What is Hazardous Waste?

Some may use the term ‘hazardous waste’ to refer to many things, like heavy storm run-off after a drought, or the mixed drinks sold at one’s local bar, or the in-laws’ cooking. But hazardous waste actually has specific legal definitions.

Many small businesses routinely creates, transport, or dump hazardous waste without even knowing it. Improperly treating hazardous waste can lead to serious fines. In some egregious cases, business owners are arrested and need to seek the services of a bail bond agent just to get out and make sense of what just happened.

This article is here to inform the curious and concerned about hazardous waste, what it is, and what consequences lead from its improper handling.

The EPA defines hazardous waste as any material “with properties that make it dangerous or capable of having a harmful effect on human health or the environment.” It comes in many forms, colors, and smells, and can be a solid, liquid, gas, or sludge.

California, considered by many as a leader in environmental protection defines it further. For one, most hazardous wastes can be found on lists of known-hazardous material kept by both the federal government and state environmental regulatory bodies. The EPA, for example, has listed 500 compounds deemed hazardous.

Beyond the lists, officials generally consider waste hazardous if it is easily flammable, corrosive, or contains damaging levels of toxic material, such as mercury.

For any business owners concerned with the possibility of mishandling hazardous waste, begin by referring to the EPA’s list.

How to properly deal with hazardous waste

The EPA and state lists tend to group hazardous materials in different groups, but still, they comprise a completely diverse group of compounds that can be harmful to humans or the environment. As such, health experts do not dispose of them all in the same way.

As a bottom line, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 stipulates that any “generator” or operating body that produces waste, must both record and dispose of it. More often than not, this comprises of either calling in the friendly local waste management professionals or individuals transporting the hazardous material to the waste disposal center themselves.

Keep in mind that the responsibility of safe transportation also falls on the generators. Some think it’s ok to carry all of their used oil in paint cans in the bed of their truck down a bumpy road to the waste management station.

The safe transportation of hazardous waste is just as important as its disposal.

What do hazardous waste violations mean for the perpetrator?

While the EPA has recently undergone a significant reduction in personnel and resources, their fines have not. In fact, as of January of this year, many EPA fines have nearly doubled. In 2016, the maximum fine per day for a hazardous waste violation stood at $37,500. Now it’s $70,117. And that does not represent total fines, it means per violation per day. Anyone who decides to bury their cathode ray tubes instead of correctly disposing of them could face fines of six, seven, eight figures, or more.

In general, hazardous waste violations do not result in maximum punishments. In 2016, for example, investigators discovered that Kawasaki Rail Car, Inc. had generated and illegally stored several different types of hazardous waste.

According to the EPA, the investigators discovered, “several dozen containers containing waste paints and solvents, discarded gasoline and unlabeled containers of hazardous wastes. A number of containers … were corroded and leaking.”

After negotiations, Kawasaki agreed to pay a $71,120 penalty.

Other cases have resulted in much harsher penalties. In 2013, investigators discovered that Wal-Mart had violated the Clean Water Act by dumping hazardous waste into U.S. waters on six different occasions. This resulted in an $81 million penalty.

What hazardous waste law means for small business

At the end of the day, it’s pretty difficult to determine just how much damage has been caused by the improper handling or disposal of hazardous waste. For small business owners with razor-thin profit margins, a hazardous waste violation can mean the difference between life and death. For anyone accused of serious charges, don’t wait around. Post bail immediately or consult with a bail bond agent; nearly all of these cases are open to negotiation.

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