Thursday, January 5, 2012

Keeping people safe during the hazardous waste disposal process

There's a lot of human hands that move your waste
after you pour out your bum reaction.
(Credit: Heritage-WTI/C&EN)
When I was a kid, I was convinced that the toilet was a great way to dispose of anything; it seemed like, when you flushed the toilet, things just disappeared, as if they had left the universe. Sometimes, I think that's what chemists think when they pour their waste into a waste drum or a red waste can.

A recent statement from the Chemical Safety Board brings that thought process to mind:
Today as many people enjoy a holiday season spent with friends and family, I would like to call attention to a recent tragedy that occurred late last week in eastern Ohio. On December 17, 2011, a chemical fire occurred at Heritage-WTI, Inc. which resulted in two workers being seriously burned, one of whom succumbed to his injuries days later. Heritage-WTI, Inc, is hazardous waste storage and processing facility located in East Liverpool, Ohio. 
According to company officials a flash fire occurred when workers were splitting a large solid waste drum of hazardous flammable inorganic material into smaller storage drums. 
News reports talk about the contents of the drum:
Bailey and Bechak were in the process of separating products from a barrel when the material reacted, causing a small explosion, followed by a larger explosion, according to city fire department reports. The explosion caused a flash fire in which the men were burned. Fire reports indicated the barrel they were separating contained cutting oil, hafnium, niobium, water and zirconium, and according to Michael Parkes, head of community/employee relations, "We've split containers for years," and the men were doing a routine procedure.
 Jyllian Kemsley talks about why this is important to chemists:
A burden it might be, but accurate waste identification is critical to ensure that the people who handle the waste down the line don’t get hurt, whether it’s the person at your institution who packs the waste for transport, the driver who takes it away, or the people who handle it at an incinerator.
I'm sure that all Chemjobber readers would not want to feel even vaguely culpable for hurting someone with the waste that they generated. Accurately describing the characteristics of your waste (toxicity, ignitability), corrosivity, reactivity), quenching reactivity appropriately and segregating incompatible wastes is a big part of keeping hazardous waste workers safe.

Remember, there's a human on the other side of your lab pack or your waste drum.

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