The size and impact of the EPA has grown exponentially since its inception in 1970, and so has its effects upon the way a legitimate business can operate without running afoul of a myriad of environmental laws and complicated regulations.
This is doubly so for enterprises needing to dispose of hazardous waste, as the public is close to thinking that generating a hazardous waste per se is a crime: never mind it might be the unavoidable byproduct of a vital socioeconomic good.
In such an atmosphere, especially in matters of hazardous waste management, it’s crucial to be familiar with the latest EPA targets and trends, as might be evinced by the agency’s recent enforcement actions regarding air, waste, and water in your geographical area.
Check out Envirofacts
The Envirofacts section of the EPA website provides single-point access to several agency databases regarding environmental activities affecting air, water, and land anywhere in the United States. Enter your ZIP code to view enforcement activity that might affect hazardous waste disposal in your area.
For a broader picture, Envirofacts allows you to generate data maps for a larger region. You can also investigate specific enforcement topics, which are categorized across Air, Waste, Facility, Land, Toxic Releases, Compliance, Water, Radiation, and other topics pertinent to hazardous materials disposal.
A multi-search function allows you to access several databases simultaneously. You can look for facility information across such categories as Toxic Chemical Releases, Water Discharge Permit Compliance, Hazardous Waste Handling Processes, Superfund Status, and Air Emission Estimates.
Listen for the ECHO
Know what your peers are doing—or what’s being done to them. Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) is a public access database of EPA compliance and enforcement data. It allows you to view permit, inspection, and violation information for individual businesses and enterprises involved in hazardous material removal.
These data exhibit a facility’s record with the EPA primarily in relation to the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act. You’ll see the dates, types, and seriousness of their violations as assessed by the EPA.
You can also view enforcement actions (both formal and informal) and the attendant penalties these individual businesses and enterprises suffered for their environmental missteps during the last five years—whether sins of omission or commission.
This section also features a mapping application that exhibits all EPA and state enforcement actions across the entire contiguous United States. Ostensibly updated monthly and covering more than 800,000 U.S. facilities, data are presented on a map shaded with the total number of enforcement actions by state; and you can zoom in on your own state to see individual actions.
Remember that you’re constantly being watched
The EPA also maintains a section on its website titled How to Report Spills and Environmental Violations for persons who are “concerned about an environmental situation within (their) community but don’t know where to turn.” Website visitors are encouraged to report:
- Smoke or other emissions from local industrial facilities
- Tampering with emission control or air conditioning systems in automobiles
- Improper treatment, storage, or disposal of hazardous wastes
- Exceedances of pollutant limits at publicly-owned wastewater treatment plants
- Unpermitted dredging or filling of waters and wetlands
- Unpermitted industrial activity
- Late-night dumping
- Criminal activity including falsifying reports or other documents
Of course, the danger here is that some good citizen will report you for doing something he or she regards as nefarious but is nonetheless the perfectly legal, generally accepted, state-of-the-art operational standard for hazardous waste management.
This is the kind of random scrutiny you don’t need. So how do you avoid getting it?
Expert advice is crucial
As in all things bureaucratic, perception can be more important than reality, even if that perception is at odds with the truth. What was state-of-the-art yesterday might be construed as borderline noncompliance today. Environmental “sustainability” is a nebulous thing that’s nowadays open to ad hoc interpretation—and often by hostile non-experts.
In sum, you can be a model citizen in the ways of hazardous materials disposal but nonetheless garner EPA scrutiny (and all the time, cost, and negative publicity that entails) if your operations are perceived by one or another politician or interest group as illegal or ecologically hazardous.
The best protection against such a maelstrom is to audit every procedure integral to your hazardous waste management against local enforcements to know what’s lately attracting EPA attention. Perhaps ironically, the EPA itself provides online tools that—along with expert advice—can keep you out of its crosshairs.