Hazardous materials site proposed

By JOE SUTTER

jsutter@messengernews.net

Nothing thrown away disappears forever. Some common household chemicals can cause problems when they accumulate in a landfill.

To handle those chemicals, local officials want to build a household hazardous materials collection site at the North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency south of Fort Dodge.

“This is one of the directives of the attorney general’s office,” Mark Campbell, chairman of the agency’s executive board, said at a recent meeting. “They want a facility put here.”

The board will vote Tuesday night on whether to build such a facility.

Campbell has been in contact with Snyder and Associates, the engineering firm that designed a large household hazardous materials facility in Bondurant.

A smaller version of that facility would serve this area’s needs well, Campbell said.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” he said.

He anticipated that a cost estimate and preliminary plans for the site would be available at Tuesday’s meeting.

A household hazardous materials site would accept toxic, corrosive, flammable and reactive materials. Oil-based paint, household cleaners, fertilizers and other chemicals would all be kept out of the landfill, said Kathleen Hennings, environmental specialist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Household Hazardous Materials Program.

Disposal is free for individuals, as well as some small businesses, she said.

However, everyone pays into the program through garbage tonnage fees, she added.

This means that without their own facility, Webster and Humboldt County residents pay indirectly for household hazardous waste disposal, but don’t get to enjoy free disposal like people in most other counties, Hennings said.

“It’s kind of like they’re paying twice,” she said.

Funding for the household hazardous waste program comes from the federal Groundwater Protection Act, Hennings said. Not only can the household waste harm the groundwater directly, it should also be kept out of wastewater treatment plants as much as possible, because it kills the beneficial enzymes employed to treat the water.

Regional collection centers are reimbursed a percentage of their expenses.

Seemingly innocuous household chemicals can pose serious problems in sufficient concentrations, according to Hennings.

“Hazardous materials you have under your sink, and in your garage, they are exactly the same chemical composition as what is used in businesses,” Hennings said. “They’re just smaller amounts. It’s the concentration.”

“Phosphoric acid, at as little as 0.1 percent (concentration) can be an ingredient in sour candy. It can be a food additive,” she said. “It’s the same exact chemical, but at 2 percent it’s a toilet bowl cleaner. At 50 percent … it could be used as a concrete etching.”

Even fluorescent bulbs should go to a household hazardous waste facility, Hennings said. They contain mercury.

One bulb on its own isn’t dangerous, she said.

“But if everyone throws one away, yes, they are hazardous. We took in 111,555 pounds of fluorescent bulbs last year.”

Encouraging people to get rid of chemicals also reduces poisonings, Hennings said. Her office keeps track of the number of children and adults poisoned every year by household hazardous materials.

“I’m really proud our poisonings have gone down every year,” she said. “In 2007 we had 9,720 kids poisoned. In 2012 we only had 4,638. So it was a 48 percent reduction.”

Without a place to take chemicals, they often sit around the house, making it more likely that children will get into them, she said.

“If you have a garage full of stuff, you know you probably shouldn’t throw it away, but you’re not sure what to do with it,” Hennings said. “Then the kids are playing in the garage, or just exploring under the sink, and there are so many more chemicals out there now than when we were growing up.”

Iowa began a household hazardous materials disposal program in 1995, according to Hennings. There are now 23 main facilities covering 93 of the 99 counties, as well as 39 satellite facilities.

Together, they take in about 6.5 million pounds of materials a year.

“We have probably the best infrastructure in the nation. We have more facilities available to our citizens than Oregon, California or anybody else,” she said.

Webster and Humboldt counties are two of the few remaining counties with no coverage. Hamilton has its own regional collection center, while several counties in the area have satellite facilities.

“We get quite a few calls from Webster County citizens saying, ‘Hey I’ve got this, where can I take it?'” Hennings said.

Campbell has been looking into building a regional collection center in Fort Dodge, though he said the board may decide to build a satellite facility, or not build any at all

The board has also discussed the possibility of a satellite facility in Humboldt County.

The satellite would temporarily store the waste until a main facility can pick it up. The main regional facility actually sorts the waste, puts it in barrels and sends it off to a licensed hazardous waste contractor, Hennings said.

Where does hazardous waste go, if not into a landfill?

Contractors take flammables to be burned in a waste energy facility, while acids and bases are neutralized at treatment plants in Utah or Nebraska, Hennings said. Some things, like mercury and other heavy metals, can be recycled.

Regional facilities also have “swap shops”, she said, where unwanted, but usable, paint or other chemicals can be left. Anyone can then pick up the materials for free.

Campbell and local landfill staff have toured the Metro Waste Authority Regional Collection Center in Bondurant, which serves 22 counties.

“It’s an amazing facility,” he said. “They do an excellent job there, and I think we can do a smaller version here that will take care of all the needs for us.”

Like in Bondurant, the Fort Dodge location may send trailers out to the surrounding communities for easy collection.

“It makes it very user friendly for people to get rid of fuels, paints, any type of those chemicals that we do not want in the landfill,” Campbell said.