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Urban Gardening, Have You Tried it?


Somerville Urban Gardening When I graduated from high school and moved to the city for college one of the biggest differences was being able to drive down the road and not see a field.  As many of you probably know, once you get out of the urban parts of Indiana you tend to find yourself surrounded on all sides by fields of varying crops.  At first, I found the change very refreshing.  But after being in the city for so long I now find myself missing some of the aspects of a more agrarian lifestyle.  After doing a little research, however, I learned that there are some great agricultural things you can do in the city and even in an apartment setting. 

The movement is appropriately called Urban Gardening or Urban Farming.  According to the website, “an urban garden is an area used to grow food in an urban setting. This can be accomplished in your own backyard, somewhere in your neighborhood or in a broader context. Urban gardens are distinct from those growing food in a traditional rural farm setting, but offers a way for urban people and neighborhoods to produce a food supply close to home. Many gardens are cropping up in vacant urban lots, at schools, churches and community centers to provide both food and educational opportunities for citizens of all ages.”  So how can you join the ever growing ranks of urban farmers?  Read on for a list of ideas.

1. Join a community garden.  Take a look at your city website or Facebook page.  There is a good chance that there is a community garden you can join.  If there isn’t, maybe you could spearhead one!  Community gardens are great tools for growing food, bringing people together, and teaching others about how food and plants grow.

2. Try container gardening.  This is an especially great idea for those of us who live in an apartment.  Did you know that you can grow a variety of produce in the area you have on your balcony or back porch?  Tomatoes, dwarf citrus trees, strawberries, blueberries, and a variety of herbs can all be grown in containers outside your apartment.

3. Create a garden in your back yard.  If your house in the city has a back yard you are in a great place to plant a garden!  I’ve seen people growing things from tomatoes and carrots to stalks of corn and pumpkins.  Do a little research to see which items to plant together and you could have produce for most of the summer!

4. Find a farmers market.  If you like the idea of urban farming but don’t think you have the green thumb to pull it off you can support those who do by buying your produce from a local farmers market.  Not only will the items probably taste better than those you could buy in a store, you’ll be supporting local farmers and helping to ensure they can keep going into the next year.

5. Spread the word about urban farming.  Let your friends and family know the benefits of urban farming.  It leads to fresher produce, cuts down significantly on transportation needed for delivery of produce, and it provides a fun and educational hobby for others in your city.

So whether you have a green thumb or not, there are a lot of ways you could get involved with urban gardening.  What do you think about growing produce in the city?  Do you think it’s something you’d try?  Maybe you have some tips for beginners! And who knows, maybe you’ll realize you have that green thumb after all.  Let us know in the comments section. 

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What are Universal Treatment Standards?


UTSWe have discussed Land Disposal Restrictions in a few previous posts.  One post in particular titled “Why did the EPA Develop LDR Treatment Standards?” serves as an excellent lead in to today’s post.  You may remember that when the EPA first designated LDR treatment standards they researched to find the Best Demonstrated Available Technology (BDAT) that would best reduce toxicity or mobility of hazardous components in a material.  In finding these Best Demonstrated Available Technologies, however, they encountered another problem.

According to the EPA, the issue arose when it became clear that “the numeric treatment standard applied to an individual hazardous constituent, like benzene, could vary depending on the performance of BDAT on each listed or characteristic wastestream that EPA evaluated. For example, nonwastewater forms of the listed wastes F005 and U019 both require treatment for benzene; however, the treatment standard originally set for benzene in the spent solvent was 3.7 mg/kg, while the standard originally set for unused, discarded benzene was 36 mg/kg.”  What this means is that different wastestreams were breaking down to different levels when subjected to the same BDAT.  Because of this the standards were all over the board.

To fix that problem and to streamline and simplify the process the EPA studied the array of numeric standards that had been applied to the same hazardous component in different hazardous wastes.  They then assigned one numeric value to each component for both its wastewater and nonwastewaters forms based on the aforementioned range of numbers.  You can find a consolidated list of these numbers in 40CFR §268.48.

