Retailers Face Hazardous Waste Disposal Challenges in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey

In the wake of natural disasters, like Hurricane Harvey, many are quick to assess and analyze the effects of flooding and damage to Superfund toxic waste sites and from hazardous waste spills– understandably so. Many other sites, such as retail stores, were damaged by the extensive flooding caused by the hurricane.  Now many retailers and local businesses face challenges in disposing of their hazardous waste.  While Texas did provide some relief from some environmental rules to aide recovery efforts, federal hazardous waste disposal rules still apply.

Stores that were damaged by floodwaters or lost power for an extended period of time may have to dispose of numerous hazardous waste products, including household cleaners, pesticides, and certain beauty products. Similarly, medications and refrigerated pharmaceuticals—like insulin—may no longer be usable and must be properly disposed as hazardous waste.

EPA has not announced that it is relaxing waste management regulations because of the situation in Houston.  Therefore, the requirements for disposal of hazardous waste according to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) are still in effect.  This means that if unuseable products qualify as hazardous waste, retailers can’t just throw out these materials in the trash. The store’s size and the volume of hazardous waste it handles will determine its status as a “generator” under RCRA.  Depending on the store’s status as a generator, certain containment, recordkeeping, and disposal requirements and restrictions apply. In some cases, that means cleanup efforts for contaminated retail sites may take a long time, and cost retailers a lot of money in hazardous waste disposal fees.

Some retailers are required to have emergency preparedness plans and provisions depending on their hazardous waste generator size.  It is prudent for those plans to address possible flooding as a result of naturals disasters, such as hurricanes.  For those retailers who are not required to conduct emergency preparedness planning under RCRA, it is imperative to do so as sound business practice.