Peter Bergmann, manager of Bergmann's cleaners on Lee Highway in Arlington, used to put about 140 used cartridges of cleaning solvent outside his store each month along with the rest of the trash. Under a federal regulation on hazardous wastes that took effect yesterday, Bergmann estimates he will spend between $6,000 and $10,000 a year to have the used chemicals hauled to a recycling plant in Ohio.
Cleaners such as Bergmann's, as well as the country's gas stations, printers, laundries, equipment repair shops, textile manufacturers and laboratories, produce about 800,000 metric tons of hazardous waste each year.
In national terms, that is a drop in the bucket. Compared with the 250 million metric tons of hazardous waste churned out annually by large factories, refineries and laboratories in the United States, the quantity produced by small businesses amounts to about 0.5 percent.
But for the neighborhood establishments that now are subject to some of the same rules as giant producers of hazardous wastes, the new regulations have big consequences -- the expense of contracting to remove hazardous wastes and the paper work of labeling and logging each gallon sent away.
According to amendments to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act passed last year by Congress, small businesses producing between one-half of a 55-gallon drum and five drums of hazardous waste per month now must label those wastes and fill in forms aimed to steer the chemicals away from the local garbage dump and into state or federally approved facilities.
Maryland officials started requiring generators of small amounts of hazardous waste to use the federal forms accounting for their disposal in July, according to Ronald Nelson, director of the state Waste Management Administration.
The EPA estimated that 175,000 businesses around the country will pay a total of $58 million to comply with the rules.
"It's an extreme amount of paper work. I feel it is unneccessary, but it is a government rule," said Betty Whitlock, manager for 24 years of Central Valet cleaners in the District.
"You've got to stack 'em, you've got to keep 'em out here, you've got to keep count," Bergmann said, pointing to a cluster of blue metal drums in a tiled hallway of his shop.
But Bergmann, as well as several other business owners contacted, responded to the first day of the new rules with less irritation than resignation. "It's an added thing you have to do, but it's not an excessive thing," he said.
In some cases, word of the new rule apparently had filtered slowly, or not at all, from the pens of lawmakers to the desks of those business owners.
"I'm pretty sure I read about the new regulation from the printing industry," said Margarita Adams, owner of Stanley Adams Printing Co. in Arlington. "But we don't have too many chemicals here."
To federal officials, such gaps in communication are as much a part of the routine as the enactment of the rules themselves, and a seven-month orientation period is scheduled before spot checks for compliance will start, according to Harold Yates, an EPA spokesman.