Industrial Storm Water Permit

We store all of our materials either inside the plant or in our rear warehouse. Upon review of the last several years of sampling data, it looks like our storm water is pretty clean. In our permit there is some language regarding “no exposure” exemption. Would we be able to qualify for this exemption? How do we get it?


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Q. I am a recent environmental science graduate and am now employed at a light manufacturing facility as Environmental, Health, and Safety Coordinator. As part of our operation, we perform stamping, welding, cleaning, zinc phosphating and painting. We have a pretty good handle on most environmental issues, but the one that gives us the most headaches is our industrial storm water permit. We have two storm water discharge points, and our state requires quarterly grab samples during storm events. Because of the criteria that must be met in order to sample a storm event, it is very difficult to do; in fact, my predecessor missed a number of samplings, and now I have to respond to a notice of violation from our state EPA. We have looked into automatic equipment, but these are quite expensive. Also, the storm water pollution prevention plan that I inherited is very unworkable.

We store all of our materials either inside the plant or in our rear warehouse. Upon review of the last several years of sampling data, it looks like our storm water is pretty clean. In our permit there is some language regarding “no exposure” exemption. Would we be able to qualify for this exemption? How do we get it? R.S.


A. Back in 1999, USEPA finalized its Phase 2 storm water regulations (40CFR122). These regulations apply to those industrial sites which have storm water discharges directly to surface waters or indirectly to surface waters through separate private or public storm sewer systems; even storm water discharges into a “cave box” are covered if the “underground river” becomes a surface river (we have a client in Kentucky with such a situation). Storm water dischargers into “combined” sewers, which contain both storm and sanitary wastewaters, are not covered by these regulations. In essence, for the vast majority of “light” manufacturing facilities, such as metal finishing plants, these regulations require facilities to have either an Industrial Storm Water NPDES permit or a “No Exposure” Certification. The heart of the Industrial Storm Water permit is the Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SW3P) which requires the implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs) to, if possible, eliminate or minimize the contact of storm water with industrial activity as well as creation of a storm water pollution prevention team with periodic plant inspections. Some states, such as yours apparently, also require periodic sampling and analysis of the storm water and attempting to sample during the “perfect” storm event that meets EPA’s criteria is a challenge.
You can evaluate the exterior of your facility using the eleven (11) questions contained in USEPA’s “No Exposure” certification form. If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you do NOT qualify for “no exposure” certification.

  1. Do you use, store, or clean industrial machinery or equipment, and have areas where residuals from using, storing, or cleaning industrial machinery or equipment remain and are exposed to storm water? This includes not only operating equipment but also those “bone yards” of used or scrap equipment.
  2. Do you have materials or residuals on the ground or in storm water inlets from spills and/or leaks? Quick spill response and good housekeeping can easily take care of this issue.
  3. Do you have materials or products from past industrial activity?
  4. Do you have material handling equipment? Adequately maintained yard trucks and fork lifts are exempt.
  5. Do you have material or products during loading/unloading or transporting activities? Materials coming into and products shipped out of a facility are typically in containers, and, therefore, not exposed to storm water. Furthermore, if shipping and receiving is conducted under cover, such as a canopy, again, there is no storm water exposure.
  6. Do you have material or products stored outdoors (except final products intended for outside use [e.g. new cars} where exposure to storm water does not result in the discharge of pollutants)? Most of our light industrial clients do not have an issue with this criteria since products are shipped as soon as possible after completion. One of our clients store bumpers outside, but since they are intended to be used outside, they are exempt.
  7. Do you have materials contained in open, deteriorated or leading storage drums, barrels, tanks, and similar containers? In essence, EPA says that containers, either full or empty, can be stored outside as long as they are sealed, exterior clean, and in good, sound condition. A good indicator is lack of residuals and/or staining on the container’s exterior and surrounding ground.
  8. Do you have materials or products handled/stored on roads or railways owned or maintained by you? Again, if materials and products are inside sealed and sound containers, this is not an issue.
  9. Do you have waste materials (except waste in covered, non-leaking containers [e.g. dumpsters, rolloffs])? Check your trash dumpster or compactor and make sure it's not leaking. For dumpster, make sure lids are kept closed except when filling. Plants like to use rolloff containers for scrap materials, sludges, debris, etc. These are okay as long as they are covered with well secured and weather resistant covers and do not leak; while there are “leakproof” rolloffs available, we have found that they typically do not maintain their “leakproof” quality due to the deterioration of the seals; this may require the use of a disposable liner to prevent leakage. A better solution is to place rolloffs inside, under a canopy, or within three-sided “lean to” type structures. Again, proof of exemption is the lack of residuals and/or staining around the waste container.
  10. Do you have the application or disposal of process wastewater (unless otherwise permitted)? In over 26 years in this business, I know of no metal finishing or light manufacturing facility doing this.
  11. Do you have particulate matter or visible deposits of residuals from roof stacks and/or vents not otherwise regulated (i.e. under an air quality control permit) and evident in the storm water outflow? This criteria can take you up onto your roof. EPA is not interested in the rusting of your stacks and the resulting staining of the roof. Basically, this applies to air emissions that are NOT covered by an air pollution permit, such as sources that are exempted from permitting by the air pollution control authority, AND that the emissions are evident in the storm water coming off of the roof. When we evaluate a facility, if we observe residuals or staining on the roof from unpermitted sources, it is an issue that needs to be addressed. Sometimes it is as simple as redirecting an exhaust that is directed onto the roof to skyward. Sometimes we go back to the source to evaluate possible malfunction of its control device, such as a dust collector. Once in a while, we need to add a control device, such as a demister.

