One of the most dangerous types of generated waste is hazardous material. Because hazardous materials are so potentially harmful to people and the environment, it's incredibly important that you properly identify whether you have RCRA hazardous waste or not. One subcategory within this waste type is RCRA metals, and if you suspect there has been contamination of this kind, it's imperative you run the necessary tests and follow the proper protocol.

Important Tips to Check Your Waste for RCRA Metals


What Is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and What Is RCRA Hazardous Waste?

RCRA is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. It passed into legislation in 1976, and it dealt with how to properly dispose of different waste types.

Before RCRA regulations, there was a great deal of negligence surrounding hazardous waste disposal. This law helped make people accountable for any improper disposal.

RCRA hazardous waste falls in two categories. Characteristic hazardous waste is either ignitable, reactive, corrosive, or toxic, and listed hazardous waste encompasses waste specifically named by regulatory bodies as hazardous.

What Are RCRA Metals?

A RCRA metal is one of eight heavy metals identified by RCRA as hazardous. The "RCRA 8" are:

  • Arsenic
  • Barium
  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Selenium
  • Silver

These toxic heavy metals occur naturally in the earth, but due to human use, they can become concentrated in unnatural levels and pose extreme risk to humans, animals, and the environment.

These metals do appear in some common household items. Some paints contain lead, and both lightbulbs and batteries contain mercury.

US EPA Allowable Limit and Hazardous Waste Codes

The EPA's allowable limit on a heavy metal is based on that particular metal's toxicity. The lower the limit, the more dangerous the metal.

Heavy Metal

Allowable Limit in Parts Per Million (PPM)

Hazardous Waste Code


5.0 ppm (mg/L)



100.0 ppm (mg/L)



1.0 ppm (mg/L)



5.0 ppm (mg/L)



5.0 ppm (mg/L)



0.2 ppm (mg/L)



1.0 ppm (mg/L)



5.0 ppm (mg/L)


The level of a metal found in a given sample determines how that waste needs to be disposed of. If the concentration is low enough, the waste would be safe to landfill. If it's too high, it will need to be incinerated.

The Analytical Work

Properly disposing of hazardous waste can only be done after specific laboratory work to determine the level of those metals.

Unlike with some hazardous materials, you'd never know if a site or waste stream had heavy metal contamination unless you ran these analytical tests. Heavy metals won't leave any visual or otherwise perceivable trace, so the only way to know definitively if you have heavy metals (and in what concentration) is by running a TCLP test (toxicity characteristic leaching procedure).

This process involves taking a one-quart sample of water, soil, or other potentially contaminated source and keeping that sample cool and protected until it can be taken to a lab for the actual test.

Even if you have an MSDS sheet (now commonly called an SDS sheet), for the most part, this safety data sheet won't tell you the level of the heavy metal(s) present. Testing, therefore, is still necessary.

Who Needs This Testing?

A number of people can require this testing, including:

  • Manufacturers

Testing can determine if a manufacturer's generated waste stream is hazardous, which affects how that manufacturer goes about disposal.

  • Contractors, Demolition Crews, or Engineering Firms

Anyone looking to build a new site should first test the property to confirm there's been no water or soil contamination.

  • Gun Ranges

Many ammunition types contain lead, and if casings have been on the ground, the area might require special cleaning.

Why Are Hazardous Waste Disposal Companies Important?

Because lab work is required, it's important to work with a hazardous waste disposal company that has the appropriate connections to reputable, experienced local testers. Generally the disposal company won't run the tests themselves, but they will use their established and trusted contacts.

A hazardous waste management company can also instruct the laboratory to push the testing through faster than the normal seven to ten business days if you need results quickly.

For more information about whether your waste contains any of the RCRA 8 or for other waste management tips, please contact a representative of MCF Environmental Services, a hazardous waste management Atlanta GA company.