Understanding the Four Characteristics of Hazardous Waste
When it comes to hazardous waste disposal and management, understanding the waste your organization generates is imperative. Hazardous waste is heavily regulated, and thus cannot just be tossed out with your everyday trash. To know if you’re handling hazardous waste, the first step is to assess its characteristics.
When categorizing hazardous waste, the EPA breaks it down by four characteristics:
- ignitability, or something flammable
- corrosivity, or something that can rust or decompose
- reactivity, or something explosive
- toxicity, or something poisonous
These high level categories each have their own characteristics that further help you as a generator define with what your are dealing.
There are three types of ignitable forms:
- Liquids with a flash point–the lowest temperature at which fumes above waste ignite–of 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Examples include alcohol, gasoline, and acetone.
- Solids that spontaneously combust.
- Oxidizers and compressed gasses.
Corrosive substances, such as hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, and sulfuric acid, have the ability eat through containers, causing the leakage of harmful materials. A corrosive is anything liquid with a pH of less than or equal to 2 or greater than or equal to 12.5, or has the ability to corrode steel. Everyday example of corrosives include battery acid and rust removers.
Given their instability, reactive wastes can be very dangerous. The EPA recognizes that there are too many conditions and situations to identify all types of reactive materials. However, they use the following as guidelines to assist generators:
- unstable, and routinely experiences violent change without detonating
- potential for explosive mixture or violent reaction when combined with water
- toxic gasses are released when mixed with water
Poisonous materials pose a threat to our groundwater, which can have long term effects to human health and the environment. This is different from the first three characteristic groups, which the EPA views as containing immediate and firsthand dangers. There are 60 contaminants on the toxicity characteristics list. These contaminants are identified solely through a test method called Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure or TCLP.
As a generator of any the above, you have two options to determine which characteristics above best define the waste you generate: test it, or use applied knowledge from previous company records or industry data and studies. If you’re not familiar with either of these processes, Hazardous Waste Experts can help you identify and strategize a waste management plan that is right for you. Contact Hazardous Waste Experts at 800-936-2311 to assist.