‘New’ Construction Site Requirements For Portable Sanitation?

‘New’ Construction Site Requirements For Portable Sanitation?
Karleen Kos is executive director of the Portable Sanitation Association International. She may be reached at karleenk@psai.org or 952/886-7416.

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“Hey, boss – the customer says we need containment pans under our units. Says they are required now. What do I do?”

“You can’t put that porta-potty there! We can’t have hazardous waste on our job site!”

“Hello, PSAI? Have you heard anything about the EPA mandating stake downs?”

These conversations happen regularly in the world of portable sanitation. When you find yourself in the middle of one of them, it isn’t usually a good day.

In June, the PSAI published one of its periodic “Special Circulars” to address the realities and the misconceptions you may encounter regarding environmental safety requirements. Here are some highlights:

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not have a specific, prescriptive national law or rule pertaining to portable restrooms. What the federal EPA mandates is a strategy for avoiding pollution on the construction job site. To comply, contractors must create and submit a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) to their state-level agency when applying for a construction general permit. The state or local laws interpreting the EPA’s broad guidelines are what matter here.
  • Contractors must also develop a plan or handbook entitled Best Management Practices (BMPs), which will highlight a schedule of activities, prohibited practices, maintenance procedures and other processes that are intended to prevent or reduce the possibility of water pollution at the job site.

Consequently, it is often the contractors who interpret EPA guidelines in a restrictive way – or decide to “play it safe” with their subcontractors and service providers – who create the “requirement” for containment pans or staking units. The actual legal verbiage is often more vague, saying something like “units should be secure to prevent tipping” rather than “units must be staked.”

So what can a portable sanitation company do?

Ask, “Whose requirement is this?” Quite often they will say, “the EPA’s.” But we know that isn’t likely. If they insist, ask for a citation. This information will help you discern what is really required by law.

Dig deeper about the reasons for the stated requirements. Ask if what they want is stated in the SWPPP or BMP. Once the person you are talking to understands what is and is not legally required, they are often more willing to listen to your recommendations.

Educate. Contractors (and sometimes local government officials) want to follow the rules but may be misinformed. For instance, the stated requirements are often based on the mistaken idea that portable restroom waste is “hazardous.” Make sure you tell them that portable restroom waste is not categorized as “hazardous” by the EPA. It is categorized as “domestic septage” (see eCFR 503.9f). This means that the rules pertaining to “hazardous waste” do not apply unless you are charging or cleaning the toilets with something categorized as hazardous.

Help the customer follow the rules and save money. If you’ve educated the customer but they still feel some “extras” are necessary – take them through the options. Give them your recommendations and the costs associated with each.

If all else fails, call the PSAI. We’ll do our best to help you.


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