Vallero, Daniel A. National Exposure Research Laboratory, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
Last reviewed:March 2018
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Any solid, liquid, or gaseous waste materials that, if improperly managed or disposed of, may pose substantial hazards to human health or the environment. Hazardous waste generally has been considered a subset of solid waste and has been distinguished from municipal wastes and nonhazardous industrial wastes (Fig. 1). This characterization is not based on science and engineering but on the regulatory history of hazardous wastes. For example, in the United States, control of hazardous wastes falls under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) enacted by Congress in 1976, which is distinct from earlier statutes for the control of air and water pollution and solid wastes. The RCRA’s primary goals are to protect human health and the environment from the potential hazards of waste disposal, to conserve energy and natural resources, to reduce the amount of waste generated, and to ensure that wastes are managed in an environmentally sound manner. The RCRA regulations are found in the Code of Federal Regulations at Title 40, Parts 260 through 280. In fact, RCRA is an amendment to the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1956. The 1984 amendments to RCRA are known as the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA). Subtitle C (hazardous waste) and Subtitle D (solid, primarily nonhazardous, waste) provide the structure for comprehensive waste management programs. In addition, RCRA regulates underground storage tanks under Subtitle I and medical waste under Subtitle J. Many other countries have similar programs to control hazardous wastes. Of the 13 billion tons of industrial, agricultural, commercial, and household wastes generated annually in the United States, 2% (more than 279 million tons) are hazardous as defined by RCRA regulations.
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