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Sierra Club Conservation Policies

Hazardous Waste Management

The Sierra Club recognizes that hazardous wastes present immediate and long-term problems that threaten the life-sustaining capabilities of the Earth. Our goal is to manage existing wastes in the safest way and ultimately to lead society to the wisest use of all materials so that hazardous wastes are not produced. This will protect worker and community health, conserve resources and improve environmental quality.

Each state or region should inventory its waste management needs, set goals for waste minimization, and avoid permitting excess capability. Waste streams should be kept separate, transported as little as possible, and treated with the best technology. Some secure, retrievable storage may be necessary while safer, better treatment technologies are developed and implemented. The best technology should be used to protect the health and safety of all workers.

1. Technologies -- Elimination or reduction of wastes from industrial processes should have the highest priority in a waste management program. Process substitution, waste reduction, reuse, and conversion to nonhazardous substances should be encouraged. Closed systems of manufacture, use, and disposal should be developed. Industrial processes producing wastes that cannot be reused, converted to nonhazardous substances, or safely incinerated should be phased out. If materials and energy recovery are not possible, the best technologies should be used to reduce the level of hazard as much as possible. Waste exchanges should be encouraged by regulatory programs.

Incineration should be considered after all other acceptable options have been evaluated and found to be impracticable for man- aging a particular waste. Regulations must be in place to require the lowest levels of emissions and effluents that are technically feasible. Incinerator design, permitting, and operation must include sufficient safeguards to protect human health and the environment. If the lowest feasible levels of emissions do not fully protect human health and the environment, the facility should not be allowed to operate unless incineration is the least hazardous option for management of an existing problem waste. Because much is still not known about the health and environmental effects of emissions, including the products of incomplete combustion, research should be pursued to further characterize and reduce emissions.

(a) The permitting, siting, and operation of hazardous waste incinerators, including mobile units, must include a public education and participation process that makes all data associated with design, waste streams, transportation, storage, and emissions conveniently available to the public.

(b) All permits should be written to provide for changes or revocation at any time, and should be re-evaluated at least every two years. A mobile incinerator must have a permit that is specific for each site where it operates.

(c) Incinerator siting should minimize risks to the public from emissions and transportation, at the same time avoiding such environmentally sensitive areas as critical wildlife habitat, parks, and wilderness areas. A facility should include a buffer zone and operate inside a containment building where fugitive emissions are controlled.

(d) Trial burns must be conducted on each individual incinerator using waste streams as close as possible in character to those to be burned in normal operations.

(e) All hazardous waste incinerators should be equipped with emission control systems for acid gas, toxics, and particulates. Monitoring should address all potentially toxic emissions, including organics and metals. Monitoring should be based on frequent or continuous sampling whenever technically feasible. Continuous emissions monitoring should be employed that will fully characterize the operating conditions of the incinerator and should be connected to automatic interlock systems that will not allow continued operation of the incinerator if design values cannot be attained. Ashes, slag, and aqueous wastes should be presumed hazardous and managed appropriately. Management of incinerator residues should be provided for in the design and permitting process.

(f) Monitoring programs should include the collection of on-site and off-site baseline data prior to facility operation so that contamination from the facility can be distinguished from ambient or background pollution levels when operation begins. Established quality control procedures should be used. All monitoring data should be conveniently available to the public and the press from facility operators and regulatory authorities.

(g) Regulatory controls should require operator certification and an operations and maintenance plan. Inspection to determine that the plan is being followed should be both announced and unannounced and should cover all shifts at facilities. Regulations should provide for the establishment of a citizens' over-sight committee which can designate and supervise its own inspector. This person shall be trained and employed at state or facility owner expense and should inspect the facility on a least a weekly basis, independently of state inspections.

(h) Research on other thermal technologies, using nonhazardous chemicals for initial testing, should be encouraged.

(i) Part of the facility's cost of doing business should include the preparation of environmental and public health risk assessments, permit fees, monitoring, closure, insurance, and post-closure contingency funds. A special tax, such as a gross receipts tax, should be imposed on the facility to compensate the host community that bears the health risks. This compensation should be available for improving community emergency response capabilities, additional monitoring, health testing, health care, transportation safety, and other costs attributable to facility impacts. Marine incineration is not acceptable because human or mechanical error or natural disaster could cause a release of toxics that could not be contained or cleaned up. Compliance with strict safety or emissions requirements would be difficult to assure and safer disposal options exist.

Land disposal is not acceptable for hazardous waste. Even so, it may be necessary to landfill the irreducible residues of treatment of hazardous wastes. For that reason, these facilities should be sited and constructed to minimize the possibility of surface or groundwater contamination. Air, land, and water should be monitored for contamination.

Pits, ponds, and lagoons are not acceptable, except possibly for inorganic wastes of low volatility and low leachability. They should be constructed or retrofitted with double liners, leak detection between the liners, and continuous soil and groundwater monitoring. Underground injection is not acceptable because of the potential for present or future groundwater contamination.

Export of hazardous wastes from the United States to other countries is not acceptable because it poses significant health and environmental threats, is technically unnecessary and unjustified, and is unethical. An exception might be a unique and special circumstance where great public health and environmental benefit can be demonstrated.

2. Siting Processes -- Programs to site new hazardous waste facilities should be based on the need for facilities and the most appropriate technologies for dealing with the particular wastes. Agencies administering such programs should work with environmental, citizen, trade, small business, educational, and labor groups to evaluate these needs, to ensure the most effective management of the wastes, and to devise comprehensive mechanisms for local monitoring of the facility's impact.

