The days are getting longer. The temperature is rising. There’s no doubt about it, Spring is officially here. It’s a great time of year to come out of our winter slumber and freshen things up around the house and yard. It’s also a great time to freshen things up around your facility, or else!

It never ceases to amaze me when I get a call from a company that says something along the lines of:

“We just have a cabinet full of chemicals. No one knows what they are, but we need to get rid of them.”

It’s a relatively common project for us. Over the years I have seen some very interesting things and been part of some very interesting projects.

Chemical Disposal Horror Stories

One project I remember was a company that was “instructed” (i.e. regulatory folks were involved) to clean up what was obviously a cache of obsolete and unusable chemicals. These containers were old, they were leaking, and they had been sitting in the same place since Jimmy Carter was president. That means if someone started working at that company right out of high school and worked there through retirement, those chemicals were something they would have walked past every single day of their entire career!

I’ve also been part of cleanup projects where the chemicals themselves were non-hazardous and would have been relatively inexpensive to dispose of, but they were stored improperly for a very long period, and the containers deteriorated. The cleanup project now involves field labor to clean up the mess before it can be removed. This is a project that should have cost hundreds of dollars and now cost several thousand.

Another call we receive is:

“Joe Blow just retired. He managed our R&D department and was very particular about his chemical hoard. We have no idea what he had but it’s a lot and some of it’s old.”

What a wonderful retirement gift to leave your employer and your replacement!

Beyond the cost of not properly managing onsite chemical inventories, is the safety aspect. Not long ago we received a call and were told:

“We found an unknown chemical container onsite and there are crystals that have formed all around the lid.”

Oh boy! If you ever see something like this in your own professional career, don’t move the container! Call an expert who can safely determine what the situation is and the appropriate safety measures that need to be taken.

In this scenario, there were peroxide crystals and it was dangerous. We called in a high-hazard team. We quarantined off the entire area and shut down production. The high-hazard crew, donned in Kevlar suits, slowly removed the container to a safe area outside the facility. The container was then put in a Kevlar box and specially designed equipment was used to open the container. Luckily there was no explosion but imagine the damage that was already done to that business