On Monday, March 8, 1999, the Hearing Officer, the parties to the hearing, and NMED staff, including the Secretary of the Environment Department, Peter Maggiore, toured the WIPP site, above and below ground. Communication between the parties and the decisionmakers (the Hearing Officer and the Secretary of the Environment Department) was restricted.

Public Testimony was heard in Carlsbad on Tuesday, March 9, 1999. No public testimony summary is included in this technical testimony summary.

The hearing returned to Santa Fe on Monday, March 15, 1999, the fourth week of the hearing, for more technical testimony.

Presentation by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS) and Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC)


Dr. Joel S. Hirschhorn received a Ph.D. in Materials Engineering, Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, 1965; a M.S. in Metallurgical Engineering, Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, 1962; and a B.S. in Metallurgical Engineering, Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, 1961. Dr. Hirschhorn has published more than 150 papers, articles, guest editorials, and chapters in books on environmental science and technology. He has worked at Hirschhorn & Associates since 1990. Hirschhorn & Associates is an environmental consulting firm.

Previously, Dr. Hirschhorn worked at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment from 1978 to 1990 on such matters as hazardous waste management under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Superfund and cleanup technology, and pollution prevention and waste reduction. Dr. Hirschhorn participated in the drafting of the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments Act (HSWA) (1984) and he testified 50 to 60 times before congressional committees. Dr. Hirschhorn was a professor of Metallurgical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison from 1965 to 1978, and he provided management consulting to many small and large domestic and foreign companies. Dr. Hirschhorn has been a consultant to industrial and chemical companies, DOE laboratories, state governments, and public interest organizations.

The waste characterization system used by the DOE is inadequate (meaning that its conclusions would not be accurate and reliable), especially when defining waste as hazardous waste under RCRA or prohibited items under the draft Permit.

There are 2 broad classes of hazardous waste under RCRA: listed waste and characteristic waste.

Listed Waste: Listed waste is waste that is specifically listed in RCRA. Listed waste is well defined in terms of source and nature, so it is easy for the generators to determine whether their waste is listed.

Characteristic Waste: The definition of characteristic waste is more general, focusing on the nature and impacts of the waste. There are 4 types of characteristic waste: IGNITABLE, CORROSIVE, REACTIVE, and TOXIC.

Under RCRA, the management, treatment, or disposal facility has a legal and technical responsibility to verify that the incoming waste meets the waste acceptance criteria (WAC). The WIPP situation, however, is different. At WIPP, the many different DOE generator sites are responsible for characterizing the waste before sending it to WIPP. There is no verification or "fingerprinting" of the generator's waste characterization at the WIPP site. If prohibited waste is accepted for disposal, it could be incompatible with WIPP's confinement technology, potentially causing future safety and contamination problems.

In the real world of RCRA regulation, acceptable knowledge gives good information for listed waste. However, some type of testing is needed for characteristic waste.

The DEBRIS WASTE STREAM is not typical at any hazardous waste management facility because it is not one waste stream but a very complicated aggregation of several distinct waste streams containing widely diverse materials from diverse origins. Since debris waste is by definition heterogeneous, it cannot be representatively sampled. REPRESENTATIVE SAMPLING is key to defining characteristic waste but can only be performed on homogeneous waste. When sampling is not possible, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows for the PRESUMPTION that the waste in question is of the most hazardous kind. The EPA also allows for BIASED SAMPLING--intentionally looking for contamination or prohibited materials by sampling some waste in the waste stream to determine whether it is characteristic waste.

Each RCRA facility permit addresses what waste is acceptable and what waste is prohibited at each individual facility. PROHIBITED WASTE is listed in Module II, Section II.C.3 of the draft Permit and includes, among other things, prohibitions on liquids; waste with the characteristics of ignitability, corrosivity, and reactivity; and waste that is chemically incompatible with its container or other waste with which it may come into contact. [Only toxic waste is allowed at WIPP.]

A video of the visual examination of the DOE drum S815153 (recently vented combustible debris waste) was shown. Massive widespread areas of pitting and corrosion were visible on the inner surface of the drum. [Unfortunately, the video did not present the drum cover.] Pitting is evidence of corrosion. In the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) waste stream TA-55-43 (the waste stream about which the most information is known) 4 of the 9 drums examined had rusted inner surfaces. On some plastic material contained by the drums, rust was also present. This rust was the result of a corrosion reaction caused by some chemical component in the waste that was incompatible with the drum. Corrosion indicates a weakening of the container material and could lead to an eventual loss of containment.

Dr. Hirschhorn supports a prohibition of chemically incompatible wastes at WIPP and believes that the appropriate process to ensure that chemically incompatible waste is not emplaced at WIPP is to open and examine more carefully every drum of debris waste.

