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Solid Waste and Emergency Response

Hazardous Waste Management

EPA oversees implementation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), providing guidance and direction to EPA Regions and States regarding the safe management and cleanup of hazardous and non-hazardous waste at operating industrial and commercial facilities. EPA also oversees the cleanup and disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Waste Management Activities:

Why Community Engagement is Important to Waste Management:
Local governments and citizens may be aware of the hazardous waste management practices of industrial and commercial facilities in their communities. In accordance with RCRA, a company must obtain a permit if it will be treating, storing, or disposing hazardous waste at a facility. During the permitting process, communities may have important information that will help the permitting agency (48 states, and EPA in the other cases, manage the RCRA permitting process) review the permit application. Community members may have specific information about current or former operating and disposal practices at the facility that will help the state or EPA develop permit requirements that the company will follow. If an uncontrolled release of hazardous waste occurs and causes contamination at a facility, community members should be able to provide input on how it will be cleaned up. Local information can help determine the location of contamination, how people may be exposed to the contamination, and how the land may be used after it is cleaned up. Community members can provide information about cultural practices in the community that will lead to more focused plans and studies that address specific local concerns.

We want your feedback about how we involve communities in Waste Management activities. Please share your experiences with these processes and your ideas for improvement.

Hazardous Waste Permitting
All facilities that currently or plan to treat, store, or dispose of hazardous wastes must obtain a RCRA permit. To get permitted, a company applies to the state where the facility is located by completing the following steps:

  • Pre-Application Phase: the company conducts meetings with the community on planned activities for the facility.
  • Submit Application: the business submits an application to the state regulatory agency.
  • Application Review: the state agency (or EPA) reviews the application, requires the company to fill in any necessary additional information or corrections, and makes a decision to issue or deny the permit.
  • Comment Period: the agency will issue a notice announcing its decision (and providing the draft permit, if any) and the public has 45 days to comment.
  • Final Permit Decision: the state will issue the final permit decision upon review of public comments.
  • Permit Renewal / Permit Modification: Facilities are required to renew their permits at least every 10 years if they wish to remain in operation. The company is required to apply for a permit modification if the hazardous waste operations change.

How we involve communities:

Input from communities is valuable to the permitting process. Community members may have specific information about current or former operating and disposal practices at the facility, or environmental conditions of the general area. This type of information will help the permitting agency develop permit requirements that the company will follow.

When permits are written, the permitting agency relies on the information submitted by the permit applicant along with the comments submitted by the public when developing the operating conditions for the permit. The more complete the picture is that the permitting agency has regarding a facility and any potential impacts, the better the final permit can be.

Once a permit is issued, information submitted by the public, for example on observed problems with or changes to facility operations, or anything that appears to be out of the ordinary, can be valuable to the permitting agency in order to assure the facility continues to operate safely.

The hazardous waste permitting process incorporates public involvement at various steps of the permitting process described above.

1. Pre-Application Meeting and Permit Application Submission
The company is required to hold an informal meeting with the public prior to the permit application. The meeting covers the plan for the facility, including proposed processes and wastes, allows the public to ask questions and make recommendations.  This meeting provides the first opportunity for the facility and community to establish a long-term working relationship, and gives the community the opportunity to influence what the facility puts into its permit application.  The meeting also is an opportunity for the community to informally raise concerns beyond the coverage of the RCRA permit, for example, transportation routes the facility will use, and their effect on traffic through the community.  The public may also express preferences on how they would like to be notified in case of an emergency.  The pre-application meeting offers the opportunity to be included in the facility mailing list. When the permitting agency receives a permit application, it sends a notice to the mailing list and makes the application available for public review. Upon receipt of the application, the permitting agency must then place a copy of the application in a public area for review.

2. Review of Application and Issuance of a Draft Permit
Once the permitting agency reviews and processes the application, either a draft permit or a “notice of intent to deny” is issued. The announcement is sent to all members on the facility mailing list, posted in the newspaper, and broadcasted on the radio. The public receives 45 days to comment on the agency decision or request a public hearing.  This is an important part of the permitting process for the public and especially for those communities located near the facility.  Valuable information about the facility, historical practices, and its potential impact on communities can, and should, be presented at this stage. Often, those living close to the facility have information or knowledge that the permitting agency would find useful.