After developing these Universal Treatment Standards (UTS), the EPA used the values assigned to hazardous constituents to adjust numeric levels found in the treatment standards table in §268.40. Doing so did not change the hazardous components that waste handlers have to treat in a particular waste; it simply amended the numeric standards. The result was that a component found in several different wastestreams now has the same numeric treatment level regardless of what the waste was part of.  The EPA continues its example concerning benzene by explaining that after developing UTS, “the treatment standards found in §268.40 for F005 and U019 nonwastewaters…continue to address benzene, but EPA has adjusted the level for each to 10 mg/kg.”

This process helped the EPA not only because it streamlined existing treatment standards but also because it served as a stepping off point for wastes that would be identified or listed in the future.  “When a new waste contains hazardous constituents that EPA has already addressed in UTS, the Agency [can] apply the existing BDAT-based numeric standards for those particular constituents.”  Similarly, if a new waste component is discovered it can be added to the UTS list.  


All information for this blog post was gathered from the EPA document, “Introduction to Land Disposal Restrictions.”  As always, this blog post is not intended to be comprehensive and it is always best to check with the EPA and local government for full, up-to-date, rules and regulations.    

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Green Cleaning Supplies


Green CleaningWith next Monday being St. Patrick’s Day, it seems very appropriate to make todays post something of the “green” variety.  And since those of us in the Midwest are desperately seeking spring, I thought spring cleaning was a good place to go.  We did a post last year about Green Spring Cleaning so this year I’m going to focus on what natural substances you can use to help you clean.  You may not realize that you already have a bevy of potential cleaning products in your home that will pose minimal risk to the environment! 

1. The first item I’d like to mention is baking soda.  I use baking soda for so much around my house it’s not even funny!  Baking soda is much more than an ingredient you use when baking.  It is a mild alkaline powder which works great to clean stainless steel, plastic, and even china.  I most frequently use it to help scour but it also works to soak things in to help break down any grime.  In a different vein, it can be used as a dry shampoo for carpet by being poured on carpet, left to work for 15 minutes, and vacuumed up thoroughly.

2. Lemon Juice is another great natural ingredient to help you in your cleaning.  It’s the lemons acidity that helps to make it such a powerful cleaning agent.  When added to water it makes a tarnish removing soak for brass and copper.  It can also be used for rust stains on marble or plastic and to remove lime scale from you shower.  Plus, it smells good!

3. I grew up in a predominantly Amish town and I know several Amish women who swear by cleaning windows with vinegar.  In case you’ve tried this before to no avail, I did a little research into common road bumps.  The biggest one seems to be that people have streaks when using vinegar.  According to Annie B. Bond of Care2, this is because traditional window cleaners leave a wax residue on windows.  You can combat this by adding a bit of dish soap to your vinegar and water mixture.  She recommends using 2 cups of water, 1/4 cup of white distilled vinegar, and up to 1/2 teaspoon of liquid soap or detergent.  Mix them together in a spray bottle and you’re good to go!

What’s really great about these ingredients though is that they can sometimes be mixed to achieve even better results.  For example, lemon juice and baking soda can be mixed into a paste that works quite well to remove mildew from your shower.  Use the ensuing paste and a scrub brush to deep clean your tiles and grout 

Baking soda, vinegar, and a little bit of dish soap make a great cleaner for your garbage disposal.  Simply pour some baking soda in your drain, follow it up with dish soap (I use this primarily for the good smell) and then add your vinegar.  Just like your childhood science fair volcano, it will expand and bubble up to help break down stuck on grime in your disposal.  Let it sit for a few minutes and then rinse with water.   

Can you think of any other good ways to use common household ingredients to clean?  I’m sure there are several more.  Let us know in the comments section.  And good luck with your spring cleaning!  Maybe if we all get ours finished it will mean spring has to get here quicker?

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Hazardous Waste Containment Buildings: Operating Standards


Hazardous Waste ContainmentIn previous posts we have talked about containment buildings, what they are, how they came to be, and what regulations are in place for how they must be designed and built.  Today we’re going to talk about what has to happen after the building has been made.  What must be done operationally to keep things compliant?  According to 40CFR §264/265.1101(c), “the owner or operator of each new or existing containment building must implement operating controls and practices.”  These operating controls or practices focus on four main areas: maintenance of the unit, inspection, recordkeeping, and plans for response to potential release of waste.  

