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January 31, 2008
By Adrienne Goetz
The University’s disposal of hazardous waste is handled by the Environmental Health and Safety Department (EH&S), and the process isn’t a simple one. Every 90 days there is a campus pickup for hazardous waste. According to John Sagebiel, the environmental health manager for the EH&S, the first part of the process is merely knowing what waste is brought in. “We know what comes on and off campus and what is here,” Sagabiel said. “It’s not just (waste from) chemistry labs, it’s also cleaning solvents.” EH&S supplies each laboratory on campus with chemical waste buckets. When the buckets are ready for disposal, someone within the laboratory simply fills out a form online. This form is submitted to EH&S, telling them of the bucket and what kind of waste the bucket contains. The bucket is then scheduled for pickup, and brought to the hazardous waste facility for separation. The chemicals are separated into two categories: regulated (or what is known as “RCR,” for substances under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, created for Superfund purposes; it helps define waste categories) or universal waste. The material is then pulled together and combined into a larger container. These larger containers are handled carefully and then put into large holding lockers labeled for like materials such as flammable substances and inorganic materials. The waste is taken to a treatment storage and disposal facility (TSDF). The TSDF, a category of a facility, does a variety of things with the waste depending on the material. Every material, whether it is motor oil or other toxic materials, is either reused, recycled, neutralized and some of it is simply disposed of. The not-so-toxic material can be reused as fuel. The TSDF used at the University is a national company called “Clean Harbors.” “The chemical inventory process is very extensive,” Sagebiel said. “Our station attendants stand and check packages for chemicals, put a barcode on them and fill out the information.” The University cannot make the decision to reuse any of its waste. If it did, it would not be considered waste, but rather commodity handling. “The difference between commodity and waste is a legal issue,” Sagebiel said. “When someone says it’s waste, we have to dispose of it.” Sagebiel also mentions that, as human beings, we invest an incredible amount of resources in the things we throw away and eventually entomb. “For example, in mining they blow away a ton of rock for about an ounce of gold on a good day per ton,” he said, making the point that we need to reuse more of the materials we dispose of. “You can pull almost 20 ounces of gold out of a computer monitor.” One of the biggest myths about disposing hazardous waste is that the landfills are overflowing with ooze. Sagebiel educates the public on the fact that landfills are carefully engineered and lined so that nothing can leave them. Then, depending on the material, the landfill is solidified. This requires constant monitoring; looking at ground underneath and also the air above for any sign of leaks. For specific landfills that deal with radioactive materials, there are certain rules and regulations. The rules and regulations depend upon the type of material being disposed.