EPA is proposing to add hazardous waste aerosol cans to those “universal wastes” regulated under title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), part 273. This change in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations, once finalized, will reduce regulatory costs of a wide variety of establishments generating and managing aerosol cans, including the retail sector, by providing a clear, practical system for handling discarded aerosol cans.

Current Regulation Of Aerosol Puncturing

Under the current hazardous waste regulations, puncturing and draining an aerosol can, if performed as part of the recycling process (e.g., scrap metal recycling), is exempt from RCRA permitting requirements. Storage of hazardous waste aerosol cans prior to recycling still requires a permit, unless it is exempt from permitting under another provision.

Some States have policies which are more restrictive; for example, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency does not allow puncturing of aerosols, even if a carbon filtration system is used.

Spent Aerosol Cans Being Handled As Universal Waste

Spent Aerosol Cans Being Handled As Universal Waste

Proposed Rule On Aerosol Can Puncturing

Because of the likely differences between recycling of aerosol cans at hazardous waste generators versus recycling of aerosol cans at universal waste handlers, EPA is proposing specific management standards for the puncturing and draining of aerosol cans at universal waste handlers, similar to the requirements currently being implemented in states that have added aerosol cans to their list of universal waste. The aerosol can universal waste programs of California, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, as well as Ohio’s proposed aerosol can universal waste program, allow for puncturing and draining of aerosol cans by universal waste handlers, as long as specific management standards and waste characterization requirements are met.

Performance Of Puncturing And Draining Systems

Similar to the current state requirements, EPA is proposing that puncturing and draining activities must be conducted by a commercial device specifically designed to safely puncture aerosol cans and effectively contain the residual contents and any emissions. Puncturing and draining systems for aerosol cans are available from multiple commercial vendors and generally consist of an enclosed puncturing device that punctures an aerosol can, allowing the contents to be drained into an attached container. In many cases, these containers are 55-gallon drums with a carbon filter to capture any gases that may escape the  drum during the puncturing and draining process.

Manufacturers of aerosol can puncturing and draining devices include instructions for their use.These instructions include operating devices in a well ventilated area that is free from sparks and ignition sources in order to prevent fires, use of personal protective equipment such as safety goggles, and segregating incompatible products from being drained into the same container. Operators are also instructed to ensure that the container remains closed, does not become overfilled and is  kept in a well ventilated area free from sparks or ignition sources.

EPA had previously investigated the performance of at least one aerosol can puncturing and draining device through the Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) program. The ETV review demonstrated the devise was effective in processing at least 187 cans before breakthrough of volatile chemicals occurred, which was significantly less than the 600-750 cans recommended by some manufacturers. The drum that contained the drained liquid was also never more than 25% full before breakthrough occurring. These findings were contrary to manufacturer recommendations of ensuring the container is not filled past 70% full in order to avoid breakthrough of volatile chemicals. In addition, the ETV program found that halogenated compounds (e.g., chlorinated solvents) were found to be incompatible with the seal and gasket materials.

The performance of aerosol can puncturing and draining devices will vary by manufacturer and it remains the responsibility of the operator to ensure that the puncturing device is properly draining the contents of the aerosol cans into the drum, that breakthrough is not occurring, and that aerosol cans incompatible with the device are not punctured. For example, information is readily available regarding potential incompatibilities for aerosol can propellants with puncturing devices containing rubber seals or gaskets.

Aerosol cans can be regulated as a hazardous waste unless emptied completely

Aerosol Cans Being Stored For Disposal or Recycling

Proposed Management Requirements To Maintain System Performance

EPA is proposing that handlers must establish a written procedure detailing how to safely puncture and drain universal waste aerosol can (including operation and maintenance of the unit; segregation of incompatible wastes; and proper waste management practices to prevent fires or releases), and ensure employees operating the device are trained in the proper procedures. At minimum, EPA is proposing that the written procedure address:

  • the operation and maintenance of the unit including its proper assembly;
  • segregation of incompatible wastes; and
  • proper waste management practices, (e.g., ensuring that flammable wastes are stored away from heat or open flames).

EPA is also proposing that the actual puncturing of the cans should be done in a manner designed to prevent fires and to prevent the release of the aerosol can contents to the environment. This includes locating the equipment on a solid, flat surface in a well-ventilated area.

RCRA Audit Finds Improper Flammable Hazardous Waste Storage And Labeling

Waste Audit Finds Improper Flammable Waste Storage And Labeling

Handling Contents Drained From Aerosols

EPA is also proposing that the contents from the cans should be immediately transferred from the waste aerosol can, or puncturing device if applicable, to a container or tank and that the contents are subject to a hazardous waste determination. The handler becomes that hazardous waste generator if the aerosol can contents are determined to be hazardous waste and must manage those waste in accordance with applicable RCRA regulations.

Emergency Response Procedure

The proposed rule also requires that a written procedure be in place in the event of a spill or release and a spill clean-up kit should be provided. All spills or leaks of the contents of the aerosol cans should be cleaned up promptly.


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