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Designing a Quality and Data Management Program to Comply with the Coal Combustion Residual Rule

Consulting Meeting

On April 17, 2015, the US EPA published the Final Rule (40 CFR Parts 257 and 261) to regulate the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR) as solid waste under subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).  The rule requires the generation of a significant amount of data through extensive groundwater sampling and analyses which, at a minimum, must be performed every 6 months over the life of the unit and through the 30th year post closure.  Groundwater monitoring will be required for all CCR units and must be in place by October 19, 2017.  The monitoring program includes detection monitoring of a variety of constituents and water quality parameters listed in Appendix III and Appendix IV (for Assessment Monitoring) to Part 257.  In addition to the monitoring, the rule requires the operators to assess structural integrity of impoundments through weekly and annual inspections, and to develop formal emergency response protocols in the event of an impoundment failure.

Regarding the semiannual monitoring requirements, unit operators are required to install a system of monitoring wells, develop and execute procedures for sampling and analysis, and evaluate the data to determine if a statistically significant exceedance of background water quality exists.  Exceedances shall be assessed through the comparison between upgradient and downgradient wells and must be performed within 90 days of completion of each sampling event.  In the event there is an exceedance, formal notification and further monitoring actions must be implemented to assess the need for remedial action.

With such regimented sampling and analytical requirements specified under the CCR rule, it is clear there is a need for a robust quality assurance and data management program.  Spurious sample results from any well or structural integrity measurement during detection or assessment monitoring could activate formal notifications and action; as such, there must be no question regarding the quality, admissibility, and defensibility of sampling procedures and analytical methods.  Unfortunately, that is not routinely the case.  In fact, Subtitle D compliance program histories indicate that something will go wrong during the sampling and/or the analytical activities that will cast doubt (which could be slight or very significant) on a particular sampling result or data set.  The probability of these errors presents legal and public relations risks that need to be properly managed when conducting CCR groundwater monitoring.

US EPA is relying on citizens to enforce these requirements under RCRA’s citizen suit authority; thus compliance data will undergo intense third-party scrutiny.  When compliance demonstration is at stake, there is a mandate for legally admissible and defensible data.  The value of a thoughtful and robust quality assurance and data management program is not a luxury, but is now a fundamental necessity at CCR disposal facilities.

Environmental managers will clearly have new challenges organizing, reviewing, interpreting, and reporting chemical and structural data from multiple sample points on multiple units.  A data quality program integrated with a centralized, or standardized, data management program is also moving rapidly from “luxury” to necessity for most managers.  Important drivers for achieving a robust, reliable level of data quality and data management include the need to control data reporting processes and the need to support rapid decision-making, trending analyses, and additional statistical analyses as the needs arise.  The ability to easily retrieve and organize data is also extremely beneficial when establishing site-specific standards, and defending closure decisions.

There is a lot at stake for CCR disposal facilities.  Compliance to the new rule is critical, and we can help.  Environmental Standards, Inc., has direct relevant and long-term experience in designing and executing quality and data management programs associated with CCR monitoring, for long-term monitoring programs and emergency response actions.

Contact: Rock J. Vitale, CEAC, at 610.935.5577.