The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA} lists around 500 substances that are hazardous. Many small businesses create such waste, such as dry cleaners, exterminators and auto repair shops. In the past, the waste was simply dumped on the property of the business, or maybe transported to a disposal site. Over time this led to soil and water contamination and human exposure and illness. By the 1970s, the public’s environmental consciousness led to the passage of several laws over the course of the decade that changed how hazardous substances are managed.If your business is creating and disposing of hazardous waste and you do not follow regulations, you could be fined or be served a lawsuit, and maybe even lose your business. If you have any doubt, do some research. The EPA is the federal bureau that oversees disposal of hazardous waste and provides resources and guidance on how to properly identify, store, and dispose of it.
Identifying Hazardous Waste
The EPA defines hazardous waste as any solid, liquid, or gas, no longer in use, that has been shown to be harmful to humans or the environment unless managed. Hazardous waste has one of four characteristics:
- Ignitability. The substance easily catches fire when exposed to heat or other accelerants.
- Corrosiveness. The substance corrodes other materials it contacts.
- Reactivity. The substance mixes with other materials to become volatile.
- Toxicity. The substance is harmful or fatal if ingested or absorbed.
Proper Disposal of Hazardous Waste
The EPA has different regulations for disposal and compliance depending on how much waste is created. Your business may generate a large amount, a small amount, or a very small amount; most businesses fall into the latter two categories. If you produce a small amount, you must have an EPA identification number and the ability to store waste on-site for as long as 180 days without needing a permit. You can even get an extension on this time frame if the waste must be shipped more than 200 miles for treatment or disposal. While in storage, however, the containers must meet certain specifications and be labeled and sealed. You may also be able to recycle your waste, and some can be disposed of on-site under a provision called the domestic sewage exclusion. Waste is generally not able to be placed in a landfill unless it is treated according to EPA rules.Although proper waste and disposal will cost you money, there is the ethical consideration of preserving the environment and not poisoning people, in addition to the fines and jail time you could face if charged and convicted. In one noteworthy case back in 2000, a business owner in Florida chose to dump forty drums of waste near Everglades National Park to save himself from paying cleanup fees, and was fined over $100,000 and sentenced to two years in prison. This may not sound like much from the perspective of a large corporation, but for a small business, it is devastating and far more expensive than hiring an attorney who can help you understand and follow regulations; even the cost of lawful disposal is cheaper. Remember too that you could lose your business altogether if convicted, and dumping is hard to conceal, especially if done on a continual basis.Regulations exist at the state level as well, but the federal government has no less than ten major laws that relate to environmental protection. One of these laws, passed in 1980, gives the EPA the teeth to track down those responsible for illegal dumping or spilling. The EPA can require the offender to clean up the site, or charge the individual the cost if he or she refuses. With all the information available, you owe it to your business and your community to learn how to identify and manage any hazardous waste your company may produce.
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