SAN DIEGO — When you buy cleansers, motor oil, paint, fertilizer or insecticides and transport them home in the minivan, they're simply household supplies. But when you want to dispose of those chemical products, before your 2-year-old drinks them, they're legally defined as hazardous wastes.
How can you safely--and legally--dispose of household hazardous wastes?
They should never be tossed in the garbage; toxic fumes, chemical spills or explosions could cause injury to sanitation workers, and the containers will taint landfills. What's more, it is illegal to pour them down the drain because the chemicals enter the sewage system and interfere with the sewage treatment process. If wastes are poured down storm drains, they go untreated and end up in bays, the ocean or in the fresh water often used for recreation.
Getting Rid of Waste
Instead, people with toxic waste products should call 236-2267, the Household Hazardous Materials Management Program operated by the San Diego County Department of Health Services.
The goal of the county program, said David Marx, senior hazardous materials management specialist with the Division of Environmental Health Protection, is "not only to operate a disposal service but also to educate people about how to use chemicals safely, buy them prudently and dispose of them wisely when it is absolutely necessary to dispose of them."
The Household Hazardous Materials Management Program provides information on toxics and operates a drop-off service with Appropriate Technologies II, a subsidiary of BKK, a licensed treatment facility for industrial and household wastes in Chula Vista.
"We issue a control number," Marx said. "Then we call BKK and make the arrangements. People can drop off the material at BKK in Chula Vista at their convenience."
According to California law, it is illegal to transport more than five gallons or 50 pounds of hazardous waste without registration. If the quantity is higher than the legal limit, you have a problem. Because of the high cost, the county no longer will pick up toxic material from a house and transport it to BKK except in extremely rare circumstances--for example, if the resident is handicapped.
"There's no easy way," Marx said, "unless you change the law. It's one of those dilemmas. Most people have less than the limit; typically, they have a quarter inch of bright blue paint in the bottom of a can to transport. If they have more than the limit, they can link up with a neighbor to bring it in." The law is designed to prevent industries from transporting significant amounts of toxic waste without a permit, Marx said.
The drop-off service is free to residents but is costly for the county nonetheless. When possible, Marx said, it is best for the environment and costs less to recycle toxic products.
"We get the most number of calls about materials that don't need to be taken to waste sites. For instance, motor oil can be taken to nearly any gas station; most will allow you to dump extra oil into their underground storage tanks. If you take it to BKK, we would have to pay for it to be treated, which is costly," Marx said.
"A woman called us once about a half-empty container of pesticide for killing rose fungus. She wanted to dispose of it because she had a 2-year-old child. We suggested she give the can to a neighbor who had roses. She had never even thought of doing that," Marx said. "It's a tremendous cost saving to the county if pesticides can be re-used.
"People often want to get rid of a chemical because they are unnecessarily paranoid about the chemicals and dangers involved in using them. They drop off the product and then two weeks later go out and buy more. That's exactly what we don't want."
BKK, he said, charges the county $200 to treat and dispose of a 55-gallon drum of hazardous waste. Because the law says each gallon of pesticide must be treated with enough absorbent material to neutralize it, only 17 gallons of pesticide can be disposed of in one drum.
Sixty percent of all material collected at BKK is paint, Marx said.
"Often, people want to dispose of a brand new can of paint," he said. "They don't think about donating it to a nonprofit organization. At the high cost of paint, a good can is a valuable commodity. We suggest that people explore all the options of recycling. Call and ask us if they aren't sure."