Science classes talk hazardous waste cleanup

Science labs are not the only place where hazardous chemicals can be found; dangerous waste may be hiding in the comfort of your own home. This waste includes anything that would not be permitted to go into the environment in its raw state because it is harmful to both human health and nature.

“Hazardous waste shouldn’t go into a landfill, down the drain or down storm drains because it can get into the environment and have a variety of consequences,” said Dr. Sarah Richart, an APU microbiology professor.

Students who are involved with the sciences handle all types of chemicals, and among them, hazardous materials. Since students work with these items, faculty members need to properly dispose of them.

“Anything that is corrosive, toxic, reactive or ignitable is considered to be hazardous waste,” said APU Chemical Hygiene Officer Nicole Mulcahy, a lab manager.

Not disposing of the hazardous materials properly can result in them breaking down and eventually finding their way into the water supply. That supply either goes out into the environment or gets packaged into drinking water at supermarkets.

“For waste that’s generated in the labs, it all has to be collected, labeled properly, and we have 90 days to get it picked up,” Richart said. “We hire a service to pick up our hazardous waste, but they want everything labeled. … They want to know all the proportions. It would be a different procedure for different kinds of chemicals, and that’s why they want to know exactly what kind of waste because that would determine how they are going to treat it.”

Hazardous materials found at home include nail polish, pharmaceuticals, batteries, electronics and more. There are several lists on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and local Department of Public Works websites that list the different types of waste. These agencies ensure the safe and proper disposal of hazardous materials so both the environment and public are safe from contamination.

According to the EPA, in 2012, Americans accumulated about 251 million tons of trash and about 87 million were recyclables, approximately 34.5 percent. Mixed in with all this trash were hazardous waste items that people may not have realized were unsafe. However, then and now, landfills are equipped with monitoring systems that help ensure groundwater remains uncontaminated from leaks from any of the waste.

People tend to throw waste in the garbage, which ends up in a landfill. With time and problems at landfills, hazardous waste could possibly seep out and get into groundwater. Regardless of what precautions are taken, once hazardous waste is in the in the water supply, it is extremely hard to get it out.

“Depending on where you get your drinking water, (hazardous waste) could end up as drinking water,” said Richart.

If people are in possession of any hazardous waste, they are asked to store it in a safe place and at their earliest convenience take the waste to a collection site. The Department of Public Works hosts collection events all around Los Angeles County in order to collect the public’s items.

On March 21, a new collection site will open in Azusa at the Northrop Grumman Corporation at West Third Street and Zachary Padilla Avenue.

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