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Fast Five with Christine Grossman, winner of national EPA award for helping small business

Christine Grossman headshotIn May 2021, Christine Grossman, EGLE environmental specialist, received a national award from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for outstanding work in providing technical assistance to small businesses in Michigan. She joins us for this Fast Five edition of MI Environment

The EPA's award is quite an honor. Was it a surprise to you?

I was super surprised and flattered. I had no idea I was even nominated. When my supervisor called to congratulate me, I had not even seen the email from EPA announcing the award. So, I was stunned. I did not know what to say, except that it really is an award for our whole EGLE team. I could not have achieved any of our training and outreach successes without the help from our other EGLE team members. I am honored to be recognized for the outstanding outreach EGLE does for Michigan small businesses.

How long have you helped small businesses? What is EGLE's role in assisting small businesses?

I have been helping small businesses for over 10 years and been fortunate to have worked for EGLE for over 25. I started in EGLE as an air pollution inspector, then moved to negotiating settlements resolving significant violations of the air pollution and hazardous waste regulations we implement on behalf of EPA.

After a good number of years doing inspection and enforcement work, I figured it was time to be proactive and moved into a position with the Environment Support Division. In my current role I help support our call center and our other training and outreach specialists, with my focus being predominantly the hazardous waste and liquid industrial by-products regulations, along with the other programs implemented by the Materials Management Division. My role, working with various EGLE program staff, is to help small businesses understand our complex waste regulations and help them avoid mismanaging and improperly disposing of their unwanted materials. We work together to help businesses understand their simplest and best options for meeting our regulations. We encourage reuse and recycling, where possible, and help connect businesses with vendors authorized to meet their recycling and disposal needs. We help them know what to expect when inspected and share good and bad examples to help them understand inspection expectations, so they can have a favorable inspection finding.

What kinds of problems do small businesses have that require technical assistance?

Small businesses generally lack staff time and resources to learn the regulations on their own. They also often do not have the cash flow to hire a consultant or participate in training programs offered by professional vendors. That is where EGLE training and outreach fits in. We create resources that help small businesses quickly and easily understand our complex environmental regulations, so they can avoid compliance problems. We make our training resources easy to fit it into the daily schedule by delivering our trainings virtually, in one-hour increments, and recording them for on-demand viewing later and sharing with others. Training like this allows small businesses who participate to avoid common violation found at other businesses who did not take advantage of the training. Common violations our hazardous waste inspectors see include failure to properly characterize waste streams, failure to keep records, failure to keep containers closed except when adding or removing waste, and failure to properly label containers, failure to adequately train staff and appoint a 24 hour emergency coordinator, and failure to protected hazardous waste from weather, fire, physical damage, and vandals.

What has been the most challenging help to provide?

Helping businesses understand how their waste is classified, whether it is a solid waste, hazardous waste, or liquid industrial by-product, and how their hazardous waste generator category impacts their handling and disposal requirement has always been my biggest training challenge. Intuitively people think there is one way all businesses are required to handle a given waste type, and that is not the case. Congress wrote the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act to encourage the use of less hazardous materials and to encourage waste minimization practices. So, there is a sliding scale built into the regulations. Sites that generate less hazardous waste have less regulation and vice versa. So, the same waste from different sites can have different management requirements. To determine what handling requirements apply, hazardous waste generators need to look at how much hazardous waste they generate each month. A good summary of this sliding scale and the various requirements that apply to hazardous waste generators is found in our Summary of Hazardous Waste Generator Accumulation Requirements.

What has been the result of your help?

The most notable resource that our EGLE team created, which was included as part of the award nomination, is our Recorded Waste Webinar Series. Also notable and super helpful for small and large businesses alike, as well as consultants, is our Michigan Guide to Environmental, Health and Safety Regulations. When I pulled the numbers to see how many people were participating in our training an outreach events for Materials Management Division Program events in 2020, I was amazed. We had over 11,000 people participating in virtual events, and nearly half of those who participated had joined us by attending/viewing our Waste Webinar Series. In 2021, we have nearly 1,000 people viewing the recorded webinars. The first webinars that EGLE (then DEQ) did were on hazardous waste compliance back in 2011. It was a totally new outreach tool for us and we were quite nervous as to how well it would work.  All training up until then had been in-person. At the time, we were worried about what to do when we had over 100 people registered to attend.  Now we are worried if we do not have at least 100 people registered for a webinar!

I find creating these resources gratifying because they are getting great use and help prevent violations, prevent releases to our environment and help us maintain our economic viability while protecting our Michigan residents and great resources. If you are a business that has not taken advantage of these great resources (all offered for free), I would encourage you to take some time out, if only to confirm you are doing all the right things and have not overlooked any of the regulations. We provide a self-certification form for generators who are required to have training and use our training resources to meet those training obligations.

Photo caption: Christine Grossman

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