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Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Disposal of Chemicals
that the amount of material be one factor in decisions on handling and disposal of waste.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has formulated most of the regulations for assessing risks from chemical waste and for dealing with them. Waste chemicals are characterized as ignitable, corrosive, reactive, and toxic. The responsibility for determining whether a waste is hazardous, and for characterizing the hazard, rests with the waste's generator, who may consult the appropriate LCSS, MSDS, or other published listing when dealing with a fairly common chemical. For other kinds of waste, workers who are well versed in reasoning by analogy from structural formulas should be able to make an educated guess by referring to related compounds whose molecules contain common structural units. If there is serious doubt, questions can be forwarded to an institution's environmental health and safety office or to the regional EPA office.
Hazardous Chemical Waste
Hazardous waste should be identified clearly so that its origin can be traced. Waste management facilities are prohibited from handling materials that are not identified and classified by hazard. Unidentified materials must be analyzed according to the following criteria before they will be accepted by most waste disposal firms: physical description; water reactivity; water solubility; pH; ignitability; and the presence of an oxidizer, sulfides or cyanides, halogens, radioactive materials, biohazardous materials, or toxic constituents. Chapter 7 provides detailed procedures for testing unknown materials.
Chemical waste should be accumulated at a central site where it can be sorted, stored temporarily, and prepared for disposal by commingling (according to regulation) or allowable on-site treatment for hazard reduction or, perhaps, recycling. During any waste-handling processes at a central site, or on the way to or from it, personnel should be protected: in particular, removal of toxic vapors, fire suppression, and spill control should be provided for. All personnel responsible for handling chemical waste must be trained.
Typically, chemical waste is sent for ultimate disposal to a landfill or incinerator in a 55-gallon Lab Pack or bulk solvent drum. Records must be maintained of the quantity, identity, and analyses (if necessary) of waste and of shipping and verification of disposal.
In many cases, the cost of waste handling and removal may be lowered sharply by using appropriate deactivation procedures for hazard reduction. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations define the term "treatment" broadly, but the cost of being an EPA-permitted treatment facility is too high for most laboratories. However, small-scale treatments such as acid-base neutralization can be carried out as part of an experiment plan. Because illegal treatment can lead to fines of up to $25,000 per day of violation, it is important to check with an institution's environmental health and safety office or EPA before engaging in treatment procedures of any scale. Chapter 7 provides hazard reduction procedures for dealing with some common classes of chemicals. For disposal of small quantities of waste, approved procedures for identification, pickup, and delivery to a central site should be used to avoid risking citation for illegal treatment without a permit.
Incineration, addition to a landfill, release to the atmosphere, and discarding in the normal trash or the sanitary sewer are all options for disposal, depending on whether or not a waste is hazardous and on how it is regulated. Nonhazardous materials such as potassium chloride, sugars, amino acids, and noncontaminated chromatography resins or gels can usually be disposed of in the regular trash. Broken glass, needles, and sharp objects should be disposed of in special containers for the protection of custodial personnel, whose welfare must always be considered when dealing with laboratory waste. Spills present a wide range of hazards, depending on the nature and volume of the material, and should normally be dealt with by an institution's environmental health and safety office.
Multihazardous waste is a by-product of various kinds of critically important work in, for example, clinical and environmental laboratories. With the help of several experts as part of a special subcommittee, the committee studied the disposal of various combinations of chemical, radioactive, and biological waste. Few disposal facilities exist for multihazardous waste, and some waste materials are so unique and occur in such small quantities that there is no commercial incentive for developing special legal means for handling them.
Although there are no general federal regulations covering disposal of biohazardous or infectious waste, OSHA regulates the handling of some kinds of laboratory waste containing human body fluids, and local ordinances may apply to other types. Generally, biological waste may be disinfected, autoclaved, incinerated, or sent to the sanitary sewer.
For disposal of a multihazardous waste, the goal may be reduction to a waste that presents a single hazard, which can then be managed as a chemical,