In summary, by implementing Best Management Practices (BMPs) to eliminate the contact of storm water to industrial activities, you can qualify for “no exposure” certification. Our philosophy is this: if a SW3P requires you to implement BMPs, why not do so and be exempt from permitting.

If you feel you are not qualified to perform this evaluation, hire an environmental professional to do so; it is a worthwhile investment.

If you find that you can qualify for a “no exposure” certification, you must first file a Notice of Termination of your current permit with your state EPA or USEPA region office if your state does not have an approved storm water program. Next, you must file a “No Exposure Certification for Exclusion from NPDES Storm Water Permitting”; to obtain a copy of the form, visit your state EPA web site if it has an approved program or USEPA web site if it does not; as appropriate, the “no exposure” certification is then submitted to your state EPA or appropriate USEPA region office.

For more information regarding industrial storm water issues, you can visit the USEPA web site at http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/stormwater/indust.cfm.

First, USEPA cites its background listing document for F019, which describes conversion coating as “processes (that) apply a coating to the previously deposited or basis metal for increased corrosion protection, lubricity, preparation of the surface for additional coatings or formulation of special surface appearances. This manufacturing operation includes chromating, phosphating, metal coloring, and immersion plating.”

Second, the industry had tried to convince USEPA that chemical conversion coating of aluminum does not occur during phosphating since the process does not impart a crystalline coating as described in the background document. USEPA responded that its intention is a broader definition that includes both crystalline and amorphous coatings. USEPA then refered to ASTM Standard B374-80 which defines conversion coating as “a process produced by chemical or electrical treatment of the metallic surface that gives a superficial layer containing a compound of metal.”

Also, unfortunately, USEPA does not seem to consider other language in its F019 background document that states “phosphate conversion coatings are formed by the immersion of iron, steel, or zinc-plated steel in a dilute solution of phosphoric acid plus other reagents” or recognize that your process does not contain the chromate and/or cyanide for which F019 was originally listed.
Currently, the only USEPA exemption from F019 listing is wastewater treatment sludges from the zirconium phosphating of aluminum cans.

Furthermore, even if you process aluminum parts only periodically, all of your filter press cake is RCRA hazardous due to USEPA’s mixture rule; that is, unless specifically exempted, if a listed hazardous waste, such as F019, is mixed with a non-hazardous solid waste, such as the wastewater treatment sludge produced during phosphating of steel parts, the mixture becomes the listed hazardous waste even if it does not exhibit any characteristics of a hazardous waste (ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and TCLP).

So to answer your questions:

  • Since your filter press cake is a listed hazardous waste under F019 desig- nation, it does not matter that your waste passes the Toxicity Characteristic Leach- ing Procedure (TCLP),
  • Yes, the processing of aluminum does cause the waste to be hazardous, and
  • Since your polishing filters catch “wastewater treatment sludge” that leaves the clarifier, yes, these cartridges are also F019 hazardous waste due to USEPA’s “mixture” rule.

One possibility to remove the F019 designation is to turn off the phosphate stage of your washers when processing aluminum and to bypass your iron phosphate immersion and aluminum conversion lines’ wastewater around your clarifier and polishing filters, assuming that compliance can still be maintained. If this is feasible, we would recommend that you get your state EPA to agree with concept before proceeding.

I am sure that you are disappointed in my response, and it is my opinion that the F019 listing is not based upon sound science. These processes have changed, chemical wise, dramatically since the background documents were published by USEPA back around 1980. In fact, it has been our experience that “wastewater treatment sludges” from the processing of aluminum is very “clean” as compared to phosphating of steels. In fact, the TCLP metals are typically found below or near levels of detection.

The good news is that USEPA is considering amending the F019 designation. Between 1997 and 2004, USEPA had granted 12 delisting petitions for individual plants across the United States to exclude F019 from regulation. In a letter written in 2000, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Aluminum Association asked the agency to standardize its regulations and amend the F019 rule, removing the barriers to using aluminum in manufacturing automobiles. USEPA is “scheduled” to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in July, 2006, although it looks like it may be geared only for automobile manufacturing plants. When USEPA finally does publish this NPRM, it behooves you and the metal finishing industry to respond to make sure this unreasonable and wasteful regulatory burden is removed from all facilities that perform conversion coating of aluminum, especially if there is no hexavalent chromium or cyanide compounds used in the process.

If you desire to explore this issue further, you can go to www.epa.gov/rcraonline.

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