207264Oily Wastewater Status Unchanged

Oily Wastewater Status Unchanged

By Simon Johns - Dec 01, 2023

The Environmental Protection Agency has stepped back from reclassifying used oil and wastewater mixtures as hazardous waste, leaving existing regulations in place. The decision is good news, says the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers’ Association (ILMA).

ILMA was keen to persuade the EPA against designating recycled oil and oily water hazardous waste. The association thinks that current regulations have been effective at encouraging used oil collection since the early 1990s. Changing the regulations could reduce collection and recycling rates.

In the mid-1980s, the EPA announced its intention to make used oil hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Had this happened, this would have had several financial and compliance implications. Some state officials more recently urged the EPA to subject oily wastewater with less than 50% oil to testing and should it fail those tests be managed as hazardous waste. They felt exempting oily wastewater of this concentration was a loophole in the regulations. 

“ILMA worked tirelessly … to convince EPA that the best way to increase the collection and recycling of used oil was to create a regulatory incentive — manage it properly and it won’t be an RCRA hazardous waste; manage it improperly and you’re in the RCRA hazardous waste scheme,” Jeff Leiter, ILMA’s general counsel, told Lubes’n’Greases via email.

The EPA’s Used Oil Management Standards (40 CFR Part 279) went into effect as part of the RCRA in 1992. At the time, ILMA convinced the EPA that used oil, including oily wastewater mixtures, should not be classified and therefore handled as hazardous wastes if properly managed and recycled. The Used Oil Management Standards are largely unchanged since. ILMA believes they have increased the volumes of used oils collected and recycled.

Rerefiners supported the initiative, primarily Safety-Kleen, which is the country’s largest collector and rerefiner of used lubricant.

“The Used Oil Management Standards have worked effectively for over three decades. Importantly, it has created a market for used oil to make its way back for rerefining or other processing. It has reduced environmental releases. It’s been a smart way to regulate,” Leiter said.

The adverse effects from altering the Used Oil Management Standards could have been significant, Leiter explained. If the EPA had modified the standards for used oil and wastewater mixtures with less than 50% oil, parties would face an immediate cost from testing and handling oily wastewater as hazardous waste, along with compliance issues from being subject to the RCRA Subtitle C (hazardous waste) regulations.

It would have also made parties liable under the recently passed Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. The act, known colloquially as the Superfund, is a tax levied on chemicals and petroleum industries to pay for clean-up of spills, compensation and emergency responses.

This would be especially burdensome for ILMA members that produce metal working fluids. Reclaiming and polishing customers’ spent MWFs would have to be carried out under hazardous waste rules, including transportation.

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