RCRA, CERCLA, TRI

Learning Goals:

Understand:

CERCLA
CERCLA is the "superfund law." That's pronounced "cerk lah" and stands for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which was enacted in 1980. It was overhauled in 1986 by SARA (pronounced like the female name, Sarah), which stands for the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act. (I won't say much about SARA as separate from CERCLA, unless some distinction is necessary.) Here a brief explanation of CERCLA. https://www.epa.gov/superfund/superfund-cercla-overview then at the bottom of that page a link to SARAhttp://www.epa.gov/superfund/policy/sara.htm Please read both those pages, then use your Back Button to come back here.



RCRA
RCRA (pronounced "reck rah") stands for the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. This 1976 law was modified in 1984 by the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA) again, no need for me to talk about HSWA as distinct from RCRA. RCRA is the "hazardous waste law." It provides cradle to grave control of hazardous waste. RCRA deals with producers of hazardous waste and transporters and treatment facilities that handle hazardous wastes and finally store it. Here's a capsule on RCRA. :
https://www.epa.gov/rcra/resource-conservation-and-recovery-act-rcra-overview

KEY
The key difference between RCRA and CERCLA is that RCRA usually deals with current or ongoing pollution events and usually there is some sort of viable economic entity that is responsible and heavily involved. CERCLA usually deals with past events, sometimes long ago, and either there is not an economically viable entity available, or finding that entity, and making them pay, is part of the process.

Toxic Release Inventory
Perhaps some of you did not realize that the release of toxic chemicals is permitted (by that I mean a permit is given by the government to release the toxic chemicals into the environment). Go to this site TRI and read the first few paragraphs about the Toxic Release Inventory. The "TRI Explorer" is a tool to sift the EPA data base regarding toxic chemicals released to the environment. Go to
http://www.epa.gov/triexplorer/ then go to Release Reports at http://www.epa.gov/triexplorer/chemical.htm, then use the other menu box to choose an industry. After you click on the "generate report" button, you should get a matrix of toxic compound by the media they were released to (air, water, land). Most of these releases were quite legal.

TRI Homework
Use the menu box to choose a state other than Alaska. Start with "all chemicals" and "all industries" in the latest year. You will find that the releases are in a matrix with chemical names for the rows and for the columns, the media that receives the chemicals: air, water, underground, or land . Note the quantities are in "pounds" (1 pound is 0.45 kg). Now pick 3 chemicals, one with a very large release, one with a very small release, and one in between. [And here is an opportunity to be creative. I used to be surprised when several of the students would choose 1,2,3 tri-methyl benzene. Then I realized that it was the first chemical on the list. So I told them not to choose that one, and lo and behold some would choose the next chemical in the list. Please, poke around the list and find some juicy-sounding gunk, at least one.] Be sure at least two of those are "yucky" sounding chemicals that you never heard of. (Now realize that these "chemicals" are often not a pure product. That's how they were categorized. Some are pure chemicals, probably gas, vapor, or liquid, that were released into the air or water. Some were hazardous waste in some sort of liquid or mixture of other material, but were categorized according to their primary chemical constitution, or most highly regulated constituent. )

Next, select your chemicals, one at a time, and try to determine where the chemicals came from. On the bottom of the report, you have the options

See where your chemical went. (The acronym POTW means Publicly Owned Treatment Works, i.e., the sewer.)

Now do some web searching. You might want to go through Submodule 2D first. Search under the name of the chemical. Look for some general articles that might tell you what kind of waste the chemical came from and a little about its chemical and physical properties. See if you can find the LD50 of the chemical, or the recommended human exposure. (Don't worry if you don't understand all the technical words, this is mostly an exercise in finding the info.)

For your homework, write approximately four paragraphs. The first describes the state and the three chemicals you found, and other general information such as the search engines you used. Then three paragraphs, one for each chemical. Describe what the chemical is, how it was likely to be used, what kind of waste it may have been. Describe the web site where you found the information. Did it seem a reliable source for information that you would use for homework? Would you use this site as a source for a professional report that someone might rely on for protecting workers or the public? I'm not looking for a bunch of numbers in a table, rather, you digest the numbers for me and give subjective information. Of course you will need some numbers.

End of Submodule


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