In 2011, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for stricter federal hazardous waste law listing criteria for corrosive dust. Specifically, PEER asked EPA to revise the regulatory value for defining waste as corrosive, moving it from a pH of 12.5 to 11.5. PEER argues that the 11.5 mark is a standard successfully employed by many other international and domestic regulatory programs. PEER also requested a broadening of the scope of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) corrosivity definition to include nonaqueous wastes, as well as aqueous wastes. PEER believes that the current standard is far less stringent than the presumed safe levels set for alkaline corrosives by other international bodies.  As evidence, PEER cited injuries suffered by first respondents in the aftermath of the 2001 World Trade Center (WTC) attacks.

On April 11th, the EPA issued a tentative denial of PEER’s request, countering that WTC injuries could not be attributed to any one property of the dust and that none of the research on the exposed population identified the type of tissue damage that could be linked to corrosivity. The EPA has opened solicitation for public comments before a final decision is made; the EPA also asked for additional data on possible impacts from the current corrosivity rule. In comments submitted to the EPA on May 16th, PEER requested a 210-day extension of the 60-day comment period, citing several justifications. Among them was the concern that the original deadline would make it difficult for potential commentators to effectively read and comment on the large volume of related documents in the EPA’s docket.

In comments submitted to the EPA on June 3rd, the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group (USWAG), which represents energy utilities, issued strong support for the EPA’s denial of the petition.  USWAG believes that granting PEER’s petition would broadly rewrite the corrosivity characteristic. USWAG holds that there are too many differences between the RCRA program (which uses a single standard to identify corrosive materials) and other programs to justify the universal application of the 11.5 standard. USWAG believes that the broad revision is inappropriate because the injuries in question do not result from the corrosive nature of the waste stream. USWAG believes that it is unclear if the requested revision would even cover the waste stream identified. Finally, USWAG believes that the new RCRA regulations might not prevent the types of injuries described by PEER.

Comments were originally due on June 10th.   However, amidst industry opposition, EPA has granted PEER’s request to extend the comment period by 210 days.  The comment deadline is now December 7th.  Accordingly, the public has six more months to file comments and present evidence supporting or opposing the proposed increased regulation.

A pre-publication version of the Federal Register notice extending the comment period can be found here. For more information please contact Hahnah Williams.