3. Comment Review and Final Permit Decision
The permitting agency will review all public comments and provide a response to public comments, which will identify any changes to the initial decision. The agency then issues the final permit or denial.

4. Ongoing Activities During the Term of the Permit
The permitting agency will continue to monitor construction and operations at the facility to ensure compliance with the permit conditions, as well as with other state and federal rules.  Facilities may make changes to their operations by modifying their permit.  Modification process requirements differ depending on the significance of the modification.  In most cases, modification requests involve public notification by either the facility or the permitting agency, or both, providing the opportunity for comment.

The term of the permit is no more than 10 years, at which time a permit renewal process is initiated following the previous listed steps.

The public is encouraged to be involved by:

  • Know whom to call at the permitting agency;
  • Request a meeting if clarification is needed on specific materials or information;
  • Join the facility mailing list and follow the process closely;
  • Submit written comments, participate in public hearings and meetings; and
  • Encourage education among your community leaders and peers.

Links to More Information:
Hazardous Waste: Permits and Permitting
Hazardous Waste: Public Participation and Citizen Action
The Hazardous Waste Permitting Process: A Citizens Guide

RCRA Corrective Action

Facilities that treat, store, or dispose of hazardous waste are required to clean up contamination resulting from current and past releases. In RCRA, this cleanup process is called Corrective Action. These facilities either: have a RCRA hazardous waste permit, are pursuing a permit, or needed a permit but have since closed. Companies are required to work with the lead regulatory agency, with EPA oversight, to perform the corrective action cleanup. EPA has delegated authority to 43 states and territories to implement the RCRA Corrective Action process. The RCRA Corrective Action and Public Participation flow chart (PDF) (1 pg, 24K, about PDF) outlines the types of community input that can inform cleanup decisions.

There are several steps that are common for most corrective action cleanups:

  • Initial Site Assessment - called a RCRA Facility Assessment;
  • Site Characterization to determine the type and extent of contamination – called a RCRA Facility Investigation;
  • Interim Actions to address immediate concerns at the site;
  • Evaluation of cleanup remedies to clean up the site - called a Corrective Measures Study;
  • Cleanup Remedy Selection;
  • Implementation of the cleanup remedies - called Corrective Measures Implementation; and
  • Completion of the remedy.

Some of these steps may not occur in order or be necessary at every site depending on the amount and quality of information available about the particular site problem in advance of the start of the Corrective Action process. For example, it may not be necessary to perform interim cleanup actions at some sites if there are no potential releases or exposures to the contamination. In some cases where an adequate amount of information regarding the nature and extent of contamination already exists, an extensive site Characterization / Facility Investigation may not be necessary – and it may be appropriate to move directly to a Corrective Measures Study to evaluate cleanup remedies for the site. In most cases, the details and rationale for investigating the site and selecting the cleanup remedy will be documented in Statement of Basis documents which are made available for public review and comment before Corrective Measures are implemented. EPA encourages planners to fully understand the nature and extent of contamination at a site, review a range of options for cleanup, and obtain public and community input on investigation results and the selected cleanup remedy - while leaving flexibility in the process to achieve a protective cleanup in an expedient and efficient manner.

How we involve communities:

The Corrective Action program incorporates public involvement at many steps in the cleanup process, and strives to have meaningful public involvement. Because sites are cleaned up using different oversight methods, usually a permit or an enforcement order, the method for public involvement activities may differ. For the sites that are being cleaned up under a permit, public notice and comment is required for certain permit milestones. Since many cleanup activities are incorporated into permits, the permit process (with its notice and comment periods) provides a venue for public involvement. For sites being cleaned up under an enforcement order, EPA encourages equivalent types of public involvement. Different types of enforcement orders may require the Agency to consider different types of public engagement options and opportunities.

