RCRA Passed Just 38 Years Ago

RCRA Passed Just 38 Years Ago

  • Posted: Oct 21, 2014
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On October 21, 1976, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) amended the Solid Waste Disposal Act. The RCRA protects people and the environment by regulating the disposal of waste materials. The act also focuses on reducing waste and conserving energy. Implementation of the RCRA occurs at the state level in 46 states, but the federal regulations govern waste disposal in all 50 states.
The regulations have been amended to handle the nation’s evolving waste management needs. In 1984, the RCRA was amended with the Federal Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments. The amendments provide stronger regulations for waste disposal and landfill usage. Other additions include the Federal Facility Compliance Act and the Land Disposal Program Flexibility Act.


Support for the RCRA was generated by highly publicized cases of improper waste disposal. One case was the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969. Cleveland’s industrial facilities and sewage stations were known for dumping waste materials directly into the river. In 1969, an oil slick caught fire and commanded national attention. A picture of a 1952 Cuyahoga River fire sparked national outrage after it was published in Time magazine. The river has experienced at least 13 fires, but the 1969 fire generated a broad discussion about pollution. The fire also led to the Clean Water Act and other important items of legislation.

In another case of negligent waste disposal, the Love Canal scandal broke in the 1970s. Prior to 1953, Hooker Chemical Company buried more than 20,000 tons of chemical waste at the Love Canal site. The company eventually sold the land to the Niagara Falls School Board, and the deed included information about the presence of the toxic waste. The board was told not to build on the site, but two schools and multiple houses were built on or near the dump site. The construction breached the dump site, and rainwater caused the canal to overflow with toxic substances. Residents and local health officials started to report birth defects and other ailments. In 1976, two reporters tested the water and detected toxic chemicals from the canal. The two schools were eventually demolished, and more than 800 families were removed from the area. Hooker Chemical Company was held accountable for the improper storage of the chemical waste materials.

Erin Brockovich & RCRA

The RCRA has remained relevant over the years. In 1993, Erin Brockovich started building a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. For more than a decade, the company used hexavalent chromium to prevent corrosion in the cooling towers at the Hinkley, California compressor station. Hexavalent chromium is now recognized as a carcinogen. The water that was used in the cooling towers was stored in unlined ponds on the compressor station’s property. The hexavlent chromium penetrated the soil and reached the city of Hinkley’s groundwater. Brockovich and residents of Hinkley claimed that the city experienced higher than average rates of cancer and other illnesses as a result of exposure to hexavalent chromium. Brockovich and the residents of Hinkley won a $333 million settlement, and the Pacific Gas and Electric Company was held accountable for other hexavalent chromium contamination issues in California.

After 38 years, the RCRA continues to protect people and the environment from dangerous waste substances. The regulations determine that every substance must have adequate control measures from the point of generation to the point of disposal. The RCRA provides the regulations that protect present and future generations by preventing negligent waste disposal.


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