Texas officials waive disposal regulations after Hurricane Harvey

The state wants to speed up the cleanup process by managing debris at temporary sites.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has waived certain solid waste disposal regulations to speed up the debris cleanup process in Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, a report by Bloomberg BNA says. Some of the regulations waived include air quality and emissions rules, wastewater regulations and hazardous waste storage.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says debris will likely take years to completely clean up, but the Houston-Gavelston region houses 27 landfills with a total of 34 years of capacity, the report says. All debris sent to the landfill must first be sorted into five categories: woody debris, construction and demolition (C&D) debris, white goods (refrigerators, air conditioners and water heaters, for example), household hazardous waste and electronic waste.

With the large amounts of debris local environmentalists worry that the material will not be sorted as thoroughly and urge officials to plan a disaster cleanup plan.

According to Anne Germain, director of waste and recycling technology at the National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA), Arlington, Virginia, debris can be removed and managed at temporary locations. C&D landfills can take on extra capacity that would normally end up in municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills. Germain cites cars as a type of debris that can be stored at a C&D landfill and processed at an off-site location.

In Texas, hazardous waste in small amounts, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs and batteries, can be sent to a MSW landfill. Larger items such as propane tanks, pesticide containers and household cleaners must be separated and taken to disposal sites, the report says.

Chuck Carr Brown, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, told his Texas counterparts that distributing the waste and debris separation quickly enabled New Orleans to recycle 39 percent of its debris after Hurricane Katrina. The state opened 409 debris management sites and expanded C&D landfills to accept materials such as carpet and furniture, the report says.

Because of this, Brown says in the report, the waste collected during Katrina cleanup is still being tested and had never had an environmental issue.

Read the full regulations the state has waived here.

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