City offers safe place for nasty chemicals

October 19, 1994|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Sun Staff Writer

The bottles of murky brown liquid have lingered in Mimi Cooper's garage for more than a decade. The containers were there when she moved into her home in North Baltimore 14 years ago, and before that -- who knows?

The bottles, filled with herbicides, pose a headache for Ms. Cooper, an organic gardener. She doesn't want them, but neither can she throw them away for fear of poisoning a landfill and, perhaps, the Chesapeake Bay. So the chemicals sit on the shelf, gathering dust. Until Saturday, when Ms. Cooper will finally be rid of them.

On that day, Baltimore City will hold its first Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Oriole Park (Lot D), where city residents are encouraged to bring leftover toxic materials, from paint thinners to pesticides to pool chemicals.

Baltimore County is staging a similar, though limited, hazardous waste collection on Saturday during the same period. The county's round-up is limited to pesticides, herbicides and solvents, and those who wish to participate must do so by appointment only. Residents are asked to call 887-3745 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. for reservations.

County officials chose not to advertise their drop-off site due to limited funding. "We don't want to open the floodgates, because we don't have the capacity to handle that much," says Jerry Siewierski, supervisor of waste management for Baltimore County.

But in the city, officials are hoping for a large turnout to justify an annual collection day.

City officials are urging people to drag their hazardous materials out of mothballs -- and bring the mothballs, too.

"Poke around in their basements and you'll find most people have some stuff that they tucked away, but didn't throw away, because they knew it could cause problems," says Ken Strong, chief of the Bureau of Solid Wastes for Baltimore City.

Both the city and Baltimore County already provide routine collection facilities for a limited list of hazardous recyclables. But until now, says Mr. Strong, responsible homeowners in the city had no recourse but to hang on to old containers of many other items.

Here's what to bring to Oriole Park: herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, paint, paint thinner, solvents, turpentine, varnishes and stains, wood preservers and strippers, creosote and coal-tar products, pool chemicals, rust remover, oven cleaner, floor-care products, toner cartridges, all types of batteries, kerosene, gasoline, motor oil and automotive fluids such as anti-freeze and brake fluid.

But the following items are not allowed: acids, asbestos, ammunition and explosives, fire extinguishers, fireworks, industrial and medical waste, propane tanks, radioactive materials and unknown substances.

Mr. Strong warns residents to transport all items carefully, in closed containers in the trunks of their cars.

At collection points, chemists will be on hand to identify and grade the waste. Non-recyclables, such as pesticides and solvents, will be transported to hazardous waste facilities outside of Maryland and burned.

Nationwide, more than 800 local governments hold regular round-ups to collect everything from lighter fluid to oven cleaners.

Eight counties in Maryland already hold at least one hazardous waste collection day each year: Allegany, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's.

Montgomery County gathers nearly 170 tons of toxic materials annually from its twice-a-month collection days. "There are a lot of people out there who really want to do the right thing," says Aron Trombka, Montgomery's hazardous waste program manager. "But it really scares people to see the products they've brought from home being handled by chemists wearing flame-retardant suits and respirators."

Anne Arundel's collections have produced more than 750,000 pounds of materials since the program began in 1988. Anne Arundel's next collection is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 29.

Chemical household products are generally safe to use and store, officials say. But problems can arise when leftover items are kept for long periods; containers can rust, leak or cease to be airtight.

Most empty containers can be thrown out with the trash, but leftover chemicals should not be disposed of that way.

The typical family discards 15 pounds of hazardous materials a year, most of which ends up being mixed together in landfills ill-equipped to handle the chemical "soup." Poisons may then trickle into ground water, contaminating wells, streams and bays.

Booths will be set up on the parking lot at Camden Yards, with information on reducing the number of household chemicals.

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