Imagine space-suited hazmat crews trying to manage a contaminated load of refuse on a busy city street. Science fiction? Not if a homeowner innocently threw away some pool chemicals into their garbage can, causing a chlorine cloud that could evacuate an entire neighborhood - or worse.
During the past decade, household hazardous wastes (HHW) management has made the transition from one-day collection events held once or twice a year to on-going regional programs in permanent collection facilities, staffed with highly-trained personnel.
The roles and functions of both state and local governments also has evolved in an effort to better manage this portion of the waste stream. Converse to industrial hazardous waste management where federal and state regulations provide stringent cradle-to-grave control, HHW is nearly impossible to control or regulate once the product has been purchased by the consumer.
HHW consist of a variety of consumer items, ranging from petroleum-based products such as lubricants and pesticides; household paints, including enamels and latex; and cleaning products containing bases such as ammonia and acids such as hydrochloric acid.
In addition, products such as nickel cadmium batteries which power a variety of home electronics and fluorescent light tubes also are considered to be hazardous.
Although laws and regulations governing proper disposal may vary from state to state, the prohibition against disposing of HHW in municipal trash is universal. For example, a gallon of pool chlorine, tossed into a garbage cart could overwhelm a collection worker, contaminate a refuse truck or be a catalyst for a chemical reaction.
For many metropolitan areas, HHW operations began as periodic, one-day collection events designed to collect large volumes of materials quickly.
However, over the last seven to 10 years, these programs have matured into regularly-staffed, on-going operations housed in permanent facilities ranging from simple storage sheds to state-of-the-art facilities which include laboratories, consolidation equipment and exchange programs.
Most programs are operated either by county or regional governments, with technical and contractual support and some grant funding from state agencies.
Handling Hazards in San Bernardino The HHW program in California's San Bernardino County, the largest in the continental United States, serves almost 1.5 million residents. It began as a pilot project funded by a 1984 state water resources control grant which established two permanent collection facilities and the operation of two, one-day collection round-ups.
Spurred by the pilot's success, the board of supervisors continued to fund the program through a solid waste tipping fee surcharge. Nine permanent facilities have been placed throughout the county: four in the heavily-populated valley area, two in the mountain region and three in the upper and lower deserts.
The program collects typical HHW, including: used oil, oil filters, latex and solvent-based paints, fertilizers, pesticides, household cleaners, hobby chemicals and automotive products. Operating on an annual bud-get of $1.4 million, the program employs 14 full time and four part-time staff members.
Although the county continues to offer one-day collection events, the em-phasis is on the permanent facilities, which offer an ongoing solution and an opportunity to participate.
"The permanent facilities are more cost effective," says Diane Christensen, supervising environmental health specialist. The facility's permit allows it to hold waste up to one year. Thus, it can ship out full truckloads at a time - a more efficient method than the one-day event plan in which staff must clean everything and send it out immediately.
"For the [one-day] events, we ship the waste back to our central facility so that we can maximize our disposal costs in terms of combining wastes," Christensen says. "These events are very labor-intensive. There's a lot of additional permitting for each time and site run. The potential for accidents is higher, too, because people are operating at a faster pace."
During the last four years, the program has seen 96,671 participants bring in a total of 3,114 tons of HHW. Now, the county is looking to expand operations. "We're looking at some different funding sources, possibly some public or private partnerships," Chris-tensen reports. "Our waste recycling and disposal costs are high, and we're always looking for ways to reduce those amounts or find a use for the waste."
Christensen stresses the need for waste prevention education. "We need to promote waste reduction and minimization," she said, noting that if consumers use these products completely, they can eliminate the waste altogether.
Palm Beach's Program Over on the Right Coast, the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach Coun-ty, Fla., oversees permanent collection facilities serving approximately 1 million full time residents along a 20 mile strip of the Eastern sea-board. It employs six full-time staff mem-bers and is al-lotted an an-nual budget of $500,000.
Initially, the program focused on one-day, state-sponsored collection events that were held a couple of times a year. However, capitalizing on a state grant, the county set up its own permanent facility in June 1990.
"Our facility serves most of the county," says Robert Madden, assistant director of hazardous waste services. "We decided to turn our five transfer stations into satellite household hazardous waste collection facilities."
Palm Beach's permanent facility is open Monday through Friday and the second Saturday of each month. At the satellite facilities, the Saturday drop-offs are rotated. The satellites serve a dual purpose.
On Saturdays, they are staffed to accept materials from the public, package and remove them.
During the week, they collect a limited number of items on a self-serve basis, including used oil, batteries and propane cylinders - items that the public can safely handle without supervision.