How a Containment Building Should be Maintained

Working from the bottom up, owners and operators of containment buildings must make sure that the floor is in good shape and free of cracks, corrosion, and / or deterioration.  Additionally, if wear from movement of waste, equipment, or personnel causes any damage to surface coatings or liners, owners must make repairs as often as needed.

The EPA also set limits on how high wastes could be stacked within containment buildings.  This was done in order to prevent potential releases due to wastes shifting under their own weight.  According to §264/265.1101(c)(1)(ii), “if the outer walls of the containment building are used to support the piles of waste, hazardous waste cannot be piled higher than the portion of the wall that meets the required design standards (also known as ‘containment walls’).”  

Dust control and decontamination areas round out maintenance.  Dust control devices must be maintained at all openings so that no visible emissions can escape during routine operating activities.  This includes times when equipment or personnel enter or exit the building.  In much the same vein, decontamination areas must be constructed in the containment buildings so that no waste can be tracked out by equipment or personnel.

How to Inspect Containment Buildings and What Data to Record

According to the EPA, containment buildings have to be inspected once every seven days and all activities and results have to be recorded in the operating log.  Inspections need to include an evaluation of the integrity of the unit.  Additionally, there should be a visual assessment of adjacent soils and surface waters to detect any signs of waste release. Data from monitoring or leak detection equipment should also be considered.

How to Plan a Response to Releases

During the inspections, owners and operators should be especially vigilant about looking for leaks or releases.  If one is found, the EPA instructs owners to, “remove the affected portion of the unit from service and take all appropriate steps for repair and release containment.”  After doing so, “the implementing agency must be notified of the discovery and of the proposed schedule for repair.” Once repairs and cleanup are completed a qualified, registered, professional engineer must verify that the submitted plan for repair was followed.

If your company utilizes containment buildings remember these guidelines.  Do you have any other advice for owners or operators?  Perhaps a plan that has worked well for you in the past?  Let us know in the comments!


All information for this blog post was gathered from the EPA document, “Introduction to Containment Buildings.”  As always, this blog post is not intended to be comprehensive and it is always best to check with the EPA and local government for full, up-to-date, rules and regulations.    

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9 Ways to Go Green Before You Even Get to Work


Good MorningDo you ever find yourself thinking something along the lines of, “I’d like to be more environmentally friendly but I just don’t have the time?”  Maybe you think that recycling and sorting wastes and all the other things that go into being a “greener” person would just be too much of a commitment?  What if I told you I came up with 9 things you could do to be more ecofriendly before you even leave your house in the morning?  Read on for some quick, simple steps to making the planet a little bit of a better place.

1. Unplug your phone and / or computer charger.  There is no reason to leave these things plugged in during the day.  In fact, doing so can cause energy to be wasted by the outlet attempting to charge something that either doesn’t need it or isn’t even attached to the charger.  

2. Shorten your shower.  There are several types of shower timers you can use to help you ensure that you’re not lingering.  I know this can be especially difficult in the cold winter months but the water you can save will make a difference.

3. Unplug your blow-dryer, flat iron, and curling iron.  Much like computer and phone chargers, leaving these items plugged in (even if they are powered off) can waste energy during the day.

4. Better yet, let your hair air dry.  Eliminate the use of blow-dryers and other styling tools and let your hair be natural.  Not only will it save energy, it’s better for your hair.

5. Eat breakfast.  Many of us are prone to eating breakfast on the go and that often means we’re eating something prepackaged.  Cut down on the waste you create by either packing breakfast foods in reusable containers or simply eating at home.

6.  Use a reusable water bottle or coffee cup.  This will save you money and waste.  Starbucks will even make your drink for you in your favorite reusable cup if you’d rather not make your own.

7. Is it summer or winter?  If it’s summer, consider closing your sun facing blinds to help keep your home cooler.  If it’s winter consider opening them so the warm sun can filter through.  

8. Make sure to turn off all the lights before you leave your house.  This one is second nature to some of us but it’s always good to remember.