Several factors determine the range and type of public outreach that occurs at a corrective action site, such as extent of impact to the community from the contamination and cleanup activities and the level of interest expressed by the community. Typically, at the beginning of a cleanup project, EPA, States and/or the company create factsheets and holds informal discussions with community leaders to gauge level of interest. Outreach activities are geared toward community interest and needs. Special efforts may be taken for environmental justice and other communities, such as translation of permitting information and other materials regarding the cleanup and public participation opportunities. When there are specific homes being affected (such as with vapor intrusion) or there is indication of potential community interest, more active community outreach is undertaken. If not already being undertaken, the community can request public meetings and other outreach activities.

Community Outreach

There is an array of community outreach tools that RCRA Corrective Action programs draw from when overseeing a cleanup. These outreach tools include:

  • Creation of a facility repository. Pertinent materials regarding the facility and cleanup will be held at a facility repository and made available to the public.
  • Communication Plan. This plan is created early in the process and updated as needed.
  • Creation of and distribution of information and factsheets (mail, email) (translated into local commonly used languages if there is need). Factsheets and information pieces, status updates can be used throughout the process. These are most often used when significant milestones are achieved or there is community interest in a particular activity.
  • Mailing lists and media announcements. Facilities create a mailing list of interested parties, which is used to distribute information. They also provide announcements in local news media, such as newspapers.
  • Creation and use of an informational website, (in some instances a hotline has been used). Websites are becoming more common and are useful when there are a large number of interested parties wanting to access facility information.
  • User Friendly Maps: GIS (geographic information systems) maps display site location, with clear information presenting contamination levels.
  • Informal and formal meetings with neighborhood and community leaders. Informal meetings with community leaders often occur at the beginning of a cleanup project, to help regulators learn more about the site, the community's plans for the area and community interest. They can occur anywhere in the process. Formal meetings may also be held when community interest warrants it.
  • Informal and formal meeting with local mayor and other governmental representatives from both the city and state. In addition to the local community, meetings may be held with other governmental representatives to ensure coordination and to gain an understanding of their concerns.
  • Informational community meetings, open houses, workshops. When there is community interest, meetings, open houses and workshops may be held to help community members become familiar with the project and provide an opportunity to provide input.
  • One-on-one availability meeting: These provide an opportunity for EPA, States (and other experts) to meet with residents living in sampled or impacted locations, to explain the findings of the sampling.
  • Formal public meetings, hearings. For sites where there are significant issues, a public hearing or meeting may be held to provide a forum for public comment.
  • Issuance of draft documents with public comment periods (and development of response to comment documents). The results of the facility investigation, the remedy alternatives evaluation and remedy decision and the cleanup complete determination often are recognized with formal reports and report summaries. These are entered into the facility repository and are available to interested parties.
  • For the few CA hazardous waste sites that are located near or on tribal lands, EPA draws on these tools to conduct outreach on a site specific basis. For outreach to tribes on more general waste issues, EPA works with the National Tribal Operation Committee.
  • Technical assistance may be given to a small number of communities so that they can better understand and be better informed about the cleanup and impacts to their community. These communities are identified by EPA regions as needing assistance. EPA's TASC "Technical Assistance Services for Communities" Program provides direct assistance, training, outreach or funding to a few (normally two or three) communities regarding RCRA Corrective Action sites each year. TASC is housed in the Superfund program and provides technical support to communities that are being faced with challenging technical information and do not have the resources to analyze the situation.

Milestones where public participation activities occur and types of public input that may take place

Corrective action at RCRA Treatment, Storage, or Disposal facilities is usually accomplished pursuant to a permit or an enforcement action initiated by the EPA or a state. The following steps comprise the corrective action process and the accompanying public engagement activities in each step.

1. Initial Site Assessment (RCRA Facility Assessment (RFA)). This is a high level review of current and past activities and history at the site, and identification of known releases and potential for releases. Useful input from the community may include information on past activities at the site, general facts and observations of operations and waste management activities at the site, existence and location of dumps or releases, any previous assessments that may have useful information, any known restrictions placed on the land due to contamination, such as deed restrictions, or other "institutional controls."

