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Hazardous Material Infrastructure

Hazardous material (hazmat) infrastructure is, as its name suggests, the infrastructure involved with the transport, storage, disposal and management of hazardous materials. Such materials are defined by their dangerous chemical properties and are ignitable, corrosive, reactive (explosive) or toxic. 

Hazardous materials, alongside their generators like chemical plants or labs, are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) of each state.

These regulations and agencies work together to build a safe and effective hazmat infrastructure, both regulatory and physical. The former includes hazmat generator compliance monitoring, regular inspection of hazmat treatment, storage or disposal facilities (TSDFs) and subsequent record-keeping. 

Due to resource and personnel limitations, however, the EPA has been struggling to meet its mandatory inspection quota. A June 2022 report by its Inspector General finds that between 2015 and 2021, the EPA only completed 91% of all required inspections, including only 63% of state, local and tribal TSDFs. 

The physical hazmat infrastructure is equally complex. Its components range from the more general pipeline and road systems by which hazardous materials are transported to highly specialized sites where these materials are actively managed. Two major hazardous waste programs in the U.S. manage approximately 35 million tons of dangerous materials annually. 

The Superfund sites, numbering around  1,300, are where high-level contamination is being removed or remedied with EPA and federal efforts. The Brownfield sites, 450,000 in total, are smaller in scale and less serious in damages, the cleansing of which is usually explicitly geared towards property redevelopment under state or local guidance. 

Both programs are facing financial constraints, with the Superfund budget remaining at $1.1 billion for a decade and only 30% of Brownfield applicants receiving funding.

Zhengmao Sheng graduated from Brandeis University with a B.A. in History and Economics and minors in Legal Studies and Politics. He volunteered at The Right to Immigration Institute as an undergraduate and enjoys both reading and hiking. He was an Infrastructure Policy Intern at ONC during the Spring 2022 semester.

Sources:

“The EPA Continues to Fail to Meet Inspection Requirements for Hazardous Waste Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facilities.” EPA, 8 June 2022, https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2022-06/_epaoig_20220608-22-E-0047.pdf

“Overview of EPA’s Brownfields Program .” United States Environmental Protection Agency, Jan. 2023, www.epa.gov/brownfields/overview-epas-brownfields-program

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