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)
TECHNICAL TESTIMONY OF Dr. JOEL S. HIRSCHHORN; March 15, 1999.
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
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
There are 2 broad classes of hazardous waste under RCRA: listed waste and
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
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
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
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
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.
DR. HIRSCHHORN'S PERMIT RECOMMENDATIONS:
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.
HIGHLIGHTS OF CROSS-EXAMINATION OF DR. HIRSCHHORN:
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
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
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
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
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
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.