TASB Risk Management Fund

How to Safely and Legally Dispose of Hazardous Chemicals

October 02, 2019 Nicole Callahan

Science labs, as well as vocational instruction areas, contain toxic, corrosive, flammable, reactive, and poisonous chemicals that are used for a variety of reasons. The law prohibits hazardous chemicals from being poured down the drain or thrown in the trash. That does not mean excess and expired chemicals should gather dust on long-forgotten shelves. If you are looking for a safe, legal way to dispose of hazardous chemicals, consider lab packing.

Learn what lab packing is, why you should dispose of chemicals, and the steps you should follow to do so.

Lab pack basics

A lab pack is a container, typically a 55-gallon drum, filled with smaller containers of chemicals. The small containers are usually packed in material that allows a lab waste disposal company to safely transport the chemicals to a disposal facility for processing. 

If you are new to chemical disposal, ask your legal counsel about federal, state, and local environmental agencies and laws that regulate lab packs. That includes the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

When should you dispose of chemicals?

The TASB Risk Management Fund recommends members dispose of chemical waste after each school year. In the meantime, it is important to properly store and manage your chemical waste.

These guidelines will help you determine when it is time to designate specific chemicals for lab pack disposal:

  • Within six months of expiration. The expiration date should be on the label. Regardless of expiration date, it is best practice not to keep hazardous chemicals longer than five years.
  • When the condition of the chemical’s storage has degraded. For example, the chemical could have been stored without being properly sealed or stored in an unsuitable temperature.
  • If you do not need or use the chemical regularly.
  • When using or keeping the chemical creates more hazards than benefits.

Unpacking the process

Safely and legally disposing of chemicals can be a daunting responsibility. To make the task manageable, break it down into steps:

  1. Take inventory. Start by taking inventory of chemicals you need to dispose of in your labs and other departments. This step will save disposal costs by reducing the amount of time a lab packing team spends in your facility. Lab packing is expensive, so dispose of as much of your inventory as possible each time. For price comparison, use your inventory to get at least three quotes from disposal companies.
  2. Consider paper packs. If you are dealing with multiple labs and hundreds of chemicals, it might be difficult to create a comprehensive inventory. Some companies reduce your burden by offering paper packs. A paper pack is a service in which an offsite, trained chemist creates an inventory of your chemicals remotely. A paper pack conducted by a reliable disposal company can benefit  your budget, regardless of which vendor you choose.
  3. Temporarily store chemicals safely. Store chemicals awaiting lab pack disposal in a well-ventilated area that is removed from lab activities. Cordon off the area and mark it with a sign that reads “Danger – Hazardous Waste.”  All chemicals should be stored off the floor. Contents should be labeled, and containers should be in good condition.
  4. Choose the right vendor. The law assigns your organization “cradle to grave” responsibility for its chemical waste, even after it is in a third party’s possession. That is why it is important to choose the right hazardous waste removal company. Make sure prospective vendors are compliant with all regulations and have the required training, experience, skilled chemists, detailed cleanup crews, paperwork, and insurance to transport and dispose of your chemicals. Ask for references from other educational entities vendors have served.

Expert help from the Fund

The Fund is here to help members avoid the costs that come with workplace injuries, including injuries caused by hazardous chemical exposure. Fund members who need advice on improving lab safety or navigating the lab pack process can contact their risk solutions consultant.

Tagged: Safety