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What is a Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility?

What is a Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility?

A Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility, sometimes referred to as a Totally Enclosed Treatment Unit, is an exclusion in the RCRA regulations available to generators of hazardous waste.  It allows a generator to conduct on-site treatment (definition below) of its hazardous waste without being subject to the RCRA permitting requirements of 40 CFR Parts 264 or 265; the exclusions are found in §264.1(g)(5) and §265.1(c)(9), respectively.  Further, if the hazardous waste is managed immediately upon generation in a Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility and the treated effluent is a non-hazardous waste, then the waste is not subject to RCRA regulations from its point of generation and does not count toward the facility’s generator status [§ 261.5(c)(2)].  Though it sounds enticing, “So long, Large Quantity Generator status!” the scope of the TETF exclusion is very limited; the purpose of this article is to explain the definition of a Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility for hazardous waste.

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First will begin with a definition of treatment, since that is the purpose of the Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility.  Pursuant to 40 CFR 260.10:

Treatment means any method, technique, or process, including neutralization, designed to change the physical, chemical, or biological character or composition of any hazardous waste so as to neutralize such waste, or so as to recover energy or material resources from the waste, or so as to render such waste non-hazardous, or less hazardous; safer to transport, store, or dispose of; or amenable for recovery, amenable for storage, or reduced in volume.

A full explanation of generator treatment of hazardous waste can be found here.  For now, the important thing is that treatment as defined by USEPA is designed to change the nature of a hazardous waste to make it non-hazardous, less hazardous, or easier or safer to handle or manage.

Being just one method of treatment, and one of three that is excluded from RCRA regulation (the others are elementary neutralization units and wastewater treatment facilities), the Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility is, perhaps, the most deliberately narrow in scope.  As defined at §260.10:

Totally enclosed treatment facility means a facility for the treatment of hazardous waste which is directly connected to an industrial production process and which is constructed and operated in a manner which prevents the release of any hazardous waste or any constituent thereof into the environment during treatment. An example is a pipe in which waste acid is neutralized.

Note that the above definition only identifies one compliant example of a Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility, “a pipe in which waste acid is neutralized”.

This limited scope is expanded on in the preamble to the regulations from the Federal Register of May 19, 1980 (45 FR 33218):

Commenters pointed out that in some production processes, wastes (particularly acid and alkaline solutions) are treated in-pipe, often resulting in a non-hazardous discharge.  EPA agrees that to classify “totally enclosed treatment systems,” such as pipes, as hazardous waste treatment facilities…would not make a great deal of sense. These facilities by definition do not release wastes or waste constituents into the environment….The key characteristic of such a facility is that it does not release any hazardous waste or constituent into the environment during treatment. Thus, if a facility leaks, spills, or discharges wastes or waste constituents into the air during treatment, it is not a “totally enclosed treatment facility” within the meaning of these regulations.

Note the USEPA’s identification of the “key characteristic” of a Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility:  That it does not release ANY hazardous waste or its constituents to the environment.

And, from a USEPA Regulatory Clarification regarding Totally Enclosed Treatment Facilities (RO 12097):

A tank or pipe which leaks is not a totally enclosed facilities (sic) or the facility is in violation of the regulations.

So, the preamble to the regulations and the USEPA regulatory clarification taken together establish a *kind of* performance standard for a Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility.  That is, to be a Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility in compliance with the RCRA regulations there must be no release of the treated hazardous waste or its constituents.  No leaks or spills.  No release to the air (RO12558).  And, it must be constructed so there is no predictable potential for overflows, spills, gaseous emissions, &etc; even those that may result from malfunctions of the facility.  What does the USEPA consider “predictable”?  Answer:  Everything except natural calamities or acts of sabotage or war.

A better understanding of a Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility can be gained by reviewing the terms used in the definition at §260.10.

“Totally enclosed”:

Despite it being frequently misunderstood, this term and its use by the USEPA is critical to compliance with this exclusion.  “The Agency intends that a ‘totally enclosed’ treatment facility be one which is completely contained on all sides and poses little or no potential for escape of waste to the environment even during periods of process upset.” (RO12097).  Also from RO 12097:

As a practical matter, the definition limits ʺtotally enclosed treatment facilitiesʺ to pipelines, tanks, and to other chemical, physical, and biological treatment operations which are carried out in tank‐like equipment (e.g., stills, distillation columns, or pressure vessels) and which are constructed and operated to prevent discharge of potentially hazardous material to the environment.

The Regulatory Clarification goes on to list several scenarios that would, or would not, qualify as “totally enclosed”.  A good rule of thumb though is to go back to the question, “Is there any release – or the predictable potential for a release – of a hazardous waste or its constituents?”  If the answer is yes, then it is not “totally enclosed”.

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“Directly connected to an industrial production process”:

A Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility must be integrally connected via pipe to the industrial production process generating the waste.  The USEPA believes that if such a connection is in place there is no potential for the waste to be lost.  The term “industrial production process” is only meant to include those processes which produce a product, an intermediate, a byproduct, or a material which is used back in the production process.   This direct connection applies even in situations where hazardous waste treatment takes place in a series of units operating together.  As long as they are “totally enclosed” and one end of the treatment process is connected to an “industrial production process”, then compliance with the Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility exclusion should be met.  Again, RO 12097 goes on to explain through examples what the USEPA means by ‘directly connected to an industrial production process”.

From the USEPA Regulatory Clarification document (RO 12097):

In sum, a “totally enclosed facility” must:
(a) Be completely contained on all sides.
(b) Pose negligible potential for escape of constituents to the environment except through natural calamities or acts of sabotage or war.
(c) Be connected directly by pipeline or similar totally enclosed device to an industrial production process which produces a product, byproduct, intermediate, or a material which is used back in the process.


The purpose of this provision is to remove from active regulation those treatment processes which occur in close proximity to the industrial process which generates the waste and which are constructed in such a way that there is little or no potential for escape of pollutants.  Such facilities pose negligible risk to human health and the environment.

As you can tell from my references, the USEPA document:  Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility, Regulatory Clarification of (RO 12097), contains a lot of very good information on this subject.  I highly recommend you read it if you wish to understand the USEPA’s thinking on this exclusion from RCRA regulation.

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Do you have a Totally Enclosed Treatment Facility subject to this regulatory exclusion?  Do you wish to?  Please exercise caution in utilizing this very beneficial – and restricted- exclusion.  If you generate any hazardous waste at all you will benefit from one of my training services (RCRA & USDOT), offered in a variety of formats (Training Seminars, Onsite Training, Web-Based, or Learning Management System).  Contact me for a free training consultation.