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The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) was enacted by Congress in 1980 and amended in 1986. Also referred to as the Superfund law, CERCLA's major emphasis is on cleaning up inactive hazardous waste sites and imposing liability for cleanup costs on arrangers and transporters of hazardous substances and on current and former owners of facilities where hazardous substances were disposed. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to control hazardous waste from the “cradle-to-grave.” This includes the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. The Superfund law imposes liability on parties who are responsible, in whole or in part, for the presence of hazardous substances at a site. All companies are responsible for properly disposing of their waste. Once a third party is involved in handling the waste stream, there is now a shared responsibility to properly dispose of the waste material-the generator is not absolved once the waste is accepted by a third party. This waste handling process is defined as “Cradle to Grave” Liability, Joint and Several.

A critical aspect of liability under the Superfund law is that it is retroactive, so parties may be held responsible for acts that happened before the law was enacted in 1980. In addition, liability is joint and several, meaning that any one potentially responsible party (PRP) may be held liable for the entire cleanup of the site when the harm caused by multiple parties cannot be separated. Also, liability is considered strict, because a PRP cannot escape liability by simply claiming it was not negligent or was operating according to industry standards-if a PRP sent hazardous waste found at the site, that party is potentially liable.

Superfund liability is triggered if any the following conditions are met:

  • Hazardous wastes are present at the facility,
  • There is a release (or the possibility of a release) of those hazardous substances,
  • Costs were or will be incurred in responding to the release, and
  • The defendant is a PRP.

PRPs may avoid Superfund liability only if it can be proven that the release was caused solely by an act of God, an act of war, or an act or omission of a third party with whom the PRP has no contractual relationship commonly referred to as the “third-party defense,” or state and local governments. 

What are waste receptors? Essentially, a waste receptor is a site/location that the waste from a facility is delivered to for final disposal/disposition. The waste may be placed in a landfill or mixed with other waste at a hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal (TSD) facility. The following are some typical waste receptor sites: landfills: non-hazardous/hazardous, hazardous waste incinerators, tote and drum re-conditioners, tanker washes, metals recovery, wastewater treatment, universal waste processing, used oil recycling, hazardous waste TSD sites, fuels blending, incinerators, injection wells, land treatment facilities, underground mines/caves, and disposal bunkers.

It is essential that operators select the right hazardous waste disposal company. A properly licensed and experienced hazardous waste disposal company is invaluable in helping a company maintain federal and state standards. The right vendor will help an operator maintain compliance with these regulations, provide minimal disruption to operations, and perform these tasks in a cost-effective manner.

It is also important to monitor the performance of waste receptors, which can be achieved through a properly
conducted audit. 

EHSQ_1_ Waste Disposal_image 1Auditing a Waste Receptor

The audit process involves an initial discussion with vendor personnel, after which a site visit is scheduled. A list of audit questions should be sent to the third-party waste receptor for completion and use during the audit. One day is typically allotted for the site audit. Once on site, the auditor should thoroughly review site paperwork, including interviewing the site personnel and reviewing various permits and written programs. Next, the auditor should conduct a site walkthrough. It is crucial that the auditor sees the complete site, including the buildings, storage areas, outfalls, property boundaries, and housekeeping. Photographs of the site should be taken when approved by the site owner.

This one-day audit should examine the areas outlined below.

General Information
Company profile, site profile, facility staffing, facility setting and use, security, and emergency response

Summary of Permits
List of permits and registrations, authorized and prohibited waste

Operations Review 
Hazardous waste TSD, recycling, non-hazardous waste, container management, bulk storage, transportation, laboratory operations, receipt control/waste tracking

Residuals Management (including containers)
Residuals generated/offsite receiver, storm water management

Regulatory Compliance Status
Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC)/RCRA 
contingency plan, agency reporting, health and safety compliance, agency contact, regulatory inspection history

Site Inspection
Review of the physical site, waste handling, outfalls, storage areas

Supporting Data
Includes site maps, site layout, insurance certificate, financial statements, permit copies, photographs, logs, correspondence including inspections or violations, agency databases

As the audit progresses, the auditor should note any areas of concern. Table 1 provides some examples of issues that were drawn from audits. 

