A Critical Examination of the Small Quantity Generator Exemption

Authors: J. Connor, J. Blackburn
Published: May 1984 in State Bar of Texas Environmental Law Journal volume Volume 14 No. 3 pages 0.


Major controversy in reauthorization of the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) has centered on appropriate regulatory policy regarding the so-called "small-quantity generator" of hazardous wastes. Under RCRA mandate, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established comprehensive regulations governing the generation, transportation, and disposal of hazardous waste materials. However, for the purpose of administrative efficiency, the EPA has chosen to exempt from this regulatory program the nation's many small-quantity generators -- those commercial establishments generating less than 1000 kilograms of hazardous waste per month. Consequently, hazardous wastes produced by metal fabricators, auto repair shops, printers, dry cleaners, and the numerous minor industries qualifying as small-quantity generators (SQGs) are not subject to full RCRA requirements and may be legally disposed in municipal landfills not designated for long-term containment of hazardous chemicals. On the basis of technical information developed by the TRW Corporation, the EPA contends that the total volume of hazardous waste produced by SQG's is too small to pose a serious environmental threat, regardless of the manner in which this waste is disposed. However, this contention has been challenged in a recent study by the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) which suggests that SQG's may account for as much as 10% of the national hazardous waste stream -- regulated. In response to the OTA findings, concerned members of Congress have proposed a RCRA amendment requiring the EPA to reduce the small-quantity generator exemption limit significantly -- an action strongly opposed by the EPA due to the extreme administrative expense involved.