How Mishandling Hazardous Waste Can Lead To Costly Fines

A recent fine against a biopharmaceutical manufacturer in California is yet another example of how an oversight in how you manage the hazardous waste your business generates can lead to costly consequences.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced it had settled with Genentech over environmental regulations that took place at one of its former plants. The result: Genentech must pay $158,208 in civil penalties.

In August 2021, EPA inspectors discovered a number of violations at the company’s former South San Francisco plant, including:

  • Storing waste without a permit
  • Failing to meet requirements related to monitoring hazardous waste air emissions
  • Failing to mark equipment and record it correctly
  • Failing to perform required inspections of emissions control equipment
  • Failing to maintain overfill protection controls for a hazardous waste tank
  • Failing to include all necessary federal waste codes in hazardous waste manifests

Earlier this summer, the EPA issued fines for two other companies in a separate incident for also failing to meet hazardous waste regulations. That incident also resulted in a steep fine of $230,000.

The lesson all companies that generate hazardous waste should take away: Mishandling hazardous waste can lead to costly fines and hurt your public image as a member of your community.

Yet these incidents aren’t simply mistakes - they’re often instead the results of systemic issues that demand immediate attention and comprehensive solutions. And to prevent these issues, it’s critical to take a look at how you manage your hazardous waste, from the moment it is generated to the moment it is disposed of. 

If …

  • You’re not storing waste properly
  • You’re not keeping accurate records
  • Environmental controls aren’t in place
  • You don’t have a trusted disposal company

Then … you’re at serious risk for many of the same costly fines and tarnished public image the companies above are facing. Here’s what you need to know to avoid the same headlines. 



You’re Not Storing Waste Properly



During a visit to Genentech’s former plant in the city of South San Francisco, inspectors discovered that the companyhazardous-waste was storing waste without a permit, according to the EPA. The agency also found that the overfill protective controls for a hazardous waste tank hadn’t been maintained. 

Storing hazardous waste is a critical aspect of maintaining safety in the workplace. Hazardous waste poses a threat to human health and the environment, so it must be carefully managed on-site while it awaits disposal. 

In the case of Genentech, the company’s violations came in the form of failing to secure a permit for the waste. Yet there’s several more areas of waste storage that you must consider to ensure you’re meeting state and federal regulations (and avoiding fines).

Here are some additional areas of concern that companies should address when evaluating their waste storage management:

  • Proper Labeling and Documentation: Each container should be clearly labeled with information about its contents, hazards and the date it was first accumulated. Complete and accurate records must also be maintained, including waste manifests, disposal records and storage duration.
  • Compatibility and Segregation: Hazardous materials should be stored based on their compatibility to prevent reactions or hazards. Segregation of incompatible materials is crucial to avoid chemical reactions, fires or explosions. Companies should have clear guidelines on how to segregate and store different types of hazardous waste safely.
  • Container Integrity: Regular inspections of containers are vital to ensure their integrity. Containers should be in good condition without signs of corrosion, leakage or damage. If any issues are identified, they should be promptly addressed, and the waste transferred to a new container.
  • Storage Time Limits: Regulations often specify the maximum allowable time that hazardous waste can be stored on-site before it must be properly disposed of.
  • Training and Employee Awareness: Workers should be educated on the hazards associated with the waste they handle, proper storage procedures, emergency response protocols and the importance of compliance.
  • Emergency Response Plans: Companies must have well-defined emergency response plans in place to address any accidents, spills or releases promptly and effectively. These plans should be regularly reviewed and updated as necessary.
  • Regular Inspections and Audits: Routine inspections and internal audits should be conducted to identify and rectify any compliance issues promptly. These inspections help maintain a culture of responsibility and compliance within the organization.

In light of the Genentech case, it’s evident that even well-established companies can fall short of compliance when it comes to hazardous waste storage. Any company that generates hazardous waste should prioritize developing a hazardous waste management plan that helps the business not only avoid fines and legal issues, but also to protect the environment and the well-being of their employees and the surrounding community. 



You’re Not Keeping Accurate Records



Inspectors also found that manifests for the waste being held on-site didn’t include all the required federal waste codes, according to the EPA.

Waste codes are essential for identifying the nature and characteristics of the hazardous waste that is being stored. They provide critical information about the waste’s composition, toxicity and potential hazards, which is essential to preventing an emergency or if one occurs. Without complete and accurate information, responders may not have the necessary details to mitigate the situation.

Some states also require state-specific waste codes in addition to federal waste codes. California waste codes are typically three digits, according to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, and identify certain characteristics like whether the substance is an alkaline solution, the type of solvent, or it’s a pharmaceutical waste, among others.

Hazardous waste codes are just one portion of the manifest, however. A hazardous waste manifest tracks a shipment from the point of generation through transportation to the final treatment storage and disposal facility (TSDF). If you generate hazardous waste, you must submit a hazardous waste manifest that ensures your waste is correctly identified and is being handled accordingly within the law.

You must also register in the e-Manifest system to view manifest records and submit any data corrections to your manifests.

Key types of information that are found in manifests typically include:

  • Generator information, such as name, address and EPA identification number
  • Transporter information, including the name of the transporter responsible for moving the waste
  • Receiving facility information, including name, address and EPA identification number
  • Waste stream information, such as its physical and chemical characteristics
  • Container information, including the types of containers, their sizes and number
  • Signature and date acknowledging acceptance of waste as it is transferred 
  • Tracking numbers or barcodes to help identify the waste through its journey
  • Emergency contact information for responsible parties.

Manifests, as well as any type of record keeping, ensures transparency, compliance with regulations and the safe management of hazardous waste from cradle to grave.

Environmental Controls Aren’t In Place



Another area of concern that the EPA addressed in its allegations involved Genentech’s role in failing to maintain overfill protection controls for a hazardous waste tank on the property.

Hazardous waste storage areas should have environmental controls in place to prevent contamination of soil, groundwater or nearby water bodies. These controls may include secondary containment systems, spill response kits and measures to prevent rainwater from coming into contact with the waste.

When these controls are not properly maintained, there is a heightened risk of breaches that could lead to spills or leaks, endangering both the environment and the surrounding communities. Lapses in maintenance can not only violate environmental regulations, but also by a symptom of a failing waste storage infrastructure that doesn’t prioritize safety.

You Don’t Have A Trusted Disposal Company



You may have several procedures in place that ensure the waste your business generates is being handled and stored safely when on your property. But what about when that waste leaves the safety of your facility? Unfortunately, not all disposal companies are created equal.

While all hazardous waste disposal companies must be registered with the state of California, you should go beyond checking these certifications when choosing the right disposal company for your business. 

Even though your waste is no longer in your hands, you’re still responsible for it until it is safely disposed of. That makes the disposal company you choose to transport your waste an extremely important decision. 

A hazardous waste disposal company should:

  • Specialize in the type of waste that you generate
  • Offer to identify waste through sampling and testing
  • Help you prepare labels, manifests and other important paperwork
  • Offer prompt pickup when containers must be quickly moved from storage to disposal
  • Stay on top of evolving regulations happening at both the state and federal levels

The best disposal partners will also provide you with a free quote and work with you to better understand how your budget aligns with your waste disposal needs.  


Top 10 hazardous wast violations and how to avoid them