- WEB EXCLUSIVE
- PE COFFEEHAUS
EPA rules allow hazardous waste generators to landfill mercury wastes without determining the mercury content of the wastes or assuring that the wastes were safely treated prior to land disposal. More critically, the loophole in question allowed waste generators to avoid the requirement that mercury be removed from the most highly contaminated mercury hazardous wastes prior to landfilling.
The GAO determined that the EPA could not effectively confirm that businesses were properly managing their mercury-containing waste. The office noted that EPA data did not describe the treatment standard used for most mercury contaminated debris. Additionally, surveys of state regulators and hazardous waste landfill owners revealed confusion about mercury waste disposal rules.
“If the goal is to keep mercury out of the environment the regulations clearly do not do that - there are too many exemptions” said Paul Abernathy, executive director of the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers. “It is extremely important to have precise regulations outlining the proper management and disposal of this toxic material as a proactive approach to maintaining a clean environment and protecting public health.”
The GAO determined the main source of the waste was not hazardous mercury material spills and cleanup sites, as had been expected, but rather the result of intermittent events (such as the demolition of production plants) and routine industrial processes like replacing pipes in a chlorine plant. These generators were not required to comply with strict mercury treatment regulations and were instead allowed to landfill their wastes under more lenient standards for debris. According to the ALMR “it does not make sense to regulate or exempt a toxic material based on how big or little it is. The mercury should be recovered, period.”