Managing waste

EPA regulations must be followed to avoid significant fines

  • Ordinary roofing job sites, such as the one pictured, have the potential to produce hazardous wastes. 
Photo courtesy of D.C. Taylor Co., Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  • Application of a typical flammable adhesive
Photo courtesy of D.C. Taylor Co., Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  • Short-term accumulation of a hazardous waste
Photo courtesy of D.C. Taylor Co., Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  • Solvent cleaning of tools may produce hazardous waste.
Photo courtesy of D.C. Taylor Co., Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Handling job-site waste always has been a concern for roofing contractors. Whether trying to fill roll-off trash bins efficiently to get the most out of each load, segregating materials for recycling purposes or handling new materials prudently to avoid waste, proper waste handling directly can affect your bottom line.

However, because waste disposal has been managed similar to many other cost-control issues roofing contractors face (that is to say with limited applicable government regulation), it tends to get overlooked. Under federal regulations, even asbestos-containing roofing material can be disposed of as ordinary construction debris in most cases with minimal intrusion by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

But when it comes to hazardous waste, knowledge of the myriad of federal and state rules relating to storage and disposal is critical. If you happen to be cited for improperly disposing of hazardous waste, it could cost you a signi­ficant amount of money.

The law

In 1976, Congress changed the manner in which waste, particularly hazardous waste, must be managed by businesses when it passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Although the law has been in place for more than 30 years, increased enforcement of its provisions may be forthcoming because the nature of roofing has changed since the law's inception. For example, there is a more prevalent use of hazardous roofing materials that, when disposed of, produce hazardous waste subject to RCRA.

In RCRA, Congress outlines a broad waste management program that EPA regulates much like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates workplace safety. EPA regulations define hazardous waste as waste with a chemical composition or other properties that make it capable of causing death, illness or other harm to humans when mismanaged or released into the environment.

To clarify what hazardous wastes it manages, EPA developed four lists of specific hazardous wastes in addition to four general characteristics of other wastes that are not listed specifically. Wastes that are listed specifically or possess one or more of the four characteristics are considered hazardous wastes under RCRA.

Listed hazardous wastes are named in the F-, K-, P- and U-lists developed by EPA (40 CFR 261.31-33). Of primary concern to roofing contractors is the F-list, or spent solvent list, which contains solvents that are common in roofing: toluene, benzene, acetone, xylene and methyl ethyl ketone. If a roofing worker uses acetone to clean brushes or tools, the used or spent acetone would be considered an F-list hazardous waste requiring management under RCRA rules. The K-, P- and U-lists describe manufacturing wastes or pure forms of specific chemicals rarely found in roofing.

The four characteristics established by EPA are ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity and toxicity. Ignitability means a waste has a flash point of 140 F or less; corrosivity signifies a waste can corrode steel; reactivity means a waste reacts violently with water; and toxicity denotes a waste that contains specific constituents that could harm or be fatal to people if the waste is disposed of and leached into groundwater or other water sources. As an example, a common flammable single-ply adhesive would not be found on any of the four lists of hazardous wastes but would be found to have the ignitability characteristic requiring management as a hazardous waste.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) are the most effective source for determining the chemicals or constituents contained in roofing products. Compiling MSDSs for the products your company uses is required by OSHA's hazard communication standard and is useful for establishing RCRA compliance demands. Caulks, solvents, adhesives, coatings and mastics are just some roofing products that potentially may be characterized as hazardous wastes with various consequences for mismanagement.

There are a couple of important things to note regarding what is a hazardous waste: Residues in empty containers are not regulated by RCRA if no more than 1 inch of material remains in the bottom of the container, and solid waste or debris can be regulated as a hazardous waste if it becomes contaminated and exhibits one of the four characteristic traits previously described.

Complying with the law

The nature of compliance you are charged with under RCRA depends on your generator category, which is determined by how much hazardous waste your company generates during a calendar month. Generators of hazardous wastes are organized and regulated based on the following three categories:

  • Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators (CESQGs)
  • Small Quantity Generators (SQGs)
  • Large Quantity Generators (LQGs)

Category status of a hazardous waste generator may change from one month to the next depending on the amount of waste generated during a given calendar month.

