School Science Labs Are Exempt From E. P. A. Rules
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (epa) last week issued an amendment exempting laboratories, including those in junior and senior high schools, from a new regulation that will prohibit the disposal of hazardous liquids in landfills.
Citing a "greatly limited" availablity of treatment or disposal options for laboratory wastes and the inability of laboratories to comply with alternative waste-disposal methods, including incineration, the federal agency gave laboratories tentative authority to continue to dispose of liquid hazardous waste in landfills, providing they meet certain packaging requirements.
In announcing the amendment in the Federal Register last Tuesday, the epa also acknowledged the problems faced by schools and other kinds of laboratories that create small amounts of toxic wastes; the agency proposed to allow such "small generators" to package certain different types of hazardous chemicals, including ones in liquid form, together in 55-gallon steel drums.
Until now, science-safety experts say, laboratories have frequently been forced by regulation-conscious landfill operators to complete the costly and time-consuming process of identifying each chemical before their waste is accepted for disposal.
In addition, many science teachers note, because of the requirement for segregating chemicals, commercial disposal companies frequently charge schools for each barrel they pick up or accept in a landfill, even though there may be only a few jars of a particular chemical in a 55-gallon drum.
Interviews with school science-safety experts around the country also indicate that, as a result of the cost and time involved in the segregating of chemicals, many teachers resort to dumping toxic substances down the drain.
"The problems of hazardous-waste disposal facing small generators, and school laboratories in particular, are severe," said an epa official who helped write the amendment. "Federal regulations are designed primarily to control the disposal of waste by large-scale producers."
(Officials in epa's effluent guidelines division said that there are no federal regulations governing the disposal of school laboratory chemical wastes "down the drain." Instead, they pointed out, a "myriad" of local ordinances govern such disposal.)
The so-called "Lab Pack" (for laboratory packaging) amendment will be in final form after a 60-day comment period.
The epa regulation prohibiting the disposal of hazardous liquids in landfills, scheduled to go into effect last Thursday, will apply to all landfills operating under state and federal permits, according to an agency official.