Secondary Containment and Container Regulations

The EPA enforces a wide array of environmental regulations, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Violations under these regulations can result in fines that range from minor amounts for negligible non-compliance issues to millions of dollars for major infractions, especially if they result in significant harm to the environment or public health.

  • Minor violations might result in fines of a few thousand dollars or less, especially if the laboratory quickly rectifies the issue and it is a first-time offense.
  • More serious violations, such as improper disposal of hazardous waste or failure to comply with air emission standards, could result in fines ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even more in severe cases.

Additionally, fines are just one part of the financial impact of non-compliance. Laboratories may also need to spend money on remediation efforts, legal fees, and implementing changes to their operations to prevent future violations. These costs can exceed the initial fines. Ensure your chemicals are handled in a compliant manner.

A Summary of EPA, UFC/IFC and OSHA Small Container Regulations

Container and Secondary Containment requirements come from a variety of sources, with the main source being the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Uniform Fire Code (UFC), OSHA and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). These regulations are intended to safeguard human and environmental health.

Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 264
2006 Uniform Fire Code (UFC) in standard
2006 International Fire Code (IFC) in 2704.2

ECO Funnel with Container and EPA Compliant Secondary Container


Some of the most important regulations about containers in laboratories and other facilities refer to the management of hazardous waste containers 40 CFR Part 264/265, Subpart I; choosing safe and compliant secondary containment §264.175(b); following UFC/IFC requirements; and complying with OSHA flammable liquid storage regulations e-CFR 1926.152.

Managing Containers

EPA regulations for containers in Part 264-265 cover design, operating requirements, inspections, and closure. They are meant to ensure the integrity of the container. The following is a summary of the regulations affecting containers used to store hazardous waste.


A container is any portable device in which a material is stored, transported, treated, disposed of, or otherwise handled (§260.10). This definition is intentionally broad to encompass all the different types of portable devices. For example, a container may be a 55-gallon drum made from steel or plastic, a large tanker truck, a railroad car, a small bucket, or a test tube.

Storage means holding hazardous waste for a temporary period, at the end of which the hazardous waste is treated, disposed of, or stored elsewhere. Again, this definition is made intentionally broad to include any situation in which hazardous waste is held for any period of time.

Container Design

The regulations governing the design of a container storage area are intended to ensure that the waste is stored safely. Containers must be in good condition, non-leaking, and compatible witn the substance being stored. Incompatible wastes and materials can cause adverse reactions (explosions / toxis gas.)

Secondary Containment

The EPA does not address secondary containment requirements for portable (small) containers. Instead, they refer to containment under 40 CFR part 264.175(b) for permitted facilities. At a minimum, the secondary containment system must meet certain criteria designed to ensure that the waste will remain in the containment system until it is removed in a "timely" manner. Specifically, the containment system must meet the following requirements:

  • The base must be free of cracks [and] contain leaks, spills... (§264.175(b)(1)).
  • The base must be sloped or [designed] so that liquids resulting from releases can drain and be removed... (§264.175(b)(2)).
  • The secondary containment [must] contain 10% of the volume of containers or the volume of the largest container... (§264.175(b)(3)).

Closed Containers

Containers holding hazardous waste must always be closed during storage, except when waste is added or removed (§264/265.173). In addition, containers must not be handled, opened, or stored in a manner that may cause them to leak.


Containers should be inpected weekly for leaks (§264/265.174). Recordkeeping may be required §264/265.15(d).

UFC and IFC Requirements for secondary containment

Both the UFC and IFC cover secondary containment requirement standards for facilities that store hazardous materials and not just hazardous wastes that are the focus of the EPA standards. The UFC and IFC are very similar, except the IFC goes into more detail in regards to outdoor design of secondary containment, monitoring and drainage systems. Both state that buildings or portions thereof, used for any of the following shall be provided with secondary containment to prevent the flow of liquids to adjoining areas:

  1. Storage of liquids (including corrosive, flammable, toxic and combustible) where the capacity of an individual vessel exceeds 55 gallons (208L) or the aggregate capacity of multiple vessels exceeds 1000 gallons (3785L)
  2. Storage of solids where the capacity of an individual vessel exceeds 550 lb. (248 kg) or the aggregate capacity of multiple vessels exceeds 10,000 lb. (4524 kg)
  3. Open-use liquids where the capacity of the multiple vessels or system exceeds 1.1 gallons (4L)
  4. Open-use liquids where the capacity of multiple vessels or systems exceeds 5.3 gallons (20L)

According to federal codes, a containment system must have a sufficient capacity to contain 10% of the volume of the containers or the volume of the largest container, whichever is greater. Some states may have more stringent restrictions and you should contact your local fire marshal for your local requirements.

Choosing a Containment System

When selecting a containment system for an application, many issues need to be considered. A list of issues and some things to contemplate are listed below.

