The Scoop on Hazwaste

IN 2001, 40.82 MILLION TONS of RCRA hazardous waste (hazwaste) were generated, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Texas generated almost 19 percent of the total, followed by Louisiana (9.5%), New York (8.7%) and Kentucky (6.6%). South Dakota generated the least amount of any state at 950 tons.

Hazardous wastes, as described in the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), can be one of two types: listed wastes or characteristic wastes. Listed wastes are solid wastes contained in one of the four lists published in the Code of Federal Regulations (40 CFR Part 261). Characteristic wastes do not appear in one of the hazardous waste lists but exhibit one or more of the following characteristics: ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity or toxicity. In addition, a number of states have listed certain wastes as hazardous.

Because of the nature of hazardous wastes, they are managed by a number of methods to ensure protection of human health and the environment including: reclamation and recovery (e.g., metals and solvent recovery, energy recovery); destruction or treatment prior to disposal at another site (e.g., incineration, chemical reduction, biological treatment, neutralization); and disposal (land treatment, landfills, surface impoundments, deep-well injection). There were 2,479 hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facilities (TSDFs) in the United States in 2001. Only one state, New Hampshire, did not have a TSDF within its jurisdiction.

Of the total hazardous waste generated, 4.15 million tons, or 10.2 percent, were shipped to another state or jurisdiction for treatment and disposal. More than half (55%) of that amount came from nine states (Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas). California exported the largest quantity at 422,670 tons (10.7%), while the remaining eight states exported between 300,000 tons and 200,000 tons each. All 50 states, Guam, the Navajo Nation and the Trust Territories exported some portion of the hazardous waste they generated.

Imports of hazardous waste were slightly less than exports at 4.01 million tons. This represents slightly less than 10 percent of the hazardous waste generated. Some 56 percent of the hazardous waste imported went to eight states including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas. Five of these states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Texas) were also the highest exporters. Ohio imported the largest amount of hazardous waste at 508,836 tons (12.7%), and Michigan was the second largest importer at 394,064 tons (9.8%). Ten states or territories (Alaska, District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Montana, Navajo Nation, New Hampshire, Trust Territories, Virgin Islands and Wyoming) did not import hazardous waste for treatment or disposal.

Nationally, states and U.S. territories export more hazardous waste than they import. The unaccounted 0.14 million tons of exported hazardous waste probably was sent out of the country (e.g., to Canada) for treatment or disposal.

Three states had net exports (exports minus imports) greater than 100,000 tons. California was the largest net exporter shipping 417,990 tons, followed by Alabama (135,522 tons) and Kentucky (116,206 tons). Conversely, four states had net imports (imports minus exports) greater than 100,000 tons. Ohio was the largest net importer accepting 210,914 tons, followed by Michigan (193,965 tons), Missouri (160,906 tons) and South Carolina (104,679 tons).

The data show that all states imported and/or exported RCRA hazardous wastes to ensure proper treatment and disposal. Fewer hazardous waste facilities exist than in the past, and many are not located in the states where the waste was generated. Therefore, hazardous wastes, like municipal solid wastes, must travel longer distances and across state lines to ensure environmentally protective management. As the data show, the management of hazardous wastes is intrinsically connected to the national and state economies. And, like other goods and services, hazwaste movement should not be restricted by federal or state laws.

Ed Repa is the director, environmental programs, at NSWMA. He can be reached at (800) 424-2869 or [email protected].