What is Hazardous Waste?
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed February 10, 2017
Depending on the operations of your small business, you may eventually come across hazardous waste issues. Waste is considered hazardous if it is:
- ignitable (burns readily);
- corrosive or reactive (explosive); or
- contains certain amounts of toxic chemicals.
Whether it's everyday items like paints, oils, batteries or cleaners or more industrial wastes like cement kiln dust or crude oil wastes, the improper handling and disposal of such materials could put your business at risk.
However, FindLaw is here to help. Here you'll find more information on identifying and disposing of hazardous wastes and shielding your small business from liability.
Hazardous Waste and the EPA
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a list of some 500 specific hazardous wastes. Hazardous wastes may be solids, sludges, or liquids. Businesses that produce hazardous waste can include:
- dry cleaners;
- auto repair shops;
- exterminators; and
- photo processing centers
Larger hazardous waste generators can include chemical manufacturers, electroplating companies, and petroleum refineries.
Hazardous waste traditionally was disposed of on the land of the person or facility that generated the waste. Occasionally, the generator would transport the waste to an off-site disposal area. In either case, there often was little or no record keeping, so subsequent landowners were unaware of risks on their property and waste was stored improperly. This led to significant contamination of land and water, exposing those living in the area to any number of related medical conditions.
Before federal regulation of hazardous waste disposal began, the EPA estimated that 290 million tons of hazardous waste were produced in the United States annually, ninety percent of which was disposed of improperly. Some old hazardous waste sites, like Love Canal, have been the subject of toxic tort lawsuits by people who were injured by exposure to the toxic substances.
Disposing of Hazardous Waste
Due to the increasing regulation of hazardous waste disposal efforts at both the federal and state level there are now a number of recycling options for businesses. Because the components of your waste determine the level of regulatory rules, one thing you may want to consider is whether your business could use alternate materials that are more easily recycled. Even if they're more expensive on the front end, they could end up saving you a considerable amount of time and resources at the disposal phase.
If recycling is not an option for the hazardous waste associated with your business, then you may want to consider contracting with a hazardous waste disposal company. These companies are familiar with federal and state regulations and, at the end of the day, can take the burden (and liability) off of your shoulders. The costs and risks involved in trying to dispose of the waste on your own could far outweigh the cost of paying another company to do it for you. After all, if your business is responsible for a hazardous waste release, you could be facing corrective action from the EPA, ongoing litigation, and cleanup costs.
Hazardous Waste Issues? Learn More From an Attorney
When it comes to hazardous wastes, getting it wrong could spell the end of your business. However, with the right planning and structure in place, you can minimize your exposure to liability and streamline your process for handling and disposing of hazardous wastes. Find out more today by speaking with an experienced business attorney near you.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.