9. If you can, walk to work or join a carpool to save fuel.

So see, 9 simple things you can do before you even leave your house in the morning.  If you’d like some ideas for later in your day check out our posts on Reducing Office Waste and Reducing Household Wastes.  Do you have any other ideas for us?  What are some quick, easy things you do to go green?  Let us know in the comments section! 

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Containment Building Design Standards (Liquids)


We wrote a couple of weeks back about the design requirements of containment buildings.  This included buildings needing to be fully enclosed with a floor, walls and a roof constructed of manmade materials which have, “sufficient structural strength to withstand movement of wastes, personnel, and heavy equipment within the unit,” among others.  At the end of that post we noted that the design specifications for containment buildings that will hold liquid wastes are different / even more stringent.

According to the EPA, “If…the containment building is used to manage hazardous wastes containing free liquids or if treatment to meet LDR treatment standards requires the addition of liquids, the unit must be equipped with a liquid collection system, a leak detection system, and a secondary barrier (§264/265.1101(b)).”  Additionally the floor of the containment building needs to be sloped towards a sump, trough, or other collection device.  This is done to minimize the amount of standing liquids in a containment building and to help enable liquid removal.

On top (or on bottom rather) or the building requirements, there must be a leak detection system beneath the floor to alert of any waste leaking through the primary barrier (the floor).  A secondary barrier is also mandatory for liquid containing buildings just in case the primary should leak.  This helps ensure that the wastes will not reach the soil, surface, or groundwater.

The EPA specifies that, “as with the unit floor, the secondary barrier must be structurally sound and chemically resistant to wastes and liquids managed in the containment building. In buildings where only certain areas are delineated for management of liquid-containing wastes, these secondary containment standards are mandatory only for "wet areas," provided waste liquids cannot migrate to the "dry areas" of the containment building.”  That said, the costs of renovation should plans change leads the EPA to recommend installing your secondary barrier under the entire building.

The EPA provides the following table to further clarify the additional design requirements for containment buildings housing liquid wastes.

Containment Building Design Standards Liquid 

All information for this blog post was gathered from the EPA document, “Introduction to Containment Buildings.”  As always, this blog post is not intended to be comprehensive and it is always best to check with the EPA and local government for full, up-to-date, rules and regulations.    

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Have You Finished Your Biennial Reporting?


Hazardous Waste ReportingHave you completed your Biennial Reporting for 2013?  The deadline of March 1st is fast approaching.

Your facility may be required to complete this report under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). RCRA requires Large Quantity Generators (LQG’s) of hazardous waste to report to EPA every 2 years, the quantities and disposition of their hazardous waste and any efforts taken to reduce the volume compared to previous years.

So who must file the Biennial Report?

Any generator that operated as a Large Quantity Generator at least one month of the reporting year must file.  A Large Quantity Generator is a site that, in any calendar month:

  • Generates 1,000 kilograms (2200 pounds) or more of hazardous waste
  • Generates more than a total of 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of acute hazardous waste
  • Generates more than a total of 100 kg (220 pounds) of spill cleanup material
  • contaminated with acute hazardous waste
  • Accumulates more than 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of acute hazardous waste at any time
  • during the year.
  • Accumulates more than 100 kg (220 pounds) of spill cleanup material contaminated
  • with acute hazardous waste

If you are in an authorized state, make sure you check your state requirements for submitting the report as well.  Each state uses different software to file the report and some states require you to file similar reports on an annual basis.  It is also important to consider the state that the generating facility is located in, as other categories of generators (Small Quantity Generators or State Designated Generators) may be required to file a report as well.

The Biennial Report form (8700-13A/B) must be submitted to the authorized state agency or the EPA Regional Office by March 1st of every even-numbered year for the previous year.  Usually biennial reporting can be completed on line using the generators hazardous waste manifests records. If hazardous waste was managed at a Heritage facility, the manifests and biennial report data are readily available in the Heritage Environmental Information System (EIS).  Also be aware that if filing on line most states require you to submit a Declaration of Electronic Filing, in hard copy directly to the state agency after you have submitted the report. Again it is important that you understand your states unique filing requirements.