"We make an area available [for these items]," Madden reports. "We monitor the satellites daily with transfer station personnel for general clean up and to note problems.
"We visit a minimum of twice a week and collect any dropped off materials and bring them back to our central facility where we process and package them."
The program's success has created the need for a better facility. "Because we were the first permanent facility in Florida, we didn't have a lot to draw on as far as design," Madden says. "We need a facility that's covered and that can handle all our processing."
"We're on the verge of starting up latex paint recycling; we've done a pilot, and it seems to be successful." According to Madden, the county plans to ship this waste to a paint manufacturer for remanufacture and repackaging.
"I would also like to get away from the shotgun approach to collecting all HHW and instead focus on prioritizing five or six problem wastes," he adds.
The State to the Rescue While HHW facility operation generally resides at the regional level, state agencies often are the driving force behind these programs.
State agencies may provide services, ranging from seed money in the form of grants, to arranging master contracts for transportation and disposal services.
Just ask the folks in Minnesota. The state is home to about 4 million people - approximately 2 million of whom reside in a seven-county metropolitan area.
Although the other half are scattered over 80 rural counties, everybody has access to HHW collection services.
"The state provides some funding support for the non-metropolitan programs," explains Leslie Goldsmith, supervisor of special waste with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. "We coordinate a collective contract for household hazardous waste disposal. The counties pretty much run the programs themselves. We help coordinate state-wide educational pieces."
The state also acts as a facilitator, providing opportunities for local operators to network. "I know that there are a lot of programs throughout the country that spend more bucks or do 'glitzier' stuff, but the degree of cooperation we have among the programs provides a lot of energy."
In Massachusetts, the Department of Environmental Protection, Boston, assists in establishing HHW collection programs. Funding is generated from the state's bottle bill program and is placed into the Clean Environment Fund.
Lori Segall, coordinator for the department's "Hard to Manage" Wastes division, says the program has two sections. "One, we give out 500-gallon, double-walled oil tanks for motor oil collection. Two, we help establish permanent collection centers for surplus paint. We give out wooden storage sheds that serve as a focal point for permanent collection.
"Along with the shed, we also give one or two flammable storage cabinets," she continues. "If communities collect latex, oil-based paints, stains and thinners, they can put the flammable materials in the storage cabinet and it'll be safe."
According to Segall, the state trains HHW program staffs on topics such as: paint varieties, what can and cannot be accepted, safety, set up, volunteer use and supplies.
Massachusetts coordinates a state-wide disposal contract for the collected paint. In this master service agreement, the state hires a hazardous waste hauler that has contracted with various destination facilities to haul the paint and either recycle or incinerate it.
The state also provides custom-made mailers for consumer education.
Currently, Massachusetts is trying to move municipalities away from one-day collection events towards establishing permanent operations. "On-going collection would not only be more convenient, but it also would promote reuse," Segall says.
Collecting in Oregon In Oregon, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) provides management services to 1.8 million residents living outside Portland's metropolitan area. The $400,000 program collects all types of HHW with the exception of radioactive waste and explosives.
In addition, it offers conditionally-exempt generator and agriculture pesticide collection in conjunction with the household collection events. It is staffed by two employees who share a single position.
According to Maggie Conley, HHW coordinator for the DEQ, there are only two permanent HHW collection facilities in Oregon. Both are in the Portland-metropolitan area and are managed by the Portland-Metropolitan Service District - an arrangement that leaves the remaining population high and dry.
Cooperative arrangements extend between the state and the Portland Metropolitan Service District. "We issue vouchers to anybody outside Portland who wants to bring waste into one of the permanent collection facilities," Conley says. "So, we're able to provide an on-going service to people who can't get to the one-day collection events. We pay the Portland-Metropolitan Service District to take that waste."
The DEQ provides a purchaser program where any local government can use the department's contract with a hazardous waste company.
"Rather than having to do a request for proposals, drawing up a contract and spending a lot of time and money, they can call our contractor and schedule a one-day collection event," Conley says. "Since we buy in a larger quantity than a local government, the prices are good."
Annually, the DEQ orchestrates 25 to 30 collection events around the state. There is no schedule, and communities must apply yearly. "It's competitive, and there's no guarantee that a community will have a collection event each year," she says.
Like other state programs, Oregon offers a variety of educational materials which are used by local agencies to promote HHW activities.
"One reason this program has been kept by my agency is because it's one of the only white hat programs we've got," Conley says. "People love it, and once a community can get over the financing obstacles, it'll have a lot of support."