The CORROSIVITY CHARACTERISTIC is defined as aqueous or liquid waste with either a very low or very high pH or the ability to corrode steel. As currently written, the EPA language does not include non-aqueous solid waste, but the EPA has developed a procedure to test the pH of such solids. Two other Federal agencies, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), regulate solid corrosive waste. Several other states that have RCRA authority (including California, New Hampshire, Washington, and Rhode Island) also regulate solid corrosive waste. Waste will be coming from DOE facilities in California and Washington to WIPP. Shippers in those states must put the legally correct state codes on the shipping manifests. The legal definitions of these codes are determined by the individual states. Some states define corrosivity as being a solid, as well as an aqueous or liquid property. Other states do not. Therefore, corrosive waste could be prohibited from being shipped to WIPP from one state, while being allowed to be shipped from another state.

Some solid materials in the waste may be corrosive. Rags and cellulosics can absorb liquids having very high or very low pH. Therefore, at the very least, rags and cellulosics should be tested with the EPA's solid corrosivity test. For example, the California test method could be used.

In answer to a question from the Hearing Officer, Dr. Hirschhorn testified that wastes have to meet the RCRA requirements of the state in which the waste is located.

THE REACTIVITY CHARACTERISTIC is more open-ended and complicated in definition than the other 3 characteristics. Three federal regulatory agencies having jurisdiction over these materials define reactivity around the idea of causing severe problems when mixed with water, but do not necessarily agree on the type of material included in that definition. The DOT considers materials that are "dangerous when wet" to be reactive. The OSHA considers any solid that becomes a danger when wet to be reactive. The EPA's closest approximation of a definition for reactivity is: "reacts violently when wet," but the type of material is not specified.

There is evidence that reactive waste may be a problem at WIPP. Toxic gases are present in debris waste containers. Benzene and vinyl chloride could be present in such containers. [Benzene and vinyl chloride are flammable gases.] Under certain conditions releases of these gases could be dangerous to human health and the environment.

The reactivity characteristic should be addressed by testing for reactivity if headspace sampling and analysis reveals the presence of toxic gases in a container. Even so, false negatives may occur if toxic gases exist in sealed RIGID INNER CONTAINERS. Such containers are one of the problems resulting from accepting waste from such an agglomeration of different waste streams. Currently, the draft Permit does not take these rigid containers into account. Drums are designed to passively vent the buildup of dangerous gases. However, waste could block the opening of the vent, or the vent could be blocked from the outside of the drum.

RADIOGRAPHY has limitations in its ability to verify Acceptable Knowledge (AK). [Radiography involves x-ray scanning of waste containers to determine their physical contents. Radiography is confirmed by Visual Examination (VE).] [Acceptable Knowledge is the documentation of the history of the waste and the processes which generated it.] For instance, an inner container that is completely filled with liquid could look like an empty container.

Every debris waste drum needs to be completely visually examined for evidence of prohibited items and waste that is incompatible with container material. The DOE waste is a heterogeneous waste stream. If the waste were correctly organized into discrete homogeneous waste streams in the first place, one could test for incompatibility problems. This is currently not the case. This method of tracking a homogeneous waste stream's identity and characteristics would be even more accurate than VE because even VE can give false negatives.

If rusting or pitting is discovered in or on waste containers, that waste should be presumed prohibited due to chemical incompatibility.

The final Permit should require testing of any rags or cellulosics for corrosivity under the EPA guidelines (amended to include the procedure for the testing of solids).

Sealed inner containers should be tested for toxic gases and reactivity. It should be presumed that the waste is reactive if toxic gases are present.

The Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) test should be used for testing headspace gases. [The TCLP test is a lab procedure to test the probability of a toxic chemical leaching into groundwater.] If testing reveals the presence of benzene or vinyl chloride, the final Permit should require testing for the reactivity characteristic or presume that the waste is reactive and is unsuitable for disposal at WIPP.


The EPA indicates that AK should be used to avoid unnecessary and redundant testing of mixed waste. "Unnecessary" must be defined. The EPA's statement does not specify who should make determinations concerning the necessity (or lack thereof) of testing. We have issues related to protecting workers from unnecessary exposure to radioactivity. However, we also have larger issues to protect the public health and the environment from unnecessary exposures to hazardous waste and radioactivity.

RCRA does not require testing. The RCRA regulations do not provide a standard as to whether AK is accurate, comprehensive, and reliable. AK can give reliable information on listed waste since it is source-specific. Characteristic waste is a different situation. AK works best when a known waste stream is produced over a long period of time. The DOE situation is very different from a commercial process. The burden on the DOE to produce reliable AK information is difficult to meet. Quality Assurance (QA) is also troubling because the information used cannot be verified on the receiving end at WIPP, causing much uncertainty.

The Waste Analysis Plan (WAP) prohibits more than 1% free liquid in any container, but inner containers filled with large amounts of liquid can remain undetected, especially when packed inside larger containers of debris waste. For example, there was no liquid in the drum in the 1998 videotape of drum S815153, but there might have been liquid in the drum at an earlier point.

Debris waste is not an authentic waste stream. Over the years, the DOE has encouraged the generator sites to aggregate many waste streams into debris waste. The DOE then claimed that the waste is too heterogeneous to test. For example, the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), regulated by RCRA, is required to separate waste streams and to deal with each waste stream accordingly. The DOE's debris waste is an artificial waste stream. During the TA-55-43 waste stream confirmatory testing, the DOE opened the drums, desegregated the waste, and tested the different components. Thus the DOE has already demonstrated that they can desegregate a drum and organize the waste into a logical set of materials. In commercial settings, if a waste generator does not want to open a container or test a sample of waste, the worst case scenario is presumed and the waste is handled appropriately.

