Construction and Hazardous Waste

Construction and Hazardous Waste Whether you work in residential or commercial construction, your crew may encounter or generate hazardous wastes. It’s your responsibility to ensure they know how to identify and separate these hazardous materials—from paints and solvents to adhesives and caulks—from the non-hazardous before engaging in proper disposal. Make mistakes and your construction company may incur fines and face property damage lawsuits.

Why is Hazardous Waste a Big Deal?

Hazardous wastes can pollute land, air and water. They can also endanger human and animal health. Improper disposal—for example, with nonhazardous waste—can pose a health threat to workers and cause problems at landfills. It’s also illegal in many areas. Dispose of hazardous construction waste incorrectly and federal or state law may require you to pay for costly cleanup projects.

Regulations related to hazardous waste include the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Hazardous Material Transportation Act (HMTA), the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Additionally, 40 CFR 260-279 addresses federal regulations for hazardous waste management.

What is a Hazardous Waste Exactly?

Hazardous waste includes construction waste that exhibits one or more of the following characteristics: ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity or toxicity. Ignitable wastes are those with flash points below 140°F. Examples include solvents and mineral spirits. Corrosive wastes are water-based liquids with a pH less than 2.0 or greater than 12.5. Examples of corrosive wastes include battery acid and alkaline cleaning solvents. Reactive wastes, such as hydrogen sulfide and bleach, are unstable and readily undergo violent chemical reactions when they encounter water or other substances. Toxic wastes, which include lead paint and some adhesives, are harmful due to the presence of metals or organic compounds.

Within the construction environment, you or your crew may encounter thermostats containing mercury, lead paint, lead pipes, fluorescent lamps, hazardous varieties of glues and roofing tars, PCB caulking, mercury or lead-based batteries, aerosol and asbestos among other potentially dangerous materials. Common hazardous chemicals include ammonia, fluorine, nitric acid and sulfur dioxide.

You can find more information on hazardous wastes in the in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) catalog of hazardous and solid waste publications.

How Do I Get Rid of It?

If you uncover or generate hazardous waste during construction, contact a reliable hazardous waste management company or a treatment, storage and disposal (TSD) facility. Some landfills will accept certain hazardous wastes as well. To mitigate risk to your workers and the environment, construction contractors should always follow EPA, state and municipal laws and stay informed of hazardous waste regulatory changes on all government levels. You should include hazardous waste discovery and disposal in every site plan and address associated risks in your safety plan.