Table 1. Example Audit Issues
Inspection ItemsAreas of Concern
Company ProfileLack of waste industry experience; history of incidents at other locations (fire/explosion)
Site ProfileScope of operation lack of thorough knowledge of the site
Facility StaffingLack of experience, industry knowledge, regulatory knowledge; poor operator skills; excessive turnover; too much dependence on Corporate staff; little support from Corporate staff
Site HistoryPast use of site; past contamination; past violations/consent orders; abandoned/closed areas (i.e., pre-RCRA landfill cells)
Facility Setting and Surrounding UsePlacement near sensitive elements; urban vs rural; environmental justice; neighbors' w/areas of concern (i.e., Superfund site)
SecurityLack of fencing, gates, entry control; no plan; no guards
Emergency ResponseNo solid plan; past experiences (e.g., explosions); lack of response to issues (e.g., fatality)
PermitsPoor permit execution; cannot provide permit information; cannot define the permit requirements; permit not current; permits do not address all current activities and/or equipment; construction of site; process or storage volume limitations
Authorized/Prohibited WastesCannot provide a detailed description; not well defined; not consistent with permit
Hazardous Waste TSDMaintenance procedures; inventory turns; limitations such as through-put; mixture of waste codes; cannot define the operation; location of key equipment (e.g., control room); condition of equipment; operations within non-rated areas
Recycling/Non-Hazardous WasteSame as above; lack of process controls (e.g., “it's non-hazardous”
Container ManagementNo control of “non-empty” containers; containers not triple rinsed; no confined space program; lack of proper clean/disposal program
Bulk StoragePoor containment; no mechanical integrity; condition of tanks; evidence of overfills; not consistent with permit
TransportationPoor knowledge of Department of Transportation (DOT); condition of equipment
Laboratory OperationsNo/limited laboratory / equipment; equipment maintenance /calibration; lack of training/experience; limited hours
Receipt Control/Waste trackingNot following Waste Analysis Plan (WAP); limited profiling/reliance on generator knowledge; limited profile renewal; limited inspections; poor documentation/tracking/inventory control
Residuals Generated and Offsite ReceiversCannot define residual; questionable disposal locations; internal waste generation procedures/accumulation/storage/labeling/manifesting: poor waste characterization
Stormwater ManagementNot permitted; lack of No Exposure Certification; operation/storage after no exposure declaration; discharge without sampling; poor Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMR) documentation
SPCC/RCRA Contingency PlansIncomplete; out of date; not certified by Process Engineer (PE)
Health and Safety ComplianceLack of training; lack of plan; fatalities / serious injuries; frequency of incidence; lack of corrective action; no understanding of how to monitor for exposures
Agency ContactDiscusses past/current issues; suggests a degradation of performance; requires frequent visits; provides new information
Regulatory Inspection HistoryMultiple/repeat violations; consent orders past and present; site withholds information; no or limited corrective action
Regulatory Violations/Corrective Actions/Facility InvestigationsSite contamination; past and current action plans; long-standing action plans without improvement; lack of understanding /support by current management
LitigationSite contamination; past and current action plans; long-standing action plans without improvement; lack of understanding /support by current management
Review of Federal/State DatabasesIdentification of issues not disclosed by management; identification of issues such as Superfund site; repeat issues  
Review of physical sitePoor housekeeping: condition of buildings/grounds/laboratory/equipment; facility at capacity; containment; quality of controls and instrumentation; handling flammables in non-rated areas; evidence of spillage, fires etc.; possible issues with surrounding neighbors; proximity to highways/neighbors; lack of emergency equipment; location of control rooms; density of staffing; indoor vs. outdoor operations; access to site; lack of safety protection/execution; poor lighting; poor process flow; lack of buffer


Conversely, best practices that should be observed through the audit process include the following:

  • Thorough WAP, including profile analysis and inspection
  • Waste handling process definition with management of change
  • ERP systems with material tracking from receipt to final destruction
  • Permit compliance program, including requirements with actions/calendar
  • Capital program providing for improvements and expansion
  • Preventive maintenance program
  • Employee training program

Waste Receptor Audit Report

All the data collected from the site audit should be organized into a final audit report. The report should include details of the site audit, as well as conclusions regarding the risk of using the facility for waste disposal. Recommendations for any corrective actions that should be taken will also be noted.

Trinity Consultants staff have conducted more than 1,500 audits for our waste-generating industrial clients. For assistance, contact the author or call 800.229.6655.