Washington State is one state that tests for corrosive solids under its hazardous waste regulations. The code for corrosive solids under these regulations is WSCZ, not D002 (the RCRA code for the corrosive characteristic). However, when states regulate to a higher standard than RCRA, the states must add their own language. It is common to have different nomenclature applied to the same waste. The different states commonly use different language than does the federal government. Even the EPA workshop report submitted by the DOE gives 3 different definitions of hazardous waste. However, there is no draft EPA rule to change the definition of "corrosivity" so it applies to solids.

The DOE attorneys questioned Dr. Hirschhorn suggesting that if you buried a bicycle in the dirt or left it out in the rain, the rust on it would not mean that it was exposed to corrosive waste. Dr. Hirschhorn responded that the rust would develop on the exterior metal surfaces of the bicycle. The rust would not develop from the inside out as shown in the videotape of drum S815153, it would develop from the outside in. There is no indication that the TA-54-43 waste was buried or left out in the rain. This further suggests that a chemical incapability reaction was taking place within the drums.

HYDROGEN CHLORIDE from radiolysis or some yet unknown phenomenon could have caused the rust inside the drums. [Hydrogen chloride is colorless, fuming, corrosive, suffocating gas.] Hydrogen chloride from radiolysis is created in a gaseous state and will usually diffuse through the vent if the vent is working properly. [Radiolysis or radiolytic decomposition is a process by which radioactivity breaks apart chemical compounds, particularly plastics and rubber, sometimes generating new compounds through the recombination of breakdown products and pre-existing chemicals.] However, the gaseous hydrogen chloride could corrode the vent and, therefore, keep it from working properly.

Hydrogen chloride combines with water to become hydrochloric acid. The 1% free liquid allowed in each container is 4.4 pints, which is certainly enough to create hydrochloric acid. NMED's Permit consultant, Techlaw, said there were "numerous factors" that indicated that hydrogen chloride would not be generated. Dr. Hirschhorn does not agree with Techlaw's conclusions. Techlaw stated that hydrogen chloride generation is not supported by experimental evidence but did not offer any experimental evidence for their conclusions.

BENZENE or VINYL CHLORIDE could make waste more hazardous in terms of the reactivity characteristic. Water could collect in the waste containers and force the gases out, though the probability of this happening has not yet been calculated. For this scenario to occur, the integrity of the container must be compromised so that water can enter it. If the container were to be compromised, harmful gases might or might not be released.

Techlaw looked at the benzene in the TA-55-43 waste and concluded that, because the benzene was vented, only toxic characteristic waste remained. Dr. Hirschhorn stated that Techlaw made this assertion with no data to back it up.

RIGID CONTAINERS: If a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) container is irradiated and through the process of radiolysis generates vinyl chloride gas, the gas could be present both inside and outside the container. The DOE has not estimated the amount of PVC materials present inside the rigid containers within the waste containers. Nevertheless, the DOE has prepared estimates on the percentage of PVC in all the waste going to WIPP.

The DOE claims gaseous diffusion will occur through almost any container, but their documents do not address rigid metal containers concealed within waste containers.

FINGERPRINT ANALYSIS: Waste facilities regulated under RCRA test the incoming waste to make sure it meets all the permit requirements. It is highly unusual that WIPP, as a facility receiving waste, is not required to do incoming waste testing. Since there is no verification of the characterization done at the DOE generator sites, the normal system of checks and balances will not be in place at WIPP.

The EPA workshop document contains a drawing of the "worst case drum." This drum is exactly what is encountered in the case of DOE debris waste drums. Diverse kinds of waste are generated by entirely different procedures and yet disposed of in a single container.

The prohibition on chemical incompatibility is found in the Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations and explicitly refers to shipping and packaging materials. However, the waste could also be chemically incompatible with itself. The concept of chemical incompatibility extends beyond corrosivity. Even non-RCRA waste could present chemical incompatibility problems.

The prohibitions in the draft Permit are sensible. It is crucial to determine whether a specific drum contains these prohibited materials. The question is how to characterize the waste to adequately determine whether these prohibited materials are present.

WIPP is exempt from the LAND DISPOSAL RESTRICTION. [The Land Disposal Restriction is a RCRA provision that prohibits land disposal of hazardous wastes unless they are first treated in some way to limit their toxicity and mobility because landfill sites are inherently leaky so wastes can migrate. Congress, in amending the WIPP Land Withdrawal Act in 1996, exempted WIPP from the RCRA Land Disposal Restrictions.]

The final Permit should specify in more technical detail the requirements for Visual Examination (VE). VE could be used to determine whether the multiple waste streams from multiple sites are chemically compatible. In a roof-fall scenario where the drums are crushed, the traditional waste-to-waste compatibility issues are essential. VE, however, could not explain the mechanism by which the corrosion formed on the inside of the drums. More sophisticated analysis is needed to make that determination.

Back to Summaries