The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VDEC) is currently in the process of reviewing and reauthorizing its Hazardous Waste Management Regulations. Mixed among the updates is a proposed provision that should be of great concern to generators of used oil wastewater. Section 7-805 of VDEC’s hazardous waste regulations delineates the requirements for wastewater to be considered used oil, which currently is not subject to the Department’s regulations for disposal of hazardous waste. However, the proposed regulations add §7-805(g) to its section on used oil determination. This section would require that manufacturers review the composition of their wastewater. If the wastewater contains less than 50% used oil, and the non-oil wastewater could otherwise be classified as a hazardous waste, then the manufacturer would be required either remove the hazardous materials from the used oil, or else treat the entirety of the wastewater under VDEC’s regulations for treatment of hazardous waste. As most wastewater currently classified as used oil contains greater than 50% water and contaminants, the adoption of this provision would have a significant impact on oily wastewater treatment.
The classification of “oily wastewater” as hazardous waste would have a significant impact on manufacturers within Vermont. First, the process of determining whether the water consisted of used oil or hazardous waste would be fraught. The change in classification would require generators of oily wastewater to test their wastewater to determine both the percentage of used oil and whether the remainder of the wastewater has hazardous waste characteristics. Accurate testing would require additional personnel training and equipment, and even then may not be entirely accurate, especially when the percentage of used oil approaches 50%. Should the wastewater be determined to be used oil by the generator, but hazardous waste by the treatment facility, then the waste will likely need to be returned to the generator at their expense. Furthermore, generators of oily wastewater would suddenly be considered producers of hazardous waste, and subject to a number of additional requirements under VDEC regulations.
Second, §7-805 would make the disposal of oily wastewater significantly more expensive. Currently, oily wastewater is treated in wastewater treatment facilities. However, these facilities are largely incapable of properly treating hazardous wastes, and are generally subject to strict regulation preventing them from doing so. Alternative means of treatment are significantly more expensive. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and Clean Air Act regulations contain strict requirements for the evaporation of the water, and disposal in a landfill would be prohibitively expensive. Incineration could be a viable option, but there are few incineration sites near Vermont, and the cost to transport the wastewater would be significant. As a result, the enactment of this provision promises to increase the costs of oily wastewater treatment considerably.
Section 7-805(g) would be the first provision of its kind in the United States. Nationally, RCRA established the regulatory framework for generation, management, treatment, and disposal of hazardous waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations promulgated under RCRA have explicitly set forth a separate process for the treatment of used oil in 40 CFR Part 279. Specifically, in 40 CFR §279.10, EPA exempted many solutions that contained used oil from the hazardous waste classification, even if they exhibited characteristics or contained amounts of hazardous waste, instead subjecting them to separate but less restrictive treatment requirements. Many states have adopted portions or all of 40 CFR Part 279, and while Vermont has not, the VDEC’s Hazardous Waste Management Regulations have contained similar classifications for used oil. Vermont’s deviation from its used oil regulations could have a significant impact on other states, or even EPA, should they decide to revisit their own regulations.