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Teacher Resources

How do I dispose of laboratory chemicals?

You've been storing chemicals on the school premises which have not been used for decades. Suddenly the school decides those chemicals you no longer use have to go. Probably a good decision, but the actual removal should be done with much planning and consideration. The problem has been there for a long time. Will another few weeks matter while you examine your options? Hurried solutions to problems are almost always expensive and often poorly done. Time should be allowed to examine all of your disposal options. There may be more options than first appear. What are your options for chemical disposal?

Option A - Contact your state department of education. Many states have a state science supervisor who may be able to make suggestions or advise you about existing programs already operating.

Option B - If your school is located in an area near a college or university, that institution's chemistry department may be able to advise you about the disposal methods they employ. You will want to prepare a complete list of the substances you consider excess. There is a chance the college may be able to use some of these materials.

Option C - Have you shared your list of excess materials with other schools in your system or other neighboring schools? Assuming some of the chemicals involved are still useful, perhaps another school can use what you consider excess.

Option D - Contact your state equivalent of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Most states have a state EPA. Discuss the problem with this agency. Perhaps they have valuable suggestions.

Option E - Try to contact an officer of your state's science teacher's professional association. Most states have organized science teacher's groups. Other teachers have faced problems similar to yours. Bring their experience to bear on solving your problem.

Option F - In many metropolitan areas, there are local sections of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Any area with a lot of chemical industry is likely to have a local ACS section. Contact these professionals. They may have some helpful insights.

Option G - Pay a commercial firm to assist in removing these materials. This is a very, very expensive option. Be sure you ask for references from such a commercial firm. There are reputable and reliable firms operating all over the U.S.A. Just be careful in making your choice.

Option H - Is there a company in your town that also disposes of laboratory chemicals on a regular basis? If so, could you possibly piggyback your excess chemicals with his and split the cost? This is an option many teachers have found very useful.

Option I - Do the disposal work yourself. If you elect this option, you will want to examine the disposal methods provided in the Flinn Scientific Catalog/Reference Manual.

Do not act in haste. If you will take some time to properly package many of the hazards on your shelf, that will allow time to examine your options.

If you have elected to use the disposal methods published here, there are some further considerations that need your attention. Those considerations are:

1. Have you checked with regulatory officials in your area regarding these procedures? Do not-we repeat-do not use these procedures if local regulatory officials have not approved.

2. You will need to make a list of the safety aids needed for these procedures: e.g., fume hood, apron, chemical splash goggles, fire extinguisher, gloves, etc.

3. Never work alone! Find a competent assistant and proceed to work as a team.

4. If a particular method is confusing or you are not familiar with the chemistry involved, do not proceed. Call us; we will be glad to help: 1-800-452-1261.

5. Do some practical cost analysis. In many cases, the procedures require the use of large quantities of neutralizing chemicals and other expensive materials. You may find that your cost analysis may cause you to go back and examine disposal option G, i.e., pay a commercial firm to remove the chemicals.

6. Always practice your intended disposal activity on a tiny (micro) sample of the targeted substance before moving on to handle the larger (macro) volume. A reaction that liberates enormous amounts of heat may require that your reaction vessel be immersed in an ice bath to better control the reaction temperature. You will only make these discoveries if you "practice" with a very small sample before proceeding.

7. All of these procedures are best done in a very well ventilated laboratory and preferably in a good, efficient fume hood. If you elect to perform a procedure out of doors, then stay upwind of the reaction and be sure your activities do not disturb or threaten your school's neighbors. 

8. Make a checklist of all items needed for a particular method before you start the procedure. Have all materials at hand and immediately available.

Summary - Chemical removal and disposal are serious undertakings. Examine your options carefully and responsibly. Read the information provided in your copy of the Flinn Scientific Catalog/Reference Manual for specific solutions to the problems you encounter regarding the disposal of laboratory chemicals. No other science supplier provides such information and solutions. Flinn Scientific is your problem-solving source.

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