Packing, handling, and disposing of hazardous waste is no small task - and it shouldn't surprise you to learn that there's a whole process for this while staying safe. Lab packs play a big role in this process. In this post, we're going to take a deep dive into everything you need to know about lab packs - from what they are to what industries and businesses use them, to the PPE that should be worn when handling them.
What Is a Lab Pack?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of lab packs, let's first take a moment to explain what they are. Simply put, lab packs are large, durable containers that are used to ship many smaller containers of hazardous waste safely and securely. In some cases, lab packs resemble a large drum, and the smaller packs are carefully packed into this large container to permit the safe transportation and eventual disposal of this hazardous waste.
What materials are commonly packed for disposal? Think of substances like acids, bases, and reagents. Toxic substances and explosive materials. Oxidizers and solvents, cleaning and disinfection agents, and even radioactive materials. Inks, dyes, paint thinners, and paint strippers. Even aerosols and compressed gasses may be disposed of in lab packs. When packed, these chemicals are often divided into groups to promote better storage and organization. For instance, they may be separated by oxidizers, acids, and flammable chemicals.
The bottom line is that the use of lab packs is an ideal way to ship large quantities of hazardous waste safely and within federal regulations. Upon receiving a lab pack, lab pack waste disposal may include incineration, recycling, some sort of neutralizing or stabilizing treatment, blending or even disposal in a landfill. Disposal is typically carried out by a hazardous waste disposal company.
What Types of Companies are Hazardous Waste Generators?
Now that we've covered a bit about lab packs and what specifically they are, you might be wondering about some of the companies and organizations that often use them. Some are obvious, like hospitals and certain manufacturers that often use certain chemicals in bulk quantities. Hospitals, for instance, produce a large sum of hazardous or infectious waste, from bodily fluids to chemical waste to even pharmaceutical waste.
Other companies and entities aren't so obvious. For instance, schools and colleges may use lab packs, especially those that have research divisions where experiments are conducted. Dry cleaning businesses are another example due to the sheer number of chemicals that are used in their operations.
You might be surprised to learn that dry cleaners are one of the top producers of hazardous waste. Even automotive repair shops rely on lab packs to safely transport hazardous liquids, oil, coolant, and other byproducts.
Any business or entity that uses or produces hazardous chemicals subject to regulation is defined as a chemical waste generator. We'll get into more of the regulatory aspects in the sections that follow, but let's first look at when chemicals should be disposed of.
When Should Chemicals be Disposed of Using a Lab Pack?
There are several instances where a hazardous chemical should be properly and safely disposed of using a lab pack. The following situations apply:
- Expiration: An expired chemical or agent isn't of any use. Look for the expiration date on the label and discard it as necessary.
- Degraded condition: Was the chemical stored in the wrong environment? Or was it not properly sealed? These are a few of the instances that may lead to chemical degradation.
- It's no longer needed: In some cases, the chemical is no longer needed and is just sitting around taking up valuable space.
- It's hazardous: Is it potentially doing more harm than good to keep the chemical within your facility? Then it could be time to start thinking about ways to properly dispose of it. Consider a more safe chemical alternative that is not as flammable or toxic.
Lab Pack Regulations
There are various regulations that lab pack waste disposal must comply with. In this section, we'll talk about two of the more significant regulations - the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).
What You Need to Know About the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
This act basically gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) full and complete control over the management of hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal. Simply put, the RCRA requires all chemical waste producers to properly dispose of chemical waste in a timely manner.
Over the years, various amendments have been made to the RCRA, perhaps none more notable than the Land Disposal Restrictions (LDR) program, which sets protective measures that must be adhered to before any hazardous waste is discarded or disposed of on any body of land. The LDR also established standards for incineration, stabilization, and immobilization. The three main portions of the LDR include rules and regulations around disposal prohibition, dilution prohibition, and storage prohibition.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), Explained
The CERCLA is another big EPA act that regulates the disposal of chemical waste. It was passed into law in 1980, and basically allows the EPA to seek out and potentially even punish any party that is responsible for hazardous waste substance release and ensure that they remain in compliance. It sets standards for proper lab packing, who can perform the lab packing, who should be present during lab packing, applicable storage and disposal facilities, and other regulations and restrictions.
Punishment for Violation
In addition to the RCRA and CERCLA, it's important to note that OSHA and the Department of Transportation also have regulations for the safe handling and transportation of hazardous waste materials. Chemical waste generators are expected to comply with all of these regulations for the good of their personnel and the environment. Failure to comply can result in significant fines. Perhaps two well documented examples of failure to comply involve two of the nation's top universities. In 1998, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was fined $115,000 after violations were found in 56 of its 114 laboratories on campus.
More recently, Yale was cited and fined for a variety of violations, including improper chemical storage, mislabeled chemical waste, open containers of waste, and improper waste disposal. The bottom line is that failure to comply can result in hefty fines or negatively impact workers, the public, and/or the environment.
What PPE Should Be Worn During Lab Pack Hazardous Waste Disposal?
Lab packs are commonly transported to hazardous waste disposal companies, where they are properly discarded. Any time you're dealing with hazardous waste, it's imperative to make sure that workers are properly protected. The level of PPE that should be worn should largely be dictated on the type of waste that a worker is dealing with.
For some waste, the PPE worn should be much more comprehensive than when working with other less hazardous waste(s). For this reason, it's important to carry out a thorough inspection of the waste and properly assess the PPE that workers should be wearing. Consider reading up on each chemical(s)’ Safety Data Sheet (SDS). An inspection of the PPE is also important, as any protection equipment in poor condition is not likely to offer the level of protection that is necessary to safeguard workers.
Here's a look at PPE considerations when handling hazardous waste:
Chemical Protective Suit
These may also be referred to as HAZMAT suits. Chemical protective suits are full-body coveralls that are worn to protect the body from hazardous materials or potentially hazardous materials (PHS). They help prevent skin exposure to liquid chemicals, chemical splash, and other hazardous liquids that may cause health effects.
Since hazardous waste can also cause harm if inhaled, full-face respirators are also commonly worn to protect the lungs from chemicals. It's important that any respirator worn is properly fit tested to ensure that it offers the level of protection that is necessary for harmful gases or vapors.
Gloves and Boots
Chemical-resistant gloves are also important. The same is true of chemical-resistant boots. The hands and feet must also be protected when managing and handling hazardous waste.
Face Shield and/or Splash Guard
Finally, a face shield and/or a splash guard is also advised when handling hazardous substances to prevent contact with the face or the eyes.
Hazardous waste is defined as "hazardous" for a reason - and lab packs are one way to safely and properly package and transport any type of waste that may pose a threat to humans or the environment. And while there are certain standards in place that regulate proper disposal, it's imperative that disposal is done safely as well. Take the time today to review your disposal procedure(s), your PPE on hand, and ensure that you have the right safety measures in place to protect your workers.