Shop Towel Rule
The new administration is rethinking the approach that sought to preserve a limited exemption for recyclable shop towels from the definition of hazardous waste. Without a fast and effective response (TRSA submitted comments to the EPA on Aug. 13, 2009), every company engaged in laundering shop towels would have risked losing that business. An EPA risk analysis is due out shortly, but you should know TRSA will defend the shop towel rule with reasoned arguments.
TRSA is partnering with the EPA on LaundryESP, but now they must once again make sure that the agency does not impose inappropriate regulation and costs on our shop towel business. First, let me offer a little background. Early in the previous administration, the EPA took up the issue of whether industrial wipes (including reusable shop towels) should come under the disposal requirements of the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). TRSA and UTSA argued successfully at the time for an exclusion for reusable wipes from solid waste or hazardous waste rules because they are cleaned in commercial laundries – rather than deposited in landfills. The EPA approved the exclusion and included it in its proposed rule on disposable wipes that appeared in the Federal Register on Nov. 20, 2003.
We anticipated a final rule in the fall of 2004. However, on Aug. 13, 2004, four Democratic members of Congress, Sens. Barbara Boxer (CA) and Hillary Clinton (NY) and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (CT) and Hendry Waxman (CA) wrote the EPA complaining that more study of the issue was needed. EPA agreed to delay final action on the rule. In 2008, the EPA under President George W. Bush contracted with the consulting firm Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) to conduct a risk assessment of the issues associated with the rule. The Bush administration took no further action on the rule. In January 2009, President Barack Obama took office, and soon after the EPA took a different approach and launched a second risk assessment of shop towels by a different consulting firm, RTI International. This study employed a complex statistical sampling method to weigh a number of issues, including the types of chemicals that are on reusable shop towels, the potential for exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, and evaluating whether shop towel sludge (the soil residue skimmed or filtered from wastewater and cleaning the towels) is going to lined or unlined landfills and the potential risk (in the latter case) of contamination of nearby groundwater resources. Following the release of the RTI study last year, the EPA set date of Dec. 28, 2009, for groups such as TRSA to comment on these finding. Given the depth of these two 500-page studies and the need to gather more information on shop towel use from our members, TRSA asked the EPA to extend the comment period. In mid-December, the agency granted our request and moved the filing date to Feb. 26.
TRSA now is mounting its response in defense of the exclusion of shop towels from solid waste/hazardous waste rules. To strengthen our case, we recently sent a survey to all companies processing shop towels to gather up-to-date data on a number of factors, including the mix of textile products processed in these plants, sludge disposal methods (i.e., lined vs. unlined landfill use), the types of chemicals in sludge, and the quantities of water used for processing. TRSA believes they can provide compelling data showing that these studies rely on outdated information and don’t reflect current practices. To help prepare our EPA response, TRSA has tapped Dr. Ron Sahu, and environmental consultant with 15 years’ experience in environmental, chemical and mechanical engineering. Dr. Sahu is working with TRSA’s environmental counsel at the Washington DC law firm of Kelley, Drye to help with their response.