In January, three Michigan men were sentenced to 12 months in
prison and ordered to pay $4,000 in fines for violating the Resource
Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Why? They participated in
a conspiracy to illegally dispose of paint waste containing methyl-ethyl
ketone (MEK), which is listed as a hazardous waste under RCRA.
The paint waste, which was allegedly misrepresented as nonhazardous
hydraulic fluid, was placed in a dumpster and spilled on the ground
at Lakeside Stamping, Inc. in Prudenville, Mich. From there, the
waste was alleged to have been disposed of at a landfill in Waters,
Mich., which wasn’t licensed for the disposal of hazardous wastes.
Unlike these men, you may never intentionally dispose of hazardous
wastes improperly, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in trouble
for improper waste disposal. For example, if the company that
hauls away your hazardous waste disposes of it illegally, you
could still be held liable.
How can you protect yourself and your business? Education is your
best line of defense, which includes four key areas to focus on:
- Determine what potentially hazardous wastes your paint shop
- Become very familiar with federal and state regulations regarding
- Investigate the waste transport and disposal companies you
- Learn about alternatives to hazardous-waste disposal.
What Is a Hazardous Waste?
RCRA defines hazardous waste as a discarded (land-disposed, incinerated,
burned, recycled or stored) substance that demonstrates one or
more of these characteristics: It’s ignitable, corrosive, reactive
To determine whether your waste exhibits one or more of these
characteristics, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests
that you check the material safety data sheet that comes with
all products containing hazardous materials. (For a complete listing
of hazardous-waste codes, see Title 40 of the Code of Federal
Regulations, Part 261.)
Most likely, your paint shop generates a number of potentially
hazardous wastes including, but not limited to:
- Solid and liquid paints;
- Solvents and cleaners;
- Alkaline washes;
- Phosphate pretreatment solutions;
- Chrome/no-chrome rinses;
- Waterwash booth sludge;
- Spraybooth filters;
- Used paint containers;
- Lead acid batteries.
All hazardous waste must be managed and disposed of or recycled
according to appropriate state and federal regulations.
Take a Closer Look
It’s important to take a close look at your waste transport, recycling
and disposal companies. Even when you follow the rules, you could
still be held liable for improper disposal of hazardous wastes.
As a generator of hazardous materials, you’re responsible for
One business owner was unpleasantly surprised by the cradle-to-grave
policy that made him responsible for environmental damage, though
he thought he hadn’t done anything wrong. "I thought my hazardous
waste was being properly handled and disposed of," he says.
"I never expected I’d be sued for the runoff of hazardous
waste into the river and sewage system arising from the waste
How do you protect yourself? You can’t eliminate the risks involved
in the transport and disposal of your hazardous wastes, but you
can minimize them. Select only reputable, EPA-approved and -licensed
companies to transport and dispose of or recycle your shop’s waste.
Get references from other body shop owners and aftermarket associations.
You also can investigate your waste disposal company by checking
with the EPA to ensure that proper permits and licenses are provided.
Be sure to find out if any violations are noted.
Also investigate your waste transporter. Again, check with the
EPA regarding proper permits and licenses. Ask whether the transporter
has had any releases, spills or overfills, then conduct your own
examination of the transporter’s methods and practices while he
is on your premises.
If you work with a recycler, make sure it has a permit from the
state or the EPA. Transporters, disposal companies and recyclers
are required to have EPA identification numbers, so verify that
the ones you’re working with do.
The investigating process will take some time, but because you’re
responsible for the proper management of hazardous waste even
after it leaves your site, it’s worth the time it takes. By working
only with the most reputable companies available, you may lessen
the possibility of paying for their negligence.
Consider the Alternatives
By minimizing the amount of hazardous wastes your paint shop generates,
you may also minimize your disposal costs and liability. Besides
monitoring and controlling the use of paint and materials, there
are some other ways to minimize paint shop wastes:
- Separate solvents from paint;
- Mix only the amount of paint needed for the job;
- Distill or reuse thinners and solvents;
- Use newer spray equipment;
- Use reusable booth filters;
- Never mix wastes;
- Store hazardous products and containers safely.
- Recycle whenever possible (paint thinner can be recycled).
Consult with a reputable hazardous-waste treatment and disposal
company for more information about disposal alternatives.
Protect Your Business and Yourself
When it comes to hazardous-waste disposal, it pays to be in the
know. Specifically, you need to know what potentially hazardous
wastes your business generates; the federal and state regulations
regarding waste disposal; the waste transport, disposal and recycling
companies you work with; and alternatives to hazardous-waste disposal.
It will, without a doubt, take some time to investigate the companies
you work with and the regulations you must follow. But, by fully
understanding every aspect of your hazardous-waste disposal process
and by working with the most reputable companies out there, you
can lessen the chance of paying for someone else’s negligent handling.
Writer Gerry Cecil is senior director of Market Development
for Universal Underwriters’ Automotive Specialty Markets (ASM)
Division. For more information, call Cecil at (800) 840-8842,
ext. 1618, e-mail him at [email protected] or visit ASM’s Web
site at (www.uuic.com/autospec).
Information for this article was provided by the Loss Prevention
Department of Universal Underwriters Group. This article is intended
for general informational purposes only, not as a complete description
of hazardous-waste management procedures and requirements. Universal
Underwriters Group isn’t providing legal advice and assumes no
liability concerning this information.
Are You Covered?
A key element of your hazardous-waste management program is pollution
liability insurance. Without it, you could be risking your business.
Such a policy can be added to your current insurance program to
help protect your business from potential lawsuits stemming from
To obtain coverage for pollution liability, you need to have several
controls in place – approved haulers, sites and methods of disposal.
However, by following the approved methods, you won’t eliminate
your exposures, which is why you should consider purchasing pollution
Consider the following scenarios in which you could be held liable:
- Your EPA-approved waste transporter improperly disposes of
your hazardous waste;
- You use an EPA-approved waste hauler who has an accident,
spilling hazardous waste, some of which your business generated,
and the hauler’s limits are inadequate or nonexistent;
- Your EPA-approved recycler improperly disposes of your waste
For more information about issues to consider as you plan your
pollution liability coverage, visit the "How to Purchase
Business Insurance" portion of Universal Underwriters’ Web
site at (www.uuic.com/autospec/insurance/insur.html) and click
on Pollution Liability, or call Marsha Thompson at (800) 840-8842,
Follow the Rules
There are many regulations regarding hazardous-waste management
– and you need to know them.
Many states have enacted their own hazardous-waste regulations
that are based on federal regulations but are sometimes more stringent.
If so, you must comply with your state’s regulations. For more
information regarding your state’s regulations, contact your state’s
To learn more about federal hazardous-waste regulations or
review the federal hazardous-waste regulations in Title 40 of
the Code of Federal Regulations, Parts 260 to 299, call RCRA’s
hot line. You can also visit EPA’s Web site at (www.epa.gov).
Other Web sites, such as OSHA’s at (www.osha.gov) and the Coordinating
Committee for Automotive Repair’s at (www.ccargreenlink.org),
may be useful to you as well.