Large EPA settlement points to common problems with hazardous waste

Hospital Safety Insider, November 18, 2009

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The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) actions as part of a $533,570 hospital settlement should give all safety committees a reason to review hazardous waste concerns.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Eastern Kansas Health Care System settled with the EPA over violations to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) allegedly found at Dwight D. Eisenhower Veterans Medical Center in Leavenworth, KS, and Colmery O’Neil Veterans Medical Center in Topeka, KS.
Civil fines totaled $51,501. On top of that, the VA agreed to invest nearly $482,069 for new systems to better track and manage chemical wastes in the two hospitals.
Some of the alleged violations included no-nos such as incinerating hazardous materials on-site, says Ed Buckner, compliance officer in the RCRA enforcement branch at the EPA’s Region 7 office.
Even though many hospitals probably know better than to incinerate on-site, Buckner says, they still could be vulnerable to similar fines because they don’t know exactly what is hazardous and what isn’t -- and how to store and transport hazardous materials properly once they’re identified.
The VA’s national headquarters in Washington declined any comment on the record for this article.
Buckner offers the following three tips to help you stay ahead of RCRA problems:
  • Conduct a hazardous waste determination for all solid wastes. The main problem with the Kansas VA hospitals’ handling of wastes was that they didn’t know what was hazardous material under RCRA, Buckner says. Hazardous wastes require special handling and transport. If you don’t know what’s hazardous in your building and covered under RCRA, you may be racking up fines without knowing it.
  • Make certain to ship hazardous wastes using a qualified transporter. Not just anyone can haul away hazardous wastes. Make sure your hauler has a federal ID number.
  • Do not collect chemicals in storerooms and laboratories. Do you know what’s been forgotten about on shelves in the landscaping shed? Labs -- especially those connected to universities -- are also vulnerable to storing chemicals past their allowed RCRA time frame, usually 90 or 180 days depending on facility size. Abandoning or ignoring stored chemicals past that period is a way of creating waste. Containers of waste oil and gasoline, old batteries in the maintenance sheds, and fluorescent bulbs may fall under RCRA.
Read seven more RCRA tips from Buckner in the December 2009 Briefings on Hospital Safety, part of all subscriptions to the Hospital Safety Center.
This issue of Briefings also discusses how to run more effective safety fairs for employees and explores a recent Joint Commission visit to a hospital in Survey Monitor.
Don’t forget, you can always take a 14-day, free trial of all the Hospital Safety Center’s features by clicking here.

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