  1. Is the system chemically compatible with the products being stored?
    1. Containment system sups are primarily constructed of one or two materials: high-density polyethylene and steel.
    2. Polyethylene skids usually have material choices for grids or platforms. The choice of material depends on chemical resistance as well as disposability of the product. Examples include:
      1. Wood platforms: Once contaminated, they are disposed of according to local regulations.
      2. Fiberglass grids: Compatible with a wide variety of chemicals, but not suitable for corrosive materials.
      3. Polyethylene grids: Compatible with a wide variety of chemicals including many corrosive materials.
  2. How will the system be monitored and cleaned?
    1. Most units have drains. If they don't, usually a spill cleanup kit will be adequate to clean up the internal sump area of the system.
  3. What volume and weight of the containers will be stored?
    1. According to federal codes, a containment system must have a sufficient capacity to contain 10% of the volume of the containers or the volume of the largest container, whichever is greater. Some states may have more stringent restrictions and you should contact your local fire marshal for your local requirement.
    2. Containment systems are commonly rated with a static weight capacity. This is a weight in a stationary mode.
  4. How often will the containment system be moved? How will it be moved?
    1. Portable containment units are intended to be moved without containers on them. This is the safest mode of transport. The containers can be replaced once the containment system has reached its destination.
    2. Most portable containment systems are constructed with fork pockets. These are designed to accept and be moved by forklifts.
  5. How will the containers be loaded onto the system?
    1. Ramps that accommodate containment systems are the easiest way to load a system. Low-profile containment systems have also been developed to address the loading issues.
  6. How many containers will be loaded on the system?
    1. Portable containment systems range from accommodating four 5-gallon pails to one 55-gallon drum to whole-room containment systems for drums. Make sure when dealing with flammable products and the larger containment systems that your local fire codes are met. There are restrictions for quantities of flammable products that can be stored in one area depending on the class of the flammable product.
  7. Are any of the products being stored considered flammable?
    1. Special provisions need to be taken into account, such as grounding and bonding and the amount of flammable product being stored in one area. Check into local codes for these specifications.
  8. What are the state and local codes for secondary containment in your area?
    1. A listing of the regional EPA offices can be found after this section. Phone numbers of divisions that deal with secondary containment are listed. The regional office can refer to state EPA agencies that can explain state codes. Another source for secondary containment requirements is your local fire marshal.

Regional EPA Offices

Region 1: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
General Information Hotline: 888-372-7341
Waste Management Division: 617-573-5700
Region 2: New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands
Environmental Services Division: 212-637-3660
Hazardous Waste Compliance: 212-264-8356 or 212-264-0504
Region 3: Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia
Environmental Services Division: 215-814-3215
Hazardous Waste Management Division: 215-814-3110
Region 4: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee
Environmental Accountability Division: 404-562-9655
Waste Management Division: 404-562-8651
Region 5: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin
General Information Hotline: 800-621-8431
Waste Management Division: 312-886-6112
Region 6: Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas
General Information Hotline: 800-887-6063
Region 7: Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska
General Information Hotline: 800-223-0425
Region 8: Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming
General Information Hotline: 800-227-8917
Region 9: Arizona, American Samoa, California, Guam, Hawaii, Nevada
Environmental Information Center: 415-947-8000
Region 10: Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington
Environmental Services Division: 206-553-0521
Waste Management Branch: 206-553-6640

Additional Definitions

The following are some related terms as defined by the EPA and UFC.

Container: Any portable device, in which a material is stored, transported, treated, disposed of or otherwise handled. Any vessel of 60 gallons (227L) or less capacity used for transporting or storing hazardous materials.

Containment building: A hazardous waste management unit that is used to store or treat hazardous waste under the provisions of subpart DD of parts 264 or 265 of title 40.

Leak-detection system: A system capable of detecting the failure of either the primary or secondary containment structure or the presence of a release of hazardous waste or accumulated liquid in the secondary containment structure. Such a system must employ operational controls (e.g., daily visual inspections for releases into the secondary containment system of aboveground tanks) or consist of an interstitial monitoring device designed to detect continuously and automatically the failure of the primary or secondary containment structure of the presence of a release of hazardous waste into the secondary containment structure.

Liner: A continuous layer of natural or man-made materials, beneath or on the sides of a surface impoundment, landfill or landfill cell, which restricts the downward or lateral escape of hazardous waste, hazardous waste constituents or leachate.

Portable tank: Any packaging over 60 gallons (227L) capacity and designed primarily to be loaded into, on or temporarily attached to a transport vehicle or ship and equipped with skids, mounting or accessories to facilitate handling or the tank by mechanical means. It does not include any cylinder having less than a 1000 lb. water capacity, cargo tank, tank car tank or trailers carrying cylinders of over 1000 lb. water capacity.

Primary containment: The first level of containment, consisting of the inside portion of that container which comes into immediate contact on its inner surface with the material being contained.

Secondary containment: That level of containment that is external to and separate from the primary containment.

Stationary tank: Packaging designed primarily for stationary installations not intended for loading, unloading or attachment to a transport vehicle as part of its normal operation in the process of use. It does not include cylinders having less than 1000 lb. water capacity.

Sump: Any pit or reservoir that meets the definition of a tank and those troughs/trenches connected to it that serve to collect hazardous waste for transport to hazardous waste storage, treatment or disposal facilities; except that as used in the landfill, surface impoundment and waste pile rules, sump: means any lined pit or reservoir that serves to collect liquids drained from a leachate collection and removal system or leak detection system for subsequent removal from the system.

Note: The information contained in this publication is intended for general information purposes only. This publication is not a substitute for review of the applicable government regulations and standards, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the cited regulation or consult with an attorney.