There are 3 separate reports that make up the Biennial Report. The SI or Site ID form reports all the facility’s pertinent information such as: site name and location; site land type; NAICS Code; Hazardous Waste Numbers; owner and operator contact information; and the various types of regulated waste activity.  When preparing this SI form, please be sure that the information you provided is accurate as this information is used to update State and EPA databases concerning your facility.

The GM or Waste Generation and Management form is divided into three sections and provides information regarding the wastes that you generate at your facility.  Section 1 documents the source, characteristics, and quantity of hazardous waste generated.  Section 2 reports the quantity of hazardous waste managed on site along with the management method used and Section 3 reports the quantity of hazardous waste shipped off – site for treatment, disposal or recycling along with the off – site management method used.

The WR or Waste Received Off - Site form identifies hazardous wastes that were received from other hazardous waste sites. This form is usually used by TSDF’s that actually receive your waste for treatment, disposal or recycling.

Even though you may be an LQG there are some wastes that are exempt from reporting but you must check your state requirements.

  • Excluded wastes (40 CFR 261.4),
  • Spent lead Acid Batteries (40 CFR 266.80),
  • Universal Wastes (40 CFR 273),
  • Used Oil (40 CFR 279), and
  • Any non-RCRA waste that other states may require to be manifested

Finally, since it’s getting close to the deadline, most states do offer extensions to the March 1 deadline but usually only 30 days. You need to contact your state agency directly for guidance on an extension prior to the March 1 deadline.

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Have You Heard About the Proposed Microbead Bans?


MicrobeadsA friend of mine posted an article on Facebook last week that really caught my attention and had me concerned for my favorite face washes.  You may have seen something similar.  If not, read on for more info. 

The two states who have proposed bans are New York and California.  The proposed bans would affect any face wash, body wash, toothpaste, etc. that contains microbeads.  If you’re like me, you may have never even considered problems microbeads could pose.  I simply assumed they dissolved completely when exposed to water.  I have since learned that I couldn’t have been further from the truth.   

Microbeads (which are most often used as an exfoliation agent) are made of tiny pieces of plastic.  They will usually appear on labels as polyethylene or polypropylene.  The problem is that these plastic pieces are so small they can get through water filtration systems and end up back in the water source. 

In New York, this means they end up in the great lakes.  In fact, a 2012 study done by SUNY researchers evaluating plastic pollution in the Great Lakes discovered the highest concentrations of microbeads in the waters of Lake Erie.  Once the microbeads are reintroduced into the water supply fish and other wildlife ingest them.  This means that the fish we eat may also contain the tiny plastic spheres.

The proposed California bill will ban the sale of microbead containing goods but the New York bill goes even further.  If passed, it will prevent both the sale and manufacture of products containing plastic pieces of 5 millimeters or less. 

Several big name brands such as Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and Johnson & Johnson have all agreed to phase out the plastic particles.  The proposed bills encourage the use of natural exfoliation alternatives such as sea salt, walnut shells, cocoa beans, or apricot pits

According to TreeHugger, “Legislation in both states was shaped in part by the advocacy group 5 Gyres, which has also been studying mircoplastic pollution in the Great Lakes. In an interview in July, 5 Gyres co-founder Anna Cummins told TreeHugger that microplastics are virtually impossible to filter out of our waterways.

‘This just underscores the importance of prevention, and source reduction,’ she said. ‘Once in our lakes and oceans, plastics are there to stay, unless they are eaten by organisms, or wash back up onto shore.’”

So what do you think about the proposed bans?  Did you know that the beads in your soap products had this kind of effect on the environment?  Let us know in the comments!  I can tell you that I will be looking at the labels of my face and body wash choices a lot more carefully in the future. 

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8 Ways to Reuse or Upcycle Old Pillowcases


PillowcasesI have a confession to make.  I’m slightly addicted to buying bedding.  Whether it’s a new duvet cover or new sheets I have trouble resisting when I see something I really like.  This has led to an overabundance of bedding in general but specifically to my having way too many pillowcases.  So just in case I’m not the only one with this problem (or a similar one) I decided to look into ways to reuse, repurpose, or upcycle older pillowcases.

