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How Vac Trucks Can Help You Manage Your RCRA Responsibilities For Transporting Hazardous Waste

August 9, 2022

If you have hundreds or thousands of gallons of hazardous liquid, sludge, or slurry that need to exit the premises safely and legally, then you might want to consider a vacuum truck. This blog entry provides comprehensive information about vac trucks and how they can help you with hazardous waste transport. FAQs include:

1. What is a vac truck?
2. How does a vac truck work?
3. What are the different kinds of vac trucks?
4. By what other names are vac trucks known?
5. Should your hazmat contingency plan include access to vac trucks?
6. How do you vet a vac truck service?
7. What’s the upshot about hiring a vac truck?

What is a vac truck?

A vacuum truck—conspicuously called a “vac truck” by those in the know—is a big truck that shows up at your site with a pump and a tank attached to it. 

The pump sucks liquid, sludge, or slurry into the tank so that it can be safely hauled away to wherever you want to send it. (We would suggest a properly-licensed treatment, storage, and disposal facility, known as a TSDF in EPA parlance; and you can get help finding one here.)

How do vac trucks work?

The same general principle that allows your household Hoover to suck up your tabby’s dander is likewise doing its thing in the intrigues of a vac truck. To wit, a suction motor creates tremendous pressure and suction by rotating an impeller at an incredibly high speed, inducing airflow and creating a consequent vacuum in the tank.  

A lance—what most people would call a hose—is connected to the tank and controlled by an open/shut valve. When the lance is pointed at the non-solid hazmat and the valve is opened, the tank equalizes itself with the surrounding atmosphere, creating a vacuum that sucks it all in.

 What are the different kinds of vac trucks?

So far as we know, there are four different kinds of vac trucks occurring in nature, any one of which might suit your needs for hazardous waste transport.

  1. Liquid vac trucks are just what you might imagine: a big truck with a tank on the back and a hose—er, lance—dangling from its back. You’ve probably seen one of these in your neighborhood, nearby a manhole cover in the street. They’re the most common kind of vac truck for hazardous waste transport.
  2. Trailer vacs make up a more-diminutive category of vac trucks, having a relatively smaller pump, tank, and lance.  And as logic might suggest, trailer vacs are so-called because the pump, tank, and lance ride on a trailer hauled by a truck.
  3. Roll-offs are typically rectangular open-top containers on heavy-duty wheels. They’re used for high-density wastes—such as soils, sludges, and ashes—that might require hazardous waste transport.
  4. Jetters are something else altogether. But they might be of interest to you after all the hazmat has been cleared from your sewer, catch basin, or whatever container is holding your waste. A powerful motor accelerates water to blast away residue: sort of like a manic pressure-washer on steroids.

By what other names are vac trucks known?

We will be the first to admit that this is superfluous information. But it’s too much fun not to tell you. You be the judge:

  • Aussies call them “sucker trucks,” or more graphically, “sewer suckers,” demonstrating an admirable predilection for straight-in-your-face nomenclature. 
  • In Canada—the land of the clinically polite—they’re more-delicately called “hydro-vacs”, if not “vac trucks.” 
  • They’re called “exhauster trucks” in Rwanda—in case you need to rent one on your next vacation there.
  • And they’re called “honey wagons” in India and South Africa—but let’s not go there.

Should your hazmat contingency plan include access to vac trucks?

Absolutely. Vac trucks are purpose-engineered for removing debris from catch basins and storm drains. After flooding from a natural or manmade disaster, they can quickly evacuate wet and/or dry hazmat spillage, holding it securely for hazardous waste transport to a TSDF.

How do you vet a vac truck service? 

It’s essential that the vac truck service you select for hazardous waste transport can prove it has the proper certifications to collect and haul hazardous waste. They also need to be intimate with relevant OSHA, RCRA, DOT, local, state, and federal regulations—including documentation requirements. 

As we often advise: get expert advice before proceeding. In this case, because the training requirements for hazardous waste transport are onerous. Among them: 

  • Security awareness training about the security risks associated with hazmat transportation, and specific methods designed to diminish them
  • Function-specific training relative to the particular knowledge and skills required for an individual  to perform assigned hazmat-transport responsibilities properly and safely
  • Safety training for drivers, warehouse workers, and any other employees who handle any hazardous waste in advance, during, and/or subsequent to its transportation
  • Specialized driver training pertaining to vehicle inspection and operation; vehicle handling in diverse conditions; and special rules pertaining to tunnels, bridges, and railroads
  • Advanced security training for companies required to have a security plan relative to their hazardous waste management
  • HAZWOPER1 certification for employees who must drive onto hazardous waste sites, enter EPA-regulated TSDFs, or respond to hazardous waste emergencies 1Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response

 What’s the upshot about hiring a vac truck?

Remember that per the EPA, you’re responsible for any hazardous waste you “generate” from “cradle-to-grave.” This includes hazardous waste transport from your facility to wherever it will ultimately be treated, stored, or disposed of. 

Vac trucks can be an effective way to meet this workaday responsibility, and they can be indispensable in the case of an emergency where hazmat needs to be quickly vacated from your site. 

Get expert advice here.  And thank you for reading our blog!

Disposal of hazardous waste doesn’t have to be painful.