ultimate goals of improving public health by cleaning up waste management facilities and protecting the environment and health are the same.

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