The process for siting new hazardous waste facilities is the key to their success. It should be open and fair to all interests. Specific provisions should include public education well before any site is chosen, development of siting criteria, establishment of an institution to site facilities, and assessment of need for facilities. Funds for studies and monitoring must come from an earmarked source, the operator or proponent paying for them and the community choosing the consultant. A referee can be jointly chosen in case of a dispute. Upfront financial assurance to cover adequate monitoring, maintenance, closure, and post-closure monitoring of the facility should be required, regardless of the financial conditions of the operator. Citizens should have full access to the data upon which the siting decision is made, including but not limited to the proposed procedures of handling the wastes and the specific wastes to be handled. Collaboration, mitigation, and compensation should be recognized by all parties to the negotiation process as legitimate methods for making a facility acceptable to its host community. Community representatives should have an explicit role in facility oversight.

3. Regulatory Programs -- Regulations should be dear, specific, and enforceable. Where possible, incentives should be used to encourage the best management practices. Government responsibilities include over-sight of the hazardous waste management system. Agencies involved must be well managed and capable of coordinating the highly complex system involving different levels of government, the private sector, and the public. Decisions need to be made by people who are accountable to the public. Public participation should include full access to data, consideration of the advice of independent technical experts and other citizens, and explanations made in a timely manner. Regulatory responsibilities include:

(a) Procedures for handling hazardous wastes by generators, recyclers, transporters, treaters, and disposers. This should include protection of workers.

(b) Rules governing facility siting, operation, and closure.

(c) Effective enforcement of laws and permit conditions.

(d) Conscientious inspections to ensure proper operation and accurate reporting.

(e) Authority to allow administrative penalties and collect fines for violations, at both state and federal levels.

(f) Cooperation and assistance to the institution conducting the planning and siting process for future facilities.

All new hazardous waste facilities should be constructed totally or partially above existing grade, physically accessible to inspection personnel. The facility and loading areas should be designed to prevent spills and contain any that may occur, including rainfall in outdoor areas. Cleanup facilities should be adequate to deal with the maximum possible leak or spill. These safeguards and facility monitoring apply to existing, expanding, or new facilities. Regulations should address all generators of hazardous wastes. Every effort should be made to educate small businesses and the general public in reduction and proper handling of small quantities of hazardous wastes such as discarded pesticides and solvents. Municipal or county collection and treatment systems should be developed so these substances do not contaminate municipal landfills, sewage treatment systems, or groundwater. An effective national pretreatment program for industrial waste water is essential to ensure that liquid hazardous wastes do not degrade surface, ground, or marine waters, damage publicly owned treatment works, or create sewage sludge that cannot be used safely as a soil improvement. Aqueous wastes should not be evaporated if hazardous compounds will be vaporized; they must be treated.

4. Liability -- Hazardous waste generators, transporters, treaters, and disposers should be held strictly, jointly, and severally liable for any injury which may occur to property, human health and welfare, or the environment. Procedures should be established to hold individuals responsible for their actions. Legislation should be enacted to ease the burden of proving the causal relationship and any injury it may have caused. There should be both civil and animal penalties for violators.

Legislation should be passed to allow citizen suits to enforce hazardous waste laws and regulations. Financial responsibility (insurance or bonding) should be required of all generators, transporters, treaters, and disposers to assure their ability to compensate for any damage.

5. Cleanup -- A waste management program should include a clear set of priorities governing the process for cleanup of accidents and abandoned sites. It should have funding so that trained and protected personnel with equipment to carry out the cleanup are available when needed. Sites need to be carefully evaluated for appropriate containment and treatment of the waste. The full cost of cleanup shall be recovered from the party whenever possible.

6. Funding -- A fair national mechanism for funding government hazardous waste programs should be devised. Assessments should be based on degree of hazard and progress made in reducing tonnage and toxicity through best management practices. Research must be funded, preferably through such assessments, to increase the amount and quality of data on the effects of hazardous waste on human health and the environment. All states should establish comprehensive mandatory birth defect and cancer registries. Research is needed to assure that the full range of wastes that are toxic, including mixtures, will be regulated. More accurate technologies for site monitoring should be developed.

7. Compensation -- Public and private sectors should cooperate with the communities where hazardous waste facilities are located so that acute and chronic health problems can be identified and addressed quickly. The Sierra Club supports notification and full disclosure to those who have been or may be exposed to hazardous wastes in the community or workplace. Where warranted, a program of victim's assistance or compensation should be provided.

Adopted by the Board of Directors, May 5-6, 1984; amended May 2-3, 1987, and March 18-19, 1989

Guidance on Hazardous Waste Incinerators by the Hazardous Materials Committee

[Note: This statement should be quoted in full and not excerpted.]

Incinerators should not be used to manage hazardous waste unless it can be demonstrated that there is no other technically feasible method for management of a specific waste. EPA's new incinerator regulations are not yet in place. Adequate regulatory frameworks do not exist at the state and federal level to protect public health and the environment from the hazards of incineration. Technologies other than incineration are more appropriate for managing many hazardous wastes, and a region must give priority to siting and permitting such facilities. The programs that direct manufacturers to produce less waste are neither strong enough nor fully implemented. Disposers must have to document that they have done all they can to avoid, minimize, recycle, or otherwise treat a waste before sending it to an incinerator. Incinerator permits must allow only such residuals to be accepted.

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