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RCRA Corrective Actions

Primary steps in RCRA corrective actions and their relationship to the Triad.

RCRA, as amended by the HWSA legislation, addresses the environmental release of hazardous material at active facilities. While waste generators, underground storage tanks (UST) and treatment, storage, or disposal facilities (TSDFs) fall specifically under RCRA's domain, all operating facilities are potentially subject to RCRA rules. RCRA establishes a minimum set of requirements, with many states imposing more stringent requirements as part of their state-led programs. As a result, most state RCRA programs are at least somewhat unique.

Facilities in the RCRA program are guided by rule 55 FR 30798, which proposed the procedures and technical requirements for conducting a corrective action in response to an environmental release. This rule proposed aspects of the Subpart S, Corrective Action for Solid Waste Management Units at Hazardous Waste Management Facilities. Subpart S created a four step approach to RCRA corrective actions analogous to CERCLA's process. These four steps include:

  • RCRA Facility Assessment (RFA). The RFA includes a review of existing information about a facility, a visit to the facility, and, if warranted, limited sampling to determine if there is an actual or potential release of hazardous wastes or hazardous constituents from the Solid Waste Management Units (SWMUs) at the facility. The primary decision point is a determination of whether there is the potential for contamination at levels that would pose human health or ecological concerns. If no further investigation or remediation is necessary, EPA issues a "Determination of No Further Action." The RFA is directly analogous to CERCLA's SA. From a Triad perspective, this is where building a CSM begins.

  • RCRA Facility Investigation (RFI). The RFI is a detailed investigation to determine the nature, extent, and migration rate of the release, if any, and to provide data and information necessary for developing a strategy for addressing contamination. As part of the RFI, the initial CSM is further refined by focusing on a more detailed understanding of releases to the environment. The primary decision point is a determination of whether a corrective action is warranted. The RFI is directly analogous to CERCLA's RI.

  • Corrective Measures Study (CMS). When the RFI results indicate the need to implement further actions, the CMS provides an examination of the options. CSM development focuses on identifying mechanisms to mitigate release impacts, and on comparing options with respect to their ability to achieve required risk reduction. Cost, schedule, public acceptability and other factors are also considered. The primary decision point is the selection of the most appropriate corrective measure for the site. The CMS is directly analogous to CERCLA's FS.

  • Corrective Measures Implementation (CMI). All aspects of the design, construction, operation and maintenance associated with implementation of the selected corrective measure falls under the CMI. The primary decision point is a determination that the site or portions of the site has attained the necessary cleanup standards. The CMI is directly analogous to CERCLA's RD/RA.

By the middle to late 1990s, a number of factors reducing the effectiveness of RCRA corrective actions were identified by stakeholders, the regulated community, and state regulators. In an effort to address these impediments, EPA embarked on what is referred to as "RCRA cleanup reforms." Some of the reforms meant to streamline RCRA cleanups are stressing results-based approaches that eliminate unnecessary process steps, focusing on environmental indicators (e.g., current human exposure under control) as metrics to gauge progress in achieving risk reduction, piloting innovative approaches, enhancing community involvement, and capitalizing on redevelopment potential. As early as 1996, EPA was recommending that work strategies now included within the Triad framework (the use of a CSM, flexible work strategies, real-time data collection using modern tools) be integrated into routine RCRA programs (see, pages 19444-19446).

The Triad approach has the possibility for playing a significant role in each of the RCRA corrective action steps. Systematic planning focuses attention on what decisions need to be made and identifies the CSM data gaps that prevent confident decisions from being made. Data collection will usually be required to address CSM data gaps and manage decision-making uncertainty. The most efficient way to gather data and move on to the next step is laid out during systematic planning. Generally the most cost-effective options will involve real-time data gathering and dynamic work strategies for part or most of the work.

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