Barrels of motor oil, tubs of paint and shelves of pesticides account for virtually all of the more than 50 tons of household hazardous wastes Kathy Richardson will accept this year.
But it was a half-empty vial of 100-year-old medicine -- encrusted, crystallized and faintly labeled -- that could have ended it all.
Nitroglycerin is like that.
"When we put all the pieces together, we didn't touch it -- we put it down on the table and ran," said Richardson, a hazardous waste technician for the city of Lawrence who received the vial last month. "If I would've dropped it, it would've blown up. ... If we would've opened the cork to the vial, it would've exploded. The whole building could've gone up in flames."
But it didn't -- the bomb squad made sure of that -- and the incident instead serves as a valuable lesson to anyone wondering how to dispose of such dangers lurking in garages, storage rooms and other repositories for leftovers all over town.
Increasingly, they're being being turned over to the Lawrence-Douglas County Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility.
Since 1994, the program's collection of household and non-industrial hazardous waste has quintupled. So far this year, more than 1,400 families and businesses have taken advantage of the service, on track for another record.
Mollie Mangerich, the city's operations supervisor for waste reduction and recycling, said a big reason for that was an increasing awareness of the dangers such items present.
But most aren't so potent a hazard as the old nitro.
"This was a rare occurrence, but it's allowed us to step back and see the big picture," said Mangerich, who oversees the collection facility. "What you think of oftentimes as harmless and perceive as innocuous household wastes can be very dangerous. Just because you pull it off a department store shelf or out of grandpa's old barn doesn't mean that these materials are safe. These are chemicals. They are dangerous."
The collection facility is designed to help keep things safe, both for people ridding themselves of the wastes and the environment that ultimately must absorb them.
Paints, pesticides, cleaners, batteries and dozens of other products are accepted at the facility. It is open only by appointment, and people can call 832-3030 to schedule a dropoff and get directions to the site. In the past, the service was available only on specified days, and not year-round.
The program is financed through the regular trash bills paid by Lawrence residents; small businesses and organizations can pay a nominal fee to have their inventories assessed for potential wastes to be disposed of.
That's how the vial of nitroglycerin came in. The Watkins Community Museum of History had stashed a couple of Dr. V.M. Auchard's old medical bags in a storeroom, and administrator Rebecca Phipps wanted to make sure there weren't any dangerous materials inside.
She paid Richardson $20 for a disposal diagnosis, and the checkup paid off -- and continues to do so.
"We're not chemists," Phipps said this week, as Richardson examined an old bottle of "Lucky Number 7 Hair Grower" donated a couple decades ago to the museum, 1047 Mass. "That nitroglycerin was scary. We've decided we have to be more careful about what we're taking in. We won't take any more chemicals, and we won't take any medicines. It's just too much of a risk."
Taking such risks out of circulation is the program's goal. And some can be recycled.
Richardson and colleague Michelle Crank regularly take in gallons of leftover latex and oil-based paint, which then are mixed with others to create a valuable resource for those in need.
The paint is used for everything from covering up graffiti in downtown alleys to coloring a mural on the side of the Lawrence Arts Center. The new shades are kept in separate barrels, to satisfy the needs of color-minded users.
The facility, after all, is more than a disposal site; it's also a recycling center.
"Anything on our 'product reuse' shelves are available," Richardson said. "Anybody in the community, come in and use them for free."
|The Lawrence-Douglas County Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility accepts materials for disposal.There is no charge for individuals. Businesses pay to cover disposal costs.The center is open only by appointment. Call 832-3030 to schedule a dropoff and get directions to the site. Materials should be kept in their original containers and not be left at the site unattended.Among the materials accepted:¢ Pest-control products, including fungicides, herbicides, Roundup, rat poisons and mothballs.¢ Cleaning products, such as disinfectants, furniture polish and oven cleaners.¢ Paints and hobby supplies, including thinners, stains, caulk, adhesives and furniture strippers.¢ Automotive products, including antifreeze, gasoline, motor oil and transmission fluid.¢ Miscellaneous items, such as batteries, pool chemicals, thermometers, nail polish and polish removers, aerosol cans, chemistry sets, inks, photo chemicals and fluorescent tubes and bulbs.For more information, call 832-3030 or click on www.lawrencerecycles.org.|