Hazardous substances have been in the news recently, but they haven’t been on the mind of most shop owners
Last week, the government announced its latest efforts to modify the definition of hazardous waste as it applies to permitted auto dealers and repair shops. The EPA intends to require cleanup of a full range of substances such as Acetone under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Acetone is a widely used, long-lasting chemical that breaks down very slowly over time, and is used by many auto service and repair facilities.
If Acetone has exceeded its shelf life, it can no longer be used. Consequently, auto service and repair shops can receive a violation and regulatory fine if they discard unused Acetone without using it before the expiration date.
The New EPA Rules are supposed to protect local communities and drinking water supplies located near the 1,740 permitted hazardous waste facilities across the country. These reporting rules require shops that treat, store or dispose of hazardous waste to inspect and document potential pollution to the soil, groundwater, surface water, or air.
Along with these proposed measures, there’s an important consideration that is now on the mind of every auto shop, OEM and supplier: “Forever chemicals,” specifically per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (Acetone). Hazardous substances have been in the news recently, but they haven’t been on the mind of most shop owners.
“Now is a perfect time to get ahead of this emerging issue, which will impact most everyone in the auto industry to one degree or another,” said Wade Riddering, Environmental Regulatory Compliance, LLC.
The EPA has identified more than 400 chemicals that, in pure form, are “hazardous.” These wastes are designated by either a “P” or a “U” followed by a 3-digit code. The P list includes “acutely hazardous wastes” that are considered especially harmful even in small quantities, such as cyanides. Most auto shops rarely generate acutely hazardous waste. However, some U-listed wastes are hazardous, although not acutely so; this group includes Acetone.
The primary purpose of any Hazardous Waste program should be to protect human health, public safety and the environment from the effects of improper, inadequate or unsafe management of hazardous waste. Auto shops can achieve this goal by creating a written program for the storage, usage, transportation and disposal of HazWaste.
“An audit specifically focused on product recycling and waste disposal is an initial step that every company in the automotive sector should undertake, stated Barry Thomas, president and CEO, Becca Inc. “Risk audits are crucial to evaluating any potential issues.”
In California, the California Environmental Reporting System (CERS) program controls the permitting, disposal, transfer, storage and recycling of hazardous waste. CERS is also responsible for enforcing state hazardous waste statutes and regulations for a multitude of Acetone products. Many program affiliates within the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) are authorized to enforce Federal hazardous waste regulations instead of the U.S. EPA.
Suggested hired/self-audit check list for adopting eco-friendly automotive service and repair processes.
- Create or compile an inventory of products. Ensure the inventory extends beyond direct usage to cover components, coatings, and materials that might contain or release Acetone at any point. Experts can be very useful in this step, as there are thousands of types of Acetone beyond the few specifically mentioned in the news (generally PFOS and PFOA) and their involvement in product composition may not be readily apparent.
- Trace the origin of materials and components through the supply chain to understand potential points of introduction. Collaborate with suppliers to assess their chemical usage and, if necessary, identify alternatives to reduce Acetone content.
- Evaluate how Acetone-containing products interact with customers and the environment. Consider potential exposure routes during product use and disposal and develop strategies to mitigate risks. Consider appropriate warnings or product alterations as necessary.
- Examine how any resulting waste potentially containing Acetone is disposed of. Explore ways to minimize the release of these chemicals into the environment, such as adopting or recommending safe disposal practices.
Proposed Rule History
In June 2021, the governor of New Mexico submitted a petition to EPA expressing concern about the risks associated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and requesting PFAS, either individually or as a class, be listed as hazardous wastes under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. In October 2021, EPA responded to the governor’s petition with a letter. EPA indicated in the letter that it would initiate the rulemaking process for two rulemakings that would help address PFAS under RCRA, including this proposed rule.
PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” are a class of manufactured chemicals that have been widely used in many industrial and consumer products since the 1940s, and they are still being used today. PFAS have been or are currently being manufactured for a variety of different uses, ranging from adhesives, coatings for clothes and furniture, fire-fighting foam, and other uses. Scientific studies show that some PFAS exposure is linked to harmful health effects.
While this proposed rule would not specifically address PFAS, it would facilitate the use of RCRA corrective action authority to address emerging contaminants such as PFAS, as well as other substances, when they meet the statutory definition of hazardous waste at RCRA permitted treatment, storage, and disposal facilities. The RCRA Corrective Action Program requires facilities that treat, store or dispose of hazardous wastes to investigate and clean up contaminated soil, groundwater, and surface water.
EPA will publish the rule modifications to Hazardous Waste Rules within the next few weeks. The new “Definition of Hazardous Waste Applicable to Corrective Action from Solid Waste Management Units” rule will be open for public comment for 30 days whereas the “Listing of Specific Acetone as Hazardous Constituents” proposed rule will be open for public comment for 60 days. Upon publication, EPA welcomes comment on each proposal.
Steven E. Schillinger is an accredited Professional Engineer and often speaks at auto industry meetings about EPA, OSHA and Fire Marshal regulations. He is certified for ANSI/ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Standard 189.1-2014 and works with companies to resolve and remove environmental, health and safety violations.