Sunday, April 4, 2010

Household Hazmat - Not In My Back Yard

In the world of preventing the occurance of harmful incidents, the fire-rescue community has few peers and often excels. Innovative ways to prevent and reduce harm have included smoke detector programs, fire inspection programs, injury prevention programs like Risk Watch, and especially fire prevention education programs. My department is fortunate to have a very active Public Education Officer who coordinates and often instructs a variety of injury prevention and fire prevention education programs. The public education programs are well-received, and often receive good reviews in the local news media.

A few years ago, we developed and implemented our first-ever Household Hazardous Materials Round-Up. This is a one-day event where our entire department - firefighters, Hazmat Team members, the command staff, communications personnel, support services personnel, and the emergency management staff work conduct a drive-up hazmat collection point. A pollution control contractor licensed in hazardous waste recycling supports the effort with chemists, hazmat personnel, and logistics personnel. Last year, we added a new service - electronic waste collection - with another contractor that specializes in recycling old electronic components. The Hazmat Round-Up became an annnual event, and is now usually held twice per year.

The Hazmat Round-Up has several objectives. It removes literally tons of hazardous materials that would otherwise pollute our sensitive environment, reduces toxins and other hazards in our residents' homes, and reduces the number of hazmat spills, leaks, and fires to which we would otherwise have to respond.

The spring 2010 Hazmat Round-Up was held yesterday, and was a spectacular sucess. We set up the collection point at our new Training Center, which includes a 1/4 mile driving course. Local homeowners dropping off household hazmat items simply drove through the Training Center, where firefighters and hazmat technicians offloaded, sorted, classified, and overpacked the materials for the residents. As shown in the photo above, we removed tons of hazardous materials from our first-due, including virtually every class of hazardous materials. The hazmat total included three tractor-trailers and two other trucks filled to capacity with overpacked hazardous materials and an additional tractor-trailer filled with electronic waste (e-waste).

The variety of hazmat removed from the environment included batteries, paint, old fuel and lubricants, pesticides, old compressed gas cylinders, mercury-containing flourescent lights and thermostats, fertilizer, flares, and other items with the words "Caution", "Warning", or "Danger" in the labeling.

The e-waste included old computers, TVs, stereos, appliances, and anything else containing circuit boards, cathode-ray tubes, or other electronic components.

The inevitible questions about programs of this type involve NIMBY - Not In My Back Yard. That acronym has been used to include taking waste from one place and dumping it in another. I'm happy to say that this isn't a big problem with our Hazmat Round-Up. Most of the materials collected are recycled by the hazmat and e-waste contractors. In fact, the ability to recycle these materials contributes substantially to their business model, so they have an incentive to maximize the recycling of the materials they collect. We're glad to have developed a program that not only removes hazmat from our first-due, but that doesn't just take it and dump it somewhere else.

We rotate the on-duty engine, medic, and truck companies through the event, maintain a reserve engine, medic, and the hazmat rig on-site, and provide two meals, rehab, energy snacks, and hydration for everyone who works the event.

It takes a lot of planning, a lot of public service announcements (PSAs), a lot of coordination, and a lot of work to make this even successful. I can state without any hesitation that this event - again - was a resounding success. I appreciate our local residents who brought their household hazmat and dropped it off in a safe manner. That is a much-preferred alternative to finding it leaking, spilled, or on fire in our environmentally-sensitive environment here on the Rock, or worse, spilled into our marine and salt marsh environments, groundwater, and food chain.

It was a long, but rewarding day, and well worth it.

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