Running afoul of any number of environmental rules can put you in EPA crosshairs, whether you report them to the agency yourself via a “self-audit,” or somebody graciously does you the favor, thereby prompting an “enforcement investigation.” Should you be so lucky…
What can you expect?
An EPA audit typically begins with an “opening conference” involving all personnel related to your hazardous waste management. Checklists are reviewed along with any other information your friendly EPA inspector might have requested in advance.
As described below, your files will be inspected and critiqued. A walking tour of your facility will likely be included. And then there will be the “closing conference” where your fate will be decided.
So, which and what paperwork?
There is required paperwork that is fairly common across the different kinds of businesses and industries that must deal with hazardous waste or chemical disposal; but there might be form filling requirements that are specific to your particular kind of hazardous waste generation.
For your own good, your documentation should be organized together in a common space: in the same electronic file in the case of digital documents, or in the same filing-cabinet drawer in the case of hard-copies.
Neatness counts. Show respect. And as with all things involving the EPA, expert advice is crucial.
What’s “common” paperwork?
The eight items below are generally required of all hazardous waste generators, but keep in mind that different types of enterprises are required to maintain documents that are specific to their hazardous waste management.
1. Contingency plan for hazardous waste management. This paperwork is required of all hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDF). It’s also required of any entity deemed a large quantity generator (LQG) of hazardous waste. Plans need to be clearly articulated, individual personnel must know their respective duties in case of an emergency, and their contact information must be up to date.
2. Hazardous waste training records for personnel. Individual personnel at LGQ entities must complete annual training, and training records for each must be in existence for minimally three years subsequent to his or her attrition.
3. Records of waste determination. You must document how you identified something as hazardous waste and what danger it poses. But just as importantly, you should document how you identified something as not being hazardous waste in the event you’re challenged about it. Such records must be in existence for three years subsequent to the last treatment, storage, or disposal of a material.
4. Generator’s biennial report. This must be kept on file for three years after the due date: generally March 4 of even-numbered years.
5. Hazardous waste manifests. These are integral to most hazardous waste inspections. As a hazardous waste generator, you must keep a copy of the manifest signed by the transporter and a confirmation copy of the manifest with the TSDF’s signature on file after the waste is accepted by the transporter and disposed of by the TSDF. Both must be kept on hand for easy retrieval for three years.
6. Land disposal restriction documentation. Certain determination and notification records must be kept onsite for three years subsequent to your shipping hazardous waste offsite to be treated before disposal.
7. Tank and storage area inspection records. If hazardous waste is managed in tanks, such tanks must undergo daily inspections, records of which must be kept on file until the facility closes, along with an engineering assessment of the tank system’s integrity.
8. Incident reports. In the event of an incident that involves your contingency plan, you must keep records of the time, date, and details until your facility closes.
Let’s play make-believe
A good way to make sure that your EPA audit goes as smoothly as possible (and possibly limit the scope of the investigation) is by conducting dress rehearsals, i.e. mock audits. Thereby, your personnel can practice pulling samples, retrieving records, and answering pointed questions from irritable inspectors.
Software as salvation
The best way to be “audit ready” is by having systems in place that accurately track the ebb and flow of your hazardous waste management. You can’t do this anymore with just index cards and Postem Notes®.
The best software is hazardous waste management software. Ideally, use a platform that’s purpose built to manage and document the peculiarities and legalities of hazardous waste management; and that will consistently and accurately populate various EPA forms with numbers, codes, and other data across the multitude of legal documentation required by state and federal authorities.