Hazardous Waste Site Characterization

Hazardous Waste Site Characterization

No two hazardous waste sites are exactly alike. And before the proper protocols can be implemented, a hazardous waste site must be carefully analyzed to identify the different hazards and select the appropriate worker protection methods.  This process is called hazardous waste site characterization.

The goal of hazardous waste site characterization is to gather accurate, detailed, and comprehensive information about a contaminated site so that all safety, cleanup, and transfer measures can be tailored specifically to the present threats.

The Project Team Leader is primarily responsible for executing hazardous waste site characterization and is typically assisted by various outside experts such as chemists, health physicists, industrial hygienists, and toxicologists.

hazardous waste site characterization

Phases of Hazardous Waste Site Characterization

Hazardous waste site characterization is generally carried out in three distinct phases.

1. Off-site characterization

Before any site entry, an off-site investigation should take place to gather information about the surrounding area and to conduct reconnaissance from the site’s perimeter. As much data as possible should be collected before any personnel go on site. This is where 40-hour HAZWOPER training pays off. 

Where possible, the following information should be obtained:

  •       The exact location of the site
  •       A detailed description of the activity that occurred at the site.
  •       Duration of the activity.
  •       Meteorological data, e.g., current weather and forecast, prevailing wind direction, precipitation levels, temperature profiles.
  •       Terrain, e.g., historical and current site maps, site photographs, aerial photographs, U.S. Geological Survey topographic quadrangle maps, land use maps, and land cover maps.
  •       Geologic and hydrologic data.
  •       Habitation-population centers and populations at risk.
  •       Accessibility by air and roads.
  •       Pathways of dispersion.
  •       Present status of response and who has responded.
  •       Hazardous substances involved and their chemical and physical properties.

This information can be sourced from:

  •       Company records, receipts, logbooks, or ledgers.
  •       Records from state and federal pollution control regulatory and enforcement agencies, state Attorney General's office, state occupational safety and health agencies, and state Fire Marshal's office.
  •       Waste storage inventories and manifests or shipping papers.
  •       Interviews with personnel and their families (all interview information should be verified).

Generator and transporter records also need to be collected, including:

  •       Water department and sewage district records. Interviews with nearby residents (note possible site-related medical problems and verify all information from interviews).
  •       Local fire and police department records. Court records.
  •       Utility company records.
  •       Media reports (verify all information from the media).
  •       Previous surveying (including soil, ground-penetrating radar, and magnetometer surveys), sampling, and monitoring data.

2. On-site surveys

The second phase involves entering the perimeter of the site to conduct a more detailed analysis. Only certified HAZWOPER personnel may engage in on-site surveys[1] [2].

3. Ongoing monitoring

After the commencement of other approved activities, continuous monitoring of site conditions must be performed throughout the operation.

Become Certified for Hazardous Waste Site Characterization

Like everyone who works at hazardous waste sites, hazardous waste site characterization requires the proper training.

The 40-hour HAZWOPER Online Training Course from National Environmental Trainers can properly train and prepare workers to perform hazardous waste site characterizations. Register yourself or your teaml, and view a free course demo today.