Frequent Questions Regarding Discarded Mercury-Containing Equipment
- What does "mercury-containing equipment (MCE)" mean in the context of the Universal Waste Program?
- How is mercury-containing equipment regulated under RCRA?
- Why are the mercury-containing equipment rule and the cathode ray tube rule being finalized separately when they were proposed in one action?
- Why is MCE an appropriate waste to be managed in the universal waste program?
- Why is mercury not in ampules now being allowed to be managed as universal waste?
1. What does "Mercury-Containing Equipment" mean in the context of the Universal Waste Program?
Mercury-containing equipment (MCE) means a device or part of a device (excluding batteries and lamps) that contains elemental mercury integral to its function. Some commonly recognized items are:
- Temperature and pressure gauges; and
- Mercury switches.
In 2005, EPA added Mercury-Containing Equipment (MCE) to the universal waste program. Under universal waste, handlers of MCE must follow the requirements in 40 CFR Part 273 for accumulating MCE and sending them for treatment or disposal. Treatment and disposal requirements for MCE were unchanged by the 2005 rule.
Alternatively, a generator of MCE may manage these materials within the RCRA subtitle C regulatory scheme (Part 262) .
3. Why are the mercury-containing equipment rule and the cathode ray tube rule being finalized separately when they were proposed in one action?
Although they do not address the same materials, the proposed rule to add mercury-containing equipment to the universal waste rule and the proposed rule to exclude cathode ray tubes from the definition of solid waste were published in the same action. To ensure that each rule got finalized as quickly as possible, EPA decided to finalize the two rules separately.
The universal waste regulations include eight factors for the Agency to consider when evaluating petitions for adding a category of hazardous waste to the universal waste rule.
EPA has examined spent mercury-containing equipment using the criteria in section 273.81, and has considered the information submitted in the original rulemaking petition submitted by the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group (USWAG), as well as the public comments submitted in response to the proposed rule. EPA believes this waste meets the factors that describe waste that is appropriate for management under the streamlined universal waste system. In addition, EPA believes that adding spent MCE to the Universal Waste Rule will make collection and transportation of this waste to an appropriate facility easier and, therefore, will reduce the amount of mercury being released into the environment.
Although the proposed rule did not specifically discuss management of mercury-containing equipment with mercury that is not contained in ampules (airtight vials made of glass plastic or metal), many of the devices mentioned as examples in the proposal are of this nature. Thanks to the public comments received on the proposal, EPA has clarified in the final rule that mercury-containing equipment without ampules also may be managed in the universal waste program.
The universal waste management standards in the rule for MCE without ampules are slightly different than for those with ampules. Handlers of items with mercury not in ampules must either contain the whole item in a closed container that will not release mercury into the environment or they must remove the open original housing holding the mercury and immediately seal it with an air-tight seal to prevent the release of any mercury to the environment. After sealing the housing, the handler must follow the universal waste requirements for managing removed ampules, such as storage, transportation, and training standards.
EPA believes that these specific standards for MCE without ampules will clarify that these items can be managed under universal waste, thereby spreading the benefits of the universal waste program-increased collection of hazardous waste, improved management of hazardous waste-to a larger amount of waste while ensuring the safety of human health and the environment.