CESQGs produce 220 pounds or less of hazardous waste during a calendar month and are allowed to accumulate up to 2,205 pounds of hazardous waste in storage. For a roofing contractor, storage ordinarily would be maintained at a shop or warehouse but also could include a long-term job site. As long as accumulated waste does not exceed 2,205 pounds, there is no time limit for a CESQG to store the waste. Once the 2,205-pound cap is exceeded, disposal must occur within 180 days from the date when the cap was exceeded. The key to maintaining CESQG status is to dispose of waste long before it nears the 2,205-pound maximum. Naturally, that involves implementing some administrative and inventory controls.

A CESQG also has an affirmative duty under the regulations to dispose of hazardous wastes at a disposal facility authorized to accept and dispose of hazardous waste under RCRA.

The SQG category applies to contractors who generate more than 220 pounds of hazardous waste but less than 2,205 pounds during a calendar month. Compliance procedures are more complicated for an SQG than for a CESQG under RCRA rules. For instance, SQGs must obtain an EPA identification number by filing EPA Form 8700-12 within 90 days after exceeding the 220-pound maximum.

In addition, an SQG may not accumulate more than 13,228 pounds of hazardous waste on-site for more than 180 days. If either the weight or time limit is exceeded, an SQG must meet the stricter compliance requirements of a hazardous waste treatment, storage or disposal facility. The weight and time limit factors applicable to an SQG must be monitored closely so proper disposal of accumulated hazardous waste takes place before either is exceeded.

The LQG category applies to any roofing contractor who generates 2,205 pounds or more of hazardous waste during a calendar month. An LQG can accumulate hazardous waste on-site for up to 90 days. It is critical for an LQG to arrange to dispose of hazardous waste as the 90-day time limit approaches. Once the 90-day limit is exceeded, an LQG is considered to be a hazardous waste treatment, storage or disposal facility and must comply with stricter regulations applicable to such facilities. An LQG also must file reports every two years with EPA detailing its activities with regard to hazardous wastes.

Failing to comply with RCRA regulations can have a devastating financial effect. EPA civil penalties can be as high as $32,200 per day for each violation of RCRA requirements. In addition, separate civil actions could result if the accumulation or improper disposal of hazardous wastes results in environmental damage.

Following are some suggestions for RCRA compliance and management and minimization of hazardous wastes:

  • Centralize the purchase of hazardous materials to minimize inventory and hazardous waste generated.
  • If possible, use nonhazardous mate­rials or use hazardous materials less frequently.
  • Store opened hazardous materials properly to protect them for future use, and limit the necessity of disposal.
  • Consolidate unused portions of material for future use, and dispose of empty containers properly.
  • Use MSDSs to determine which products pose hazardous waste issues.
  • Maintain MSDSs for all materials, and train employees about the particular hazards each product may possess.
  • Dispose of aerosol cans containing hazardous waste as regular construction debris if they no longer are under pressure.
  • To avoid soil or water contamination, capture solvents used for cleaning tools and equipment and return them to the shop for proper disposal or storage.
  • Dry rags, brushes and other tools contaminated with hazardous material, and dispose of them as regular construction debris. They also can be accumulated and returned to the shop for proper disposal.
  • Develop and implement a hazardous waste inventory management system that provides an accurate daily assessment of the types and quantities of waste on hand and the amount of time they have been in storage.
  • Research appropriate hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facilities for handling waste when necessary.
  • Accumulate waste in appropriate containers and segregate incompatible wastes.
  • Train employees to respond appropriately to hazardous waste spills, and have all appropriate cleanup materials available.

Making it work

Hazardous waste compliance can be achieved by practicing good inventory control and waste-minimization procedures. Many compliance actions may be things you already are doing to manage your job sites efficiently. Others, unfortunately, may add a paperwork requirement that, though unwelcome, will help you avoid substantial EPA fines.

Harry Dietz is NRCA's director of safety and risk management.

An EPA resource

In April, NRCA; D.C. Taylor Co., Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Howard Green and Associates, Cedar Rapids, developed a program to help roofing contractors comply with hazardous waste disposal regulations.

Titled "Hazardous Waste Management and Minimization Program under Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976," it can be accessed and downloaded from NRCA's Web site at free of charge.

The program contains an explanation of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations related to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA); practical, system-specific roofing examples of the hazardous waste rules; toolbox training components for shop and job-site employees; EPA forms related to RCRA compliance; state and federal government agency listings for RCRA compliance and emergency response numbers; complete F-, P-, K- and U-lists of specific hazardous wastes; and emergency response information and procedures templates that can be customized for your business.

If you have any questions about the program or EPA rules regarding hazardous waste, contact Harry Dietz, NRCA's director of safety and regulatory compliance, at (800) 323-9545, ext. 7502, or


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