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Dow Chemical helps local schools dispose of chemicals

By Rebecca Burk / L’Observateur / May 25, 1998

Sandra Smith, a chemistry teacher at East St. John High School, wouldn’tknow what to do with old chemicals students used in her labs all year if there weren’t free programs to dispose of the unrecyclable wastes.

“You can’t put the liquid in the sink or in the trash can,” she said. “And theacids we have to store in containers.”About 23 tons of this type of hazardous, used chemicals were collected for disposal from more than 400 high school and middle school labs in the state by the Dow Chemical Company’s Louisiana Operations.

And several of the schools participating were River Parishes schools in St. John the Baptist and St. Charles parishes.Danielle Barrois, West St. John chemistry teacher, said the program helpsthe schools immensely.

“I think it’s a very good program,” she said. “I would believe it savesmoney. It cuts out us trying to find a way to dispose it ourselves. And itsaves not only money but time.”The program, a cooperative effort between the Louisiana State Department of Environmental Quality, Louisiana Chemical Association, Chemical Waste Management and Dow, is the only one of its kind in the country that offers free disposal of used chemicals to high schools, said Wiley Fisackerly, Dow senior environmental engineer. “We launched it 12 years ago to helpchemistry teachers dispose of used materials from chemistry experiments in a safe and environmentally sound manner,” he said.

Dow sends containers for the chemicals to the schools and the teachers take it from there.

“We have to label the containers and put the chemicals in separate ones,” Smith said. “You can’t mix them.””It’s a plastic container that you put the waste in,” Barrois said. “Youhave to take safety precautions. You have to be cautious to make surenothing spills and wear your goggles and gloves and all that.”Chemistry lab students at East St. John do experiments using acids, basesand metals. A recent experiment involved testing different activities inmetals by using acids and bases, Smith said.

Students use many types of chemicals during the year that are all necessary in understanding science, including phosphoric acid, nitric acid, hydrochloric acid and sodium metal, all of which have to be disposed of.

After the chemicals are collected by Dow, they are placed in its RCRA permitted, on-site hazardous waste incinerator. Over the 12 years theprogram has existed, 302,000 pounds of hazardous materials have been collected from schools and incinerated at Dow.

Smith said many of these chemicals can be used over and over again throughout the year before they are sent away for disposal. “But some ofthese are getting old,” she said, pointing to a shelf of bottles containing used chemicals.

Smith said they usually use the chemicals for a year and then dispose them and buy new ones for the next year.

If it weren’t for the program, experts say an estimated $1,000 a year would have to be spent on used chemical disposal at each high school.

“We don’t know how we would dispose of all of these chemicals,” Smith said. “We would have excess chemicals built up in the lab and possibly aleak, followed by a nice smell. Then we would have to come in and getsomeone to clean it before it became a danger to a student.”

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