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Monday, January 24, 2011

Managing Disaster Debris: Overview of Regulatory Requirements, Agency Roles, and Selected Challenges

Linda Luther
Analyst in Environmental Policy

After a disaster, when a region turns its attention to rebuilding, one of the greatest challenges to moving forward may involve how to properly manage debris generated by the event. Options include typical methods of waste management—landfilling, recycling, or burning. The challenge after a major disaster (e.g., a building or bridge collapse, or a flood, hurricane, or earthquake) is in managing significantly greater amounts of debris often left in the wake of such an event.

Debris after a disaster may include waste soils and sediments, vegetation (trees, limbs, shrubs), municipal solid waste (common household garbage, personal belongings), construction and demolition debris (in some instances, entire residential structures and all their contents), vehicles (cars, trucks, boats), food waste, so-called white goods (refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners), and household hazardous waste (cleaning agents, pesticides, pool chemicals). Each type of waste may contain or be contaminated with certain toxic or hazardous constituents. In the short term, removal of debris is necessary to facilitate the recovery of a geographic area. In the long term, the methods by which these wastes are to be managed require proper consideration to ensure that their management (by landfilling, for example) will not pose future threats to human health or the environment.

After a presidentially declared disaster, federal funding or direct assistance in response to the disaster may be available to a state or local government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may provide funding through its Public Assistance (PA) Grant Program for debris removal operations that eliminate immediate threats to lives, public health, and safety, or eliminate immediate threats of significant damage to improved public or private property. The federal share of funding to the affected area will be stated in the disaster declaration, but will be no less than 75%. The funding will be available for response activities in a designated geographic area for a specific period of time.

In addition to funding, if the state or local government does not have the capability to respond to the disaster, it may request direct federal assistance from FEMA. Federal agencies most likely to assist with debris removal operations are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Activities they may perform include right-of-way clearance, curbside waste pickup, private property debris removal, property demolition, assistance with contaminated debris management, and collection of household hazardous waste.

Date of Report: January 13, 2011
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: RL34576
Price: $29.95

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