Few Schools Said Ready for Hazardous-Waste Compliance

By Ellen Flax — June 21, 1989 3 min read

Washington--Educators do not know how to properly identify, store, transport, or dispose of hazardous wastes produced in school buildings, a new report by the Environmental Protection Agency concludes.

The report, the agency’s first study of schools’ management of hazardous wastes, argues that the complicated set of federal regulations governing such substances is in general neither understood nor followed by educators, who lack the money and technical knowledge needed.

The report cites common laboratory chemicals--such as benzene, carbon-tetrachloride, and lab detergents--and such other toxic substances as solvents used for cleaning, paint wastes, and pesticides.

Like other institutions, schools that fail to follow federal hazardous-waste regulations can be fined up to $25,000 a day. Agency officials acknowledge, however, that they are more likely to target their enforcement efforts on industrial facilities than on schools, which typically produce small volumes of such wastes.

The study estimates that educa4tional institutions generate between 2,000 and 4,000 metric tons of hazardous wastes a year--less than 1 percent of the 240 million tons produced by all sources annually.

The Congress directed the agency to write the report as part of the Hazardous and Solid Wastes Amendments of 1984. Agency officials said that shortages of money and personnel prevented them from meeting the law’s April 1987 deadline for release of the report.

Schools that each month produce 100 kilograms or more of toxic substances, or smaller amounts of materials the agency labels as acutely hazardous, are subject to federal rules on the materials’ storage, treatment, transportation, and disposal.

The study, which examines the waste-management procedures of 7 high schools and 19 colleges and universities, does not estimate how many schools are affected.

But it suggests that most schools “probably” could accumulate enough hazardous wastes to fall under the regulations.

Schools that comply with federal requirements are “the exception rather than the rule,” the study concludes.

“So many parts of the hazardous-waste regulations aren’t written in a way that it would be easy for schools to comply with them,” said Filomena Chau, author of the report.

Improper practices commonly employed by schools include “using the sewer system as the dumpster” and storing volatile chemicals in close proximity to each other, the report indicates.

It calls on the federal government, as well as state and local agencies, to provide more guidance to schools about the regulations.

Ms. Chau noted, however, that the agency is not planning any new educational efforts. She explained that the report, which contains lists of common chemical hazards found in schools and information about compliance with the rules, is supposed to serve as guidance for schools.

Copies of “Report to Congress: Management of Hazardous Wastes from Educational Institutions” are available for $21.95 each from the National Technical Information Service, U.S. Department of Commerce, Springfield, Va. 22161. All requests should include the report’s ntis number, PB89-187629.

Meanwhile, the epa is moving to complete final regulations that would require some schools to submit documents to state and local officials about the amounts and types of hazardous chemicals on school grounds.

Since last summer, schools and other nonmanufacturing facilities that house more than 10,000 pounds of some hazardous substances, or smaller amounts of extremely hazardous materials, have been required to report such information to state and local emergency planners.

The agency at the end of last month finished accepting comments from the public on a proposed regulation to implement the requirement.

Manufacturers have been required since 1987 to comply with this “right to know” rule, established by the 1986 Superfund law.

School officials can use the data collected by local and state governments to determine the types of substances being used or released by local manufacturers.

Schools and other organizations that fail to comply with the law face fines of up to $25,000 a day.

A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 1989 edition of Education Week as Few Schools Said Ready for Hazardous-Waste Compliance