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Tips For Filter Disposal

To dispose of spraybooth and prep-station filters, shops have a number of options from which to choose, but not all of them are cost effective — or legal.


Shop owners groan and roll their eyes when they hear the words "EPA compliance" — especially when they’re in regard to hazardous or special waste. In hopes of eliciting a more positive reaction the next time you hear those words, let’s look at a few options for disposing of spraybooth and prep-station filters.

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The Disposal Cycle
The disposal route begins with the OSHA-required Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that accompany each container of paint product — paints, tints, clears, hardeners, etc. Under EPA regulations, the areas where the material is sprayed require exhaust filters. When spraybooth or prep-station exhaust filters are used, they must be disposed of properly, accounted for and then replaced. Thus runs the cycle.

To deal with this disposal cycle, shops have a number of options — but not all of them are cost effective or legal. A few of the more common choices:

• "I just toss them in the dumpster." When a shop owner assumes that used filters aren’t hazardous waste and tosses them in the dumpster, it’s called using "applied knowledge." This approach doesn’t hold up in court and could earn a shop owner thousands of dollars in EPA fines. For those who haven’t experienced it, the EPA can inflict fines of up to $25,000 per violation, per day until a violation is corrected. And declaring bankruptcy won’t relieve you, your company or your estate of the fines once they’re declared. In other words, this choice is a bad one.


• "I just bury them on my private land." Congratulations! You now own that property forever because you can’t even give it away without a site assessment. You could, of course, will it to your heirs, but then your estate will bear the cost of a site assessment and any necessary remedying. Either way, you’re paying for the land twice. While this option may prove effective for dealing with beneficiaries you really don’t care about, it could also ensure that the folks you do care about are left with nothing. Burying used exhaust filters on leased property doesn’t spare you either because it’s the one who buries them who’s considered the prime target for punishment.


• "I pay my recycler to take care of that headache." The recycler may transport it, but the generator still owns it. Next time your recycler’s truck pulls away, stand at the door and imagine big dollar signs on the side of it. Not only is your recycler hauling away a portion of your profits, he’s no doubt making another profit on top of that with some of your waste-stream products. Liquid solvents are recycled and sold to paint-shop operators, and used filters are sold to rotary-kiln operators to be burned as fuel. Is your recycler hauling away waste that could be tested and disposed of locally? Shops can save thousands of dollars a year by knowing their disposal options.


For example, only four out of the six barrels at your shop ready to be hauled away actually contain hazardous waste. But when you manifest the remaining two non-hazardous barrels along with those four, all six barrels must now be paid for and treated as hazardous waste. Why? Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulation indicates that mixing non-hazardous waste with hazardous waste makes the whole batch hazardous. This shipment is then tracked by your shop’s EPA generator number. A signature on a manifest doesn’t relieve you, the generator, of any responsibility.

Breaking the Cycle
OK, that’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: Once waste-stream products are subjected to laboratory testing, several legal disposal options become available.


• Generators may legally be able to dispose of paint-booth and prep-station filters in the shop’s dumpster and then have them hauled to the landfill along with everything else.

• Arrangements can be made for the shop to deliver fiberboard barrels of spent filters to the landfill for a small fee.

• Arrangements can be made for local incinerator facilities to accept spent filters for incineration. (Keep in mind that an incinerator may require a stack-metals test to accomplish this.)

• Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators (CEGs) — shops generating 220 pounds or less per month of hazardous or special waste — are eligible to participate in municipal waste programs, which provide yet another option for disposal. By making conscious decisions about filter disposal, Small Quantity Generators (SQGs) — larger shops that generate 2,200 pounds or less per month of hazardous or special waste — and Large Quantity Generators (LQGs) — shops generating 2,200 pounds or more per month of hazardous or special waste — can reduce their hazardous-waste reporting profile and their liability while, at the same time, saving money. The rare exceptions to all of these are those shops using paint products containing high levels of heavy metals.


Quit Looking Over Your Shoulder
Let’s face it, there’s a lot to worry about when you’re the owner of a successful body shop. And proper disposal of the hazardous waste your shop generates is just one of them. Unfortunately, the way you’re currently disposing of used spraybooth and prep-station filters may not be the most cost-effective — or legal — option. And just because you’ve paid the recycler’s bill for this month doesn’t get you off the hook.

So take responsibility. With a little knowledge about your spraybooth and prep-station filter disposal options, you can turn a potentially hazardous situation into one much less harmful to you, your shop and the environment.


Writer Tara L. Munro is a former compliance administrator who’s provided permitting and testing services to painting/coating professionals.

Hazardous or Non-Hazardous
The generator of hazardous waste carries the burden of characterizing the nature of his waste-stream products. This is accomplished with laboratory analysis, such as Toxic Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) testing. TCLP testing is performed on samples from paint-booth and prep-station filters. All automotive refinishing paint lines contain some heavy metals in both the tint lines and the primer products. The question is, "how much?" To answer this, you must have your filters tested and receive a testing certificate that identifies your waste as nonhazardous and appropriate for local disposal options.

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