1. If your pillowcases are really old / ratty (and as such less suitable for upcycling or crafting) use them to cover things you don’t want getting dirty in storage or on a trip.  Say you have some throw pillows that only come out during the holidays; wrap them in an old pillowcase prior to putting them in the basement or closet for storage to help make sure they don’t get dusty during their downtime.

2. Make wall art.  If the pillowcases you have are patterned or even just a color you like there are a few ways you could turn them into a hanging decoration.  One option would be to buy some frames can frame sections of the fabric.  Another way is to buy embroidery hoops, put your pillowcase fabric in them, trim the excess off the back of the hoop, and hang the hoops on your wall.  This would work especially well in your bedroom if you use pillowcases that match your comforter!

3. Make an art smock for your kids.  Real Simple provides quick instructions on how to do this.  And just in case you’re worried, you don’t even have to know how to sew!  These smocks will serve as a way to repurpose and help save you the stress of paint stained clothes.

4. Wrap tricky gifts.  Things like basketballs, soccer balls, or anything oddly shaped can pose a real problem to wrap.  If you put the item in a pillowcase and tie the top off with a ribbon you will have wrapping that won’t rip and you’ll save the bag and tissue paper you probably would have had to use otherwise.

5. Make a tote bag.  This one does require a little sewing but luckily growMama provides step-by-step instruction on her website.  This bag could work as a purse or as a reusable shopping bag!

6. Protect hanging clothes.  If you have a jacket, dress, or other item that you don’t wear for several months out of the year you can use a pillowcase to keep it safe in your closet.  Simply cut a small hole in the top of the pillowcase so you can fit it over your hanger and use it to cover your item.  This will keep it free from dust when you’re not wearing it.

7. Make a heating pack.  I swear by these in the winter and I know several people who use them for aches and pains year round.  Just cut your old pillowcase into sections (the size is really up to you), sew 3 sides together and use the remaining open side to fill with rice, sew up your last side and pop your pack in the microwave whenever you need it.  I use mine to keep my feet warm in the winter! 

8. Donate them. If your pillowcases are in good shape but you just don't need them anymore donate them to a local shelter or clothes and food basket.  

So what would you do with unneeded pillowcases?  Do you like the ideas above or do you have something else you prefer?  Let us know in the comments section!

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Containment Building Design Standards (No Liquids)


We discussed containment buildings in a previous post where we detailed what they are and how they came to be.  Today we’re going to take a closer look at how containment buildings must be designed and what measures are taken to ensure protection of human health and the environment.

When the EPA wrote the standards for containment buildings they modeled them closely after those for hazardous waste tanks.  Because the standards are so important to the protection of human health and the environment they are primarily regulations concerning structural soundness and measures that must be set to prevent wastes in the buildings from leaking and getting into the environment.  In order to ensure these regulations and measures are met, a professional engineer must inspect and certify a containment building before it can be used. 

Section 24/265.1101(a) details design standards that containment buildings must meet.  These standards include needing to be fully enclosed with a floor, walls and a roof constructed of manmade materials which have, “sufficient structural strength to withstand movement of wastes, personnel, and heavy equipment within the unit.”  Doors and windows don’t need to meet the standards but the building must be designed in such a way that wastes will never come in contact with them. 

Controlling dust emissions is another key point.  According to the EPA, “dust control devices, such as air-lock doors or negative air pressure systems (which pull air into the containment building), must be used as necessary to prevent fugitive dust from escaping through these building exits.”

Additionally, much like wastes must be compatible with their containers, surfaces that come in contact with the wastes being stored in the containment building must be chemically compatible with the wastes.

“The remaining containment building design standards establish a system of barriers between hazardous wastes in the unit and the surrounding environment. The floor of the containment building is considered the unit’s primary barrier, since it is the first measure used to prevent wastes from being released into the ground beneath the building. Construction materials vary with the type of wastes to be managed in the containment building, but concrete floors are typical.” 

The table below details the standards required for containment buildings which manage no liquids.  Keep checking our blog for more details about containment buildings housing liquid wastes.

Containment Building Design Standards resized 600

All information for this blog post was gathered from the EPA document, “Introduction to Containment Buildings.”  As always, this blog post is not intended to be comprehensive and it is always best to check with the EPA and local government for full, up-to-date, rules and regulations.    

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