Perhaps some people are born to hazardous waste management. Others aspire to it. And yet others have it thrust upon them. But whatever the case, while the academic requirements to become a hazardous waste manager vary across employers, in virtually all cases the minimum educational prerequisite is—or should be—an undergraduate degree.
Usually, that degree must be in chemistry or biochemistry, environmental science or engineering, waste management, or toxicology. And given the high legal, financial, and ethical stakes involved in hazardous material disposal, it is not atypical for private and public entities to require a graduate degree of those who aspire to hazardous waste management leadership.
What Are Specific Requirements?
Regardless of degree, the person you have in charge of disposing hazardous waste must have job-specific training about how to handle and remove chemical, biohazard, and radioactive wastes safely.
Typical chemical disposal coursework includes workplace hazards management information systems training (WHMIS), instruction about workplace emergencies involving hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S Alive), and training about the transportation of dangerous goods (TDG).
Thus, as in all things involving hazardous waste management and the EPA, getting expert advice in advance of selecting your onsite hazardous waste manager is crucial.
What about Continuing Education?
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requires that your facility personnel be certified to “perform their duties in a way that ensures the facility’s compliance” with hazardous waste regulations. Yearly recertification is required, and includes but is not limited to:
In general: Refresher coursework including updates on differentiating solid waste from hazardous waste; understanding waste codes, disposal options, and land ban requirements; determining your generator status; satellite accumulation vs. permanent storage; container requirements; facility standards, record-keeping mandates; etc.
As to transportation: Continuing education about hazardous waste transportation including the selection of transporters as well as TSDFs (treatment, storage, and disposal facilities); profiling wastes to minimize disposal costs; manifest preparation and record-keeping; land disposal restrictions; DOT requirements; etc.
As to differentiating among wastes: A review of characteristics for universal wastes, waste oils, electronic waste, and metal waste; as well as addressing various updated requirements for their respective treatments and disposal.
As to legal requirements: Updates to liability and due diligence concerns; RCRA enforcement trends, latest RCRA preferences for organization and management of compliance data; etc.
As you might guess, different states have different requirements for ongoing certification. For example, in California the requirement is 24 contact hours of continuing education every two years. As in many states, these courses must be approved by REHS Continuing Education Accreditation Agencies.
What Are REHS Continuing Education Accreditation Agencies?
The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) was founded in 1937 by environmental health practitioners in order to establish standards for the profession. These standards are nowadays known as the Registered Environmental Health Specialist/Registered Sanitarian (REHS/RS) credential.
Over time the NEHA has established a number of specialty credentials that indicate competence in specialized areas, and many states require that continuing education coursework—as it has to do with hazardous waste disposal—be provided by sources that are sanctioned by the NEHA for meeting their various standards.
Such sources might be local colleges; or in some cases government or private agencies themselves might be certified by the NEHA to provide continuing education for their employees involved in hazardous material disposal.
Nationally recognized credentials provide an impartial, third-party endorsement of a person’s professional competence. Combined with an undergraduate degree in an applicable science, it is your best assurance that the person you place in charge of your hazardous waste management has achieved a baseline level of competence—and that his or her professional tenure (in your enterprise) will not add to your liability should something go terribly wrong.