Many industrial solvents used in business operations are considered to be hazardous materials. As such, those solvents are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Up until recent years, cleaning rags used in conjunction with a regulated solvent were also categorized as a hazardous waste.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 granted the EPA the authority to regulate certain industrial solvents, along with solvent-contaminated wipes. The EPA modified its rules in 2013 to allow a regulatory exemption for solvent-contaminated wipes. If properly handled, used rags and wipes containing solvent can be sent to a landfill or to a laundering service.
If you manage a business that uses solvents in its course of operations, you must follow the EPA guidelines to ensure that solvent-contaminated rags are exempt from regulation. Proper adherence to the EPA rules also minimizes the escape of solvent vapors onto the work floor of your company. A dedicated storage receptacle is needed. Affected workers should also be trained in the handling of solvent-contaminated items.
The container holding solvent-contaminated wipes must be kept closed at all times, unless items are being added or removed. There must be complete contact between a fitted lid and the top rim of the storage receptacle. No specific style of container is required. The main requirement is that the container must adequately protect against the loss of solvent vapors.
Some workers in your company may be busy with their hands, making it impractical to open the lid of a storage canister. Container lids that are opened by a foot pedal are acceptable. A self-closing lid is also acceptable.
To meet the EPA standard, the container must be labeled in a specific manner. The label should read "Excluded Solvent-Containing Wipes." According to the EPA guidelines, the wipes can be accumulated for up to 180 days. As a practical matter, however, you may want to empty the dedicated storage receptacle on a more frequent basis.
If space allows, move accumulated solvent-contaminated rags to an area rarely used by people. By emptying the receptacle on a frequent basis, the potential for solvent vapor reaching your employees is minimized. If possible, you might consider moving accumulated solvent-contaminated wipes to an exterior portion of your facility.
The EPA exclusion for solvent-contaminated wipes applies only to a specific list of solvents. Rags that have been used with other hazardous materials are not included in the exemption. Contact an environmental consultant for more information about hazardous waste management.
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