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A toxic solution: proper disposal of dangerous household waste can shield apartment owners from health, environmental and legal hazards.

When maintenance staff enter an apartment to prepare for the next resident, often they find that what has been left behind is more troublesome than a mess. While the odd assortment of disinfectant, drain cleaner, insect repellent and solvents under the kitchen sink or in storage may seem innocuous, these and other household hazardous waste could pose serious health, environmental and legal threats if not disposed properly.

"Always read and follow the directions exactly," said Ann Gill, Waste Reduction Specialist with Mecklenburg County Solid Waste Reduction in Charlotte, N.C., who advises the multifamily housing industry on dealing with household hazardous waste. Products containing hazardous substances must include a warning and description of the hazard. However, she said, "If you can't readily identify it, you have to assume it is the worst possible waste."

Hazardous waste falls into four categories: toxic, flammable, corrosive and explosive. Toxic materials, such as rat poison, weed killers and antifreeze, can cause injury or death if swallowed, absorbed or inhaled. Flammable products--lighter fluids, paint and turpentine--can be ignited by a hot surface, flame or spark despite the room temperature. Bleach and acids are corrosive, meaning the chemical or its vapors can burn or destroy living tissue or deteriorate the surface of a material. Explosive, or reactive, materials violently burst when exposed to pressure or heat and include cyanides and strong fertilizers.

Improper disposal of household hazardous waste by pouring it down the sink, into storm drains or otherwise discarding it can lead to myriad complications. Gill outlined three problems that can occur when waste is disposed improperly.

"First, we don't want to see it being poured down the drain because it pollutes the water supply," Gill said. A prolonged influx of chemicals into the water supply can lead to cumulative problems, such as contamination of drain fields, septic systems and surface and groundwater. Second, improper handling of flammable materials can make an apartment a potential fire hazard. Third, household hazardous waste can produce fumes that may make other residents sick, Gill said.

Apartment owners can be held liable for the health and environmental risks to residents, employees and the surrounding area created by hazardous waste from their apartment community, Gill said. For example, if water tainted with hazardous material can be traced back to an apartment community, the community may be held responsible. "The multifamily industry is most at risk for potential fines," Gill said.

To avoid becoming the targets of lawsuits, apartment owners can incorporate procedures concerning household hazardous waste into a community's policies.

"The best advice is to ensure compliance with any local codes that apply to hazardous household waste," said Director of Real Estate Services John E. Barger, who handles risk management for Fogelman Management Group. "I would also advise managers to develop a policy or at least a good understanding of what types of cleanups they should be involved in. For example, removing a cleaning chemical left behind by a resident may be appropriate. However, cleaning biological, biohazard or volatile waste would require the assistance of a person or company specially trained to do this."

Apartment owners can mitigate the amount of hazardous waste they must clean up by briefing residents on their responsibilities. "Residents are advised as to the expected condition of the apartment once they move out," Barger said. "The apartment is expected to be empty of all items, including hazardous waste. The resident is made aware that if any items are left behind, they will be financially responsible for the cleanup and removal. In addition, if the hazardous waste causes any damage to the apartment, the resident would be financially responsible for those damages as well."

In addition to planning ahead, proper identification and disposal, often by means of recycling, is imperative.

"Disposal methods vary city by city, but may include special hazardous waste pickups by the city or waste hauler, or it may be a hazardous waste drop-off location," Barger said.

Gill recommended apartment owners contact their local county or municipal waste departments for their collection schedules. "Most counties do it at least once a year," Gill said. "Each county will provide a list of what they accept and don't accept."

Next, properly pack and store materials for disposal, Gill said. Keep materials in their original containers, label them clearly and never mix chemicals. Pack items securely in a sturdy, leak-proof box for transporting to a licensed hazardous waste recycling center.

Knowing the proper methods of disposal for household hazardous waste and sharing that information with maintenance staff will help head off health hazards and lawsuits. "Prevention is a lot cheaper then cleaning up after the fact," Gill said.

Acceptable or Unacceptable?

For a complete list of acceptable and unacceptable materials for recycling, contact the local waste department.

Bathroom/Kitchen cooking oils and grease, air freshener, general cleaning agents, disinfectant, drain cleaner, floor cleaner, hair color, hair spray, hydrogen peroxide, asopropyl alcohol, mildew remover, nail polish remover.

Shop/Storage/Garage aerosols, arsenic, cleaning agents, asphalt/roofing tar, fertilizers, glues/adhesives, herbicides, insecticides, insect repellent, paint, paint thinner, paint and varnish remover, strippers, solvents, flammable oils, gasoline, kerosene, antifreeze, car wax, motor oil, household batteries, lead acid (car) batteries, photography chemicals, fluorescent light bulbs, rodent killer.

Closet air freshener, aerosols, carpet cleaner, furniture cleaner, shoe polish, pet supplies, dry cleaning agents, mothballs.

Jeanine Gajewski is NAA's Coordinator of Production and Design. She can be reached at
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Author:Gajewski, Jeanine
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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