2. Site Characterization (RCRA Facility Investigation (RFI)). If the initial site assessment indicates potential for contamination, a more in depth and technical investigation is undertaken. RFIs are imposed through an enforcement order or as part of a RCRA permit condition. Communities are encouraged to review the RFI and provide comments. Community members may have information or concerns related to the needs of residents during the RFI, the proximity of schools or recreational areas, or the location of potential contamination in the general area.

3. Interim Actions (IA). Where there is known contamination with exposure to humans or impacts to the environment, interim actions may be undertaken. Interim/stabilization measures are short-term actions taken to respond to immediate threats to human health or prevent damage or contaminant migration to the environment. These actions may occur at any time during the cleanup process and may be as simple as putting up a fence and warning signs, or include constructing barriers or removing contaminated soil. The selection and implementation of IAs can be an important milestone. In the spirit of involving the public in important Agency decisions that could effect the community, the CA program often reaches out to the community to allow them the chance to voice concerns and ask questions regarding the preferred actions selected. The IA implementation stage can also be an opportunity for the company and the Agency to be out in the community to explain the activities that make up the remedy and get feedback on how they are affecting the local community. Useful input from the community may include information on local culture and activities that may affect exposure (example, is there subsistence fishing where water is contaminated, use of a pathway that cuts across the facility property), the level of comfort and concerns the community may have regarding types of interim actions being undertaken, and impact of those interim actions.

4. Evaluation of Remedial Alternatives (Corrective Measures Study). The facility will identify and evaluate cleanup alternatives for remediating the contamination. A report will be drafted and made available. The facility should identify and consider sensitive populations and aspects of environmental justice communities that may affect exposure and risk in this evaluation. Useful input from the community may inform the types of remedy alternatives that are evaluated. This may include community expectations regarding future use of the site (for instance, is the property is expected to be used for residential purposes?), potential impacts cleanup activities may have on the community and community reaction to those impacts (increased truck traffic near school, etc), community preferences regarding timeframe of cleanup (does the community want to be using the property in the next few years), and other reactions and concerns about remedial alternatives. In addition, if there is a specific redevelopment plan, this may inform priority, types and scheduling of cleanup activities on the property.

5. Remedy Selection. The selection of the remedy is a key milestone and is often one where outreach is undertaken leading up to the decision, and to inform the community of the decision. The facility normally prepares a Statement of Basis which describes the remedy selection process and explains the cleanup level chosen to the public. This is a milestone where the community can provide input and impact the choice of a cleanup remedy. The Agency will normally issue a draft Statement of Basis as well as a Final Decision. There is normally a Public Notice, public comment period, and Response to Comments document prepared at this time. If the Statement of Basis changes as a result of public comments, then release of the Final Decision may be a good time to communicate what was chosen for the site and why it was changed from the original proposal. Useful information from the community can include community's comfort level with remedy chosen, concerns regarding safety, timeframe, level of cleanup, potential impacts to the community from remedy activities, and local community resources, both services and other resources that might be available for use during the remedy implementation phase.

6. Corrective Measures Implementation. This includes the construction of treatment systems, removal of contaminated soil and debris, construction of barriers, caps, storm water management systems, as well as operation and maintenance of those systems. Useful information from the community can include the potential for impacts to the community as a result of implementing a chosen corrective measure, such as construction, noise, emissions, and increased truck traffic. The community may want to have input on how these activities are handled. In addition, there may be strong interest in how effective the remedy is working, with a potential decision to modify the current remedy if needed to improve effectiveness.

7. Completion of Remedy. It is important for a community to know what the cleanup goals are and when a remedy has achieved those goals and the cleanup is considered complete. If there is waste left in place and long-term stewardship is needed to prevent exposure to that waste, institutional controls (zoning, notices and warnings, easements, restrictive covenants, other land or resource use restrictions) to provide that stewardship will be identified and discussed. It is important to understand if the controls can be effectively sustained and implemented to provide long-term protectiveness. A community may want to participate in the completion decision-making process, reviewing cleanup goals achieved and extent of waste left in place. Some communities may need additional outreach to learn about the decision and get assurance that the cleanup goals have been met.

Links to More Information:
Hazardous Waste - Treatment, Storage & Disposal (TSD) RCRA Public Participation Manual
Hazardous Waste: Permits and Permitting
Hazardous Waste: Public Participation and Citizen Action
The Hazardous Waste Permitting Process: A Citizens Guide

Cleanup and Disposal of Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) Contamination
Unlike other contaminants, PCBs have a separate set of regulations that apply to their cleanup and disposal. This is a result of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which was enacted by Congress in 1978. Due to particular concerns about PCBs, TSCA banned their use and manufacture, and established PCB marking, storage and disposal requirements. EPA then developed regulations for cleaning up facilities with PCB contamination and disposal (including treatment) of PCB-contaminated waste to ensure no unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. The PCB Cleanup and Disposal Program writes and interprets these regulations, as well as issues cleanup and disposal approvals (similar to permits). Facilities submit applications to EPA for approval to conduct certain PCB cleanup and disposal activities.

PCB Cleanups
The size and scope of PCB cleanups vary greatly. For example, some PCB contamination can come from a single transformer that has spilled; other cleanups can result from an industrial operation which has spilled large amounts of PCBs into a river, contaminating many miles of the river and riverbed. Due to the fact that there is such variability in PCB contaminated sites, there are different options a company can decide among when conducting the cleanup. Some cleanups can be done very quickly leaving no PCB contamination behind, while others could take multiple years and require significant EPA involvement to ensure a finding of no unreasonable risk to health and the environment. There are options for more stringent cleanup requirements with less EPA involvement, or more flexible cleanup options that require more involvement from EPA to ensure no unreasonable risk to health or the environment.

How we involve communities:
While there are no community involvement requirements specified by the TSCA regulations, EPA fully implements the program and evaluates the community involvement activities appropriate for each approval. For example, community involvement might not be advantageous at a small transformer spill that can be quickly and completely cleaned up. However, community involvement at a larger, complex site would likely be beneficial. In such a case, useful input from the community may include information on past activities at the site, existence and location of dumps or releases, any previous assessments that may have useful information, information on local culture and activities that may affect exposure (example, is there subsistence fishing where water is contaminated, use of a path that cuts across the facility property), and community expectations regarding future use of the site (for instance, whether the property is expected to be used for residential purposes)

Depending on the site-specific situation, there may be one or more of the following community involvement activities used as the Agency works toward issuing a cleanup approval.

  • Public notice in newspaper
  • Public comment
  • Public meeting
  • Public hearing
  • Public repository
  • Web posting

Links to More Information:
Polychlorinated Biphenyls

Disposal of PCBs
Disposal of PCBs includes a range of activities such as disposal in a protective landfill as well as physical, chemical, or thermal processes to destroy or remove PCBs. Once an application for PCB disposal is submitted by a facility, the typical process for receiving approval for disposal includes a written draft approval followed by a final approval, which specifies design and operating requirements for the facility. For some approvals, a demonstration may be required to show that the technology or disposal facility meets regulatory standards. Major changes to the approval are issued in the form of approval amendments and the approval may be renewed at the end of its term, if applicable.

How we involve communities:
While there are no community involvement activities specified by the TSCA regulations, EPA fully implements the program and evaluates the community involvement activities appropriate for each approval. For example, an approval for a TSCA landfill would involve community involvement. However, an approval for an alternative sampling protocol for a decontamination method might not include community involvement. Types of input the community might provide during the TSCA approval process include any concerns with potential operations of the site, or the level of protection provided by the proposed facility design. For a renewal or amendment of an existing approval, community members, because they live near the site and are closest to it on a day to day basis, may be able to provide information on observed problems with or changes to facility operations, or anything that appears to be out of the ordinary. Such information can be valuable to the permitting agency in order to assure the facility continues to operate safely.

Depending on the site-specific situation, there may be one or more of the following community involvement activities used when the draft approval is issued, when the final approval is issued, when major amendments are issued, and for renewals of the approval.

  • Public notice in newspaper
  • Public comment
  • Public meeting
  • Public hearing
  • Public repository
  • Web posting

Links to More Information:
Polychlorinated Biphenyls

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