For the fourth year in a row, the number of commercial hazardous waste treatment and disposal facilities has decreased in the United States, according to a report re-cently released by Environmental Information Ltd. (EI), Minneapolis. The reason: market consolidation.
For example, in 1995, 240 U.S. facilities offered treatment and/or permanent disposal, a significant drop from the 273 facilities noted the previous year. This also represents a further decline from the 315 U.S. treatment and disposal sites operating in 1992 (see chart on page 19).
The survey, which covers commercial facilities permitted under the Resource Conservation and Recovery-Act (RCRA), includes landfills; incinerators; deep wells; solvent recovery units; metal recovery plants; industrial boilers and kilns that burn hazardous-waste-derived fuel; and chemical, physical or biological treatment facilities.
For consistency, the total does not include facilities exclusively blending fuel, although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does consider that a treatment method
Most hazardous waste generators began complying with the new disposal regs following the small quantity hazardous waste generator RCRA amendments in 1985. Predictions of substantial haz-waste volumes followed, which generated interest in building hazwaste facilities. However, for a variety of reasons including successful waste minimization efforts - that boom never materialized.
For example, corporations such as Westinghouse and Amoco have divested themselves of their hazwaste di-visions, leaving the field to private contractors such as Waste Man-agement Inc., Oak Brook, Ill.; Rol-lins Environmental Services, Wil-mington, Del.; Laidlaw Waste Systems Inc., Burlington, Ont.; and Safety-Kleen, Elgin, Ill.
Although volumes slowed dramatically by the mid-1990s, facilities continued to be built or expanded. For example, in 1994, Laidlaw began operating a large, new incinerator in Utah acquired as part of its USPCI purchase. In-vestors in the newer projects hoped that older, less efficient facilities would close, according to the re-port.
So far, however, few have. The number of landfills and incinerators has remained steady in the last few years; in fact, only one in-cinerator closed in 1995. In 1992, there were 21 hazardous waste landfills and 17 in-cinerators; in 1996, the report noted 18 landfills and 21 incinerators.
Currently, over-capacity exists because of high closure and post-closure costs. Even money losing facilities must stay in business be-cause of these expenses.
Instead, facility owners have managed their over-capacity in other ways. Rollins, for example, operates two of its five burners only when necessary.
Meanwhile, smaller operations such as solvent recovery and treatment facilities have been altered or closed. In 1992, 104 solvent recovery facilities were operating; by January 1996, this number dwindled to 60. Presently, eight of those no longer perform the service.
The deregulation of the industry currently proposed by EPA could lead to more consolidation. But even if these rules are modified, the list of regulated materials will not likely increase.
At the same time, however, re-vised regulations may decrease the expense of closing unprofitable facilities and result in a capacity more in line with the current demand.
In addition, a few cement or aggregate producing kilns may no longer ac-cept hazwaste be-cause of the ex-penses required to meet new air emissions standards.
Although the factors that shape this part of the industry continue to develop, one thing seems clear: The decline in the number of hazardous waste facilities is likely to continue.
For more information, contact Environmental Information, 4801 W. 81st St., Ste. 119, Minneapolis, Minn. 55437. (800) 593-6271. Fax: (612) 831-6550.