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EPA Compliance: Boost Your Water, Air, and Chemical Confidence

Toby Graham /

Three of the biggest environmental compliance issues facilities must address on a regular basis involve water, air, and chemicals.  This can seem daunting, but knowing how U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations and standards generally apply can go a long way toward building confidence that your facility’s policies and procedures are in compliance.

Here’s an overview of key federal water, air, and chemical compliance issues to have on your radar and some essential tips for ensuring your facility’s compliance success.  Please remember that your state, county, or municipality may have more stringent regulations.

Water Compliance:  Get up close and personal with drains, tanks, and drums

Stormwater systems across the United States are designed to hold a specific amount of water in the event of a 100-year catastrophic rainfall event.  Thus, anytime water other than stormwater (like car wash water, for example) is introduced into the stormwater system, facilities may be subject to some fairly strict regulations and permitting requirements.  Also, monitoring and groundwater test requirements may apply.

One of the best ways to build compliance confidence regarding stormwater is to know where your drains lead.  Often, facilities won’t know the answer to this and may have an oil/water separator (sand trap) that leads to a storm drain or septic tank instead of being connected to the local sewer system. This is something to watch out for because what goes into that storm drain could have a disastrous impact on streams and rivers.  So, again, learn where those drains lead!

Another area of concern regarding water applies to facilities with over 1,320 gallons of petroleum storage capacity.  The 1,320-gallon capacity includes tanks that aren’t full, so if the capacity is 1,320 gallons or more of oil and other petroleum products (e.g., solvent-based paint waste, brake clean, ATF), the federal Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule applies.

As a best practice for SPCC compliance:

  • Enlist the help of a professional engineer to avoid possible spill plan complications or errors.
  • Confirm that all tanks, drums, and containers (55 gallons and over) are included in your spill plan and are either double-walled or on 100% secondary containment (110% if situated where rainwater can accumulate).
  • Conduct annual training for all oil-handling employees.
  • Inspect all tanks, drums, and containers monthly for conformance with your spill plan.

Air Compliance:  Why training and certification is key

The main area of concern facilities face regarding air compliance involves minimizing the release of hazardous air pollutants into the atmosphere. 

One area of concern arises from the EPA’s 6H Area Source Rule, which mainly covers miscellaneous painting that companies like body shops and lot painters perform.  

The rule covers six hazardous air pollutants found in many paints: methylene chloride (paint stripper), chromium, manganese, lead, nickel, and cadmium.  Given the prevalence of these chemicals in paints, the EPA pays close attention to how painting operations may adversely impact air quality, so it’s important to make sure employees are trained to minimize waste.

Suppose your organization doesn’t have these hazardous air pollutants in your paints. In that case, you can apply for an exemption, but this requires a paint-by-paint inventory, which can be time-consuming and a rather tedious process.

That said, as a best practice:

  • Train your painters (this needs to happen every five years).  Training requires classroom instruction on the regulation itself and a hands-on portion to demonstrate proper spray technique.
  • Confirm that your paint booth filters are at least 98% efficient.
  • Use only paint guns that are High-Volume, Low-Pressure (HVLP).
  • Use a booth or three-sided, roofed prep tent when painting over three ounces.

Keep in mind that air permitting issues related to paint operations don’t always end there.  While we are focusing on federal regulations, states, counties, and municipalities across the United States could have additional environmental compliance requirements.  For example, some cities require the measurement of volatile organic compound (VOC) releases.  If such a requirement applies, ask your paint supplier about how to calculate VOCs accurately.

Another consideration is whether your facility is located in a non-attainment area. That is a location where, due to excess amounts of ozone, sulfur dioxide, and other chemicals in the atmosphere, air quality standards aren’t generally met or may be in violation of air quality thresholds.  Facilities located near power plants are commonly affected, and if your facility is located in a non-attainment area, be aware that extra restrictions or additional permitting might be needed.

Here’s another easy target for the EPA – air conditioning refrigerant recovery requirements.

Anyone in the repair or service business ofmotor vehicle air conditioning (MVAC) systems [TG1] [HC2] must be properly trained and certified under section 609 of the Clean Air Act by an EPA-approved program.  This requirement also applies to technicians servicing MVAC-like appliances.

Specific EPA-training requirements cover how to use MVAC servicing equipment, the importance of refrigerant recovery, and the damaging effects improper refrigerant handling may have on the climate and the ozone layer.  So, if you use MVAC equipment, get your technicians certified through an EPA-approved program on proper use.  After their training is complete, keep their A/C certificates on file and make sure that only technicians who are certified are completing repair orders.

It is also a legal requirement to submit a notification to the EPA that your refrigerant recovery units are on their approved lists and that all of your employees who perform refrigerant recovery have certification.  While you only need to register once per location (the EPA regulates businesses by address, not business name), it is important to notify that you are in compliance.

If you receive a notice of a 609-certification audit (and these types of EPA audits are quite common), here’s what you can generally expect:

  • A 609-certification letter stating the EPA believes refrigeration-related environmental pollution has occurred.
  • A request for repair orders. (This is where the EPA checks to see if a 609-certified technician is listed on the repair order.  If the technician listed isn’t 609-certified, a fine of around $5,000 per repair order could apply.) 

Chemical Compliance:  Make storage tank inspections and report preparation a high priority

Where underground and aboveground storage tanks are concerned, spillage of what’s inside those tanks could affect the water supply.  State law generally governs compliance requirements for tanks of a certain size.  For instance, in Colorado, aboveground tanks of 610 gallons or greater are subject to regulation; in Florida, it’s only 550 gallons. As a best practice, check with your state to determine if your tank needs to be registered.  Typically, all underground storage tanks will require registration.

Registered underground and aboveground storage tanks are generally subject to a host of regulatory requirements, including annual inspections by the state or local governing agency.  For instance, a facility must have a certificate of financial responsibility, which assures the government that if you have a spill, your facility can pay for cleanup costs.  There are also additional training requirements for onsite operators of underground storage tanks.

Another component of chemical compliance concerns Tier II reporting, which is managed through the individual states.  Tier II reporting applies if you have 10,000 pounds of any chemical or 500 pounds of any extremely hazardous chemical.  If either of those criteria are met, you must file an annual Tier II report by March 1 to the applicable state/local agencies (e.g. State Emergency Response Commission, Local Emergency Planning Committee, fire department).

Because each state is responsible for managing Tier II reporting, be sure to check with your specific state to learn what your filing options are (some states require electronic/online filing) and applicable yearly fees.

EPA Compliance: The bottom line

Are there a bunch of EPA requirements with respect to air, water, and chemical compliance?  Most certainly.  Having a roadmap on how to steer your facility to operating in a way that meets those requirements can help build confidence in making and managing operational policies and procedures.  

KPA provides compliance audit services with all of the onsite and virtual resources needed to identify, track, resolve, and report issues. Our certified consultants leverage a robust database of EPA, OSHA, DOT, and state regulatory references to bring best practices and tangible recommendations for EHS program improvements.

If you have questions about any specific EPA requirements discussed here, you can always reach out to us.


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