Eagle County dump goes green | VailDaily.com

Eagle County dump goes green

Matt Terrell
Vail CO, Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyHazardous waste specialist Pallavi Mukerjee unlocks one of eight storage sheds designed to hold various hazardous waste products until they can be properly disposed of Thursday at the new hazardous waste facility at the landfill in Wolcott.

WOLCOTT, Colorado ” Your typical garage is home to a toxic mish-mash of near empty cans of paint thinner, propane, insecticides, break fluid and old car batteries.

And too often, when people do their spring cleaning, all that stuff ends up in the trash, in the landfill, in the neighbor’s back yard, in the sink, flushed down a toilet or in a river, says Ron Rasnic, solid wastes manager for Eagle County.

Improperly disposing of household chemicals is not only harmful to the environmental, but can also be quite dangerous to residents and sanitation workers, Rasnic says.

Eagle County has just opened a new hazardous waste facility, which will give residents a safe place to drop off all those flammable and poisonous chemicals. The new facility will also have a program to help local businesses dispose of their hazardous waste.

The facility will accept any type of common household hazardous waste, including: household cleaning products, latex and oil-based paint, paint thinners, varnishes, fertilizers, insecticides, automotive fluids, batteries, cell phones, thermostats, medicine, aerosols, lab chemicals, swimming pool chemicals, needles and ammunition up to .50 caliber and class C fireworks.

Before the facility opened, the county would host a yearly hazardous waste drop-off day, but that would be it. For the rest of the year, people just had to wait, Rasnic said.

“Having a place like this well help get the toxic stuff out of the waste stream,” Rasnic said.

Explosions and hepatitis

So, just how dangerous is all that stuff that you’re not supposed to put in the garbage can?

Keep in mind that much of that stuff, like paint thinner and varnish, is flammable and burns really easily ” small fires have been known to start in the Eagle County landfill, said Pallavi Mukerjee, hazardous waste specialist for the county.

And a lot of it, like those propane tanks, is also pressurized, and explosions are quite possible if they’re exposed to heat and pressure, Pallavi said.

Sanitation workers could also be exposed to a wide array of corrosive chemicals that can eat through skin and metal. They’re also exposed to highly toxic fumes, like mercury, which is a neurotoxin that can cause a wide range of health problems, including severe brain and nervous system damage.

Needles and medical supplies are also a problem for sanitation workers. Needles can transfer blood-borne illness like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis and can easily poke out of trash bags being handled by sanitation workers, Pallavi said.

There’s also the risk that these chemicals, if they’re thrown in the trash and end up in the landfill, could somehow leach into groundwater, Rasnic said.

If it’s not going in the trash, then people are finding other places for it.

It’s common for many people to pour chemicals down the sink, which can disrupt water treatment facilities that aren’t designed to process non-biological waste, Rasnic said.

It’s also common to pour unneeded prescription medicine down the sink or flush it down the toilet. Water treatment plants aren’t designed to filter out the chemicals and hormones in the medicines, and they can make their way into streams and rivers and seriously effect wildlife, Pallavi said. Large amounts of hormones in the water have been known to change the sex of fish.

How about just storing it in the back yard? There’s a good chance children and pets can get into it, Pallavi said.

How it works

The facility, by the landfill north of Wolcott will be open Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays and is free to residents. You won’t need an appointment.

After you drop off your material, the waste is examined and sorted ” batteries in plastic bags over here, used oil in a barrel over there. Everything will be kept in storage sheds at the landfill until enough stuff is gathered to make a good-sized shipment.

“We’ll want to send as much as possible in one shipment ” we want to do it as economically as possible,” Pallavi said.

Some things, like batteries, car oil and anti freeze, will be recycled. Other stuff, like pest poisons, will go to an landfill especially designed for hazardous material.

If someone brings in stuff that’s unwanted but still usable, they’ll place it in a “shop” where people can browse and take for free. A common example would be a can of unopened paint.

Small businesses

The waste facility will also be running a program to help small businesses dispose of their waste, and to help them understand what sort of governmental regulations they need to be following, Pallavi said.

Rasnic expects to be helping businesses like small painting contractors and property management companies, places which as a normal part of operations generate hazardous waste.

Users of the “Conditionally Exempt Waste Assistance and Disposal Program” will be charged a nominal fee based on the disposal cost and lab tests, if required.

Small businesses are required to schedule an appointment. Hours of the facility for small businesses will be 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays only.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

The new hazardous waste facility at the landfill will be heated this winter by a furnace that burns wood pellets made of beetle-killed pine trees.

There’s a large silo behind the facility to hold the pellets, which will feed into the furnace. The pellets will come from the new factory just opening in Kremmling.

Rasnic said a big goal for the county was to become more “green,” and this is an example of that commitment. The wood pellets are clean burning and put good use to the dead pine trees, which would normally go to waste.

1) If you buy a product, but just enough to do the job and do your best to use it until it’s finished.

2) If you can’t finish a product, share it with neighbors or friends.

3) Read the product’s label to see if there are specific disposal instructions.

4) If it’s possible, recycle the material. Look for products that say they can be recycled.

5) Use water-based products when you can.

6) When you need to dispose of something, take it to the new Hazardous Waste Facility at the landfill.

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