County Holds Fall Haz-Mat Disposal Event
Area residents unload household hazardous materials
Tom Bodrogi pokes through a box full of old household products, labels faded and yellowed with age, and picks up a tube of zinc oxide diaper rash cream still in its cardboard box.
"Yep, this is hazardous," jokes Bodrohi, a volunteer from the county Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management. "But it sure takes care of chafing."
The police, firefighters, a haz-mat team, and the bomb squad are standing by just in case, because you never know what people will bring to the county's annual household hazardous material disposal event.
"We usually get all kinds of crazy stuff," says Dale Green, bomb technician with Baltimore County Police. "That's why we're here."
Twice a year, the county sets aside a day for homeowners to discard unwanted paint, solvents, yard chemicals and other materials. In April the event is held at the county's facility on Warren Road in Cockeysville.
This fall, about 400 homeowners are expected to dispose of material at the Western Acceptance Facility and Recycling Center off Washington Boulevard in Halethorpe.
The materials that are collected might otherwise get buried in a landfill or poured down a storm drain, explains Jerry Siewierski, waste management supervisor for the county, who coordinates the event.
"Or leak in somebody's garage," Siewierski says. "We really don't want that. These materials need to be handled properly."
Relay resident Liz Donoghue watched as her car was unloaded. "I have paint and yard chemicals that have been in the basement since we moved into the house 17 years ago," she says.
Materials gathered at the facilities are recycled as much as possible, Siewierski says.
Latex paint that is still good is blended in 5-gallon buckets and given to homeless shelters and non-profits. About 15,000 gallons of paint are recycled by Baltimore County every year, he says.
Batteries and fluorescent lights are recycled. Fuels and petroleum-based liquids are burned at the Resco pyrolysis plant on Russell Street in Baltimore. Chemicals are sorted according to their properties – acids with acids, alkalis with alkalis – and properly treated.
Lloyd Klein of Catonsville dropped off two plastic bins full of batteries, many rusty and appearing decades old. "We've been holding on to them for years expecting that we'd be able to unload them," he says.
While the ordinary is welcome, the crews are prepared to expect the unexpected. People will bring boxes of cyanide, used in metal plating and as rat poison, and old ammunition.
Siewierski says that a person once disposed a vintage World War I aerial bomb. Last year, somebody dropped off three loaded rocket-propelled grenades, he says.
"We've had improvised explosive devices," says Green.
"One year, it seemed that everything we got was weird," says retired county environmental employee Denise Rohl, recalling the person who brought a bag of dental fillings.
During the morning of this year's event, a person dropped off a large Ziplock bag filled with prescription pills – not in bottles, just a bag of pills in various colors and shapes.
Often, somebody will bring a bottle or peanut butter jar with an unidentified liquid, which poses an unknown risk. At a table in front of a row of dumpsters, members of the Baltimore County Fire Department Haz-Mat team used a sophisticated $50,000 device that identifies most unknown in a matter of seconds.
About the size of a tool box, the instrument runs a spectroscopic analysis on a sample and compares the chemical fingerprint against a database containing tens of thousands of substances.
"We used to have a general idea what something was, test the pH and that sort of thing," says Ken Hughes, captain of the haz-mat team. "Now we know exactly what it is."
The turn-in program included chemical technicians from Halethorpe-based Clean Venture, and about a dozen county jail inmates on work-release.
"The work-release guys do a great job," says Rohl.
None of that really mattered to Donald Monroe of Halethorpe, who is just glad to have the stuff out of the house.
"My wife was worried about the paints in the basement, so I wanted to get rid of it," he says. "It's worth getting her off my case. That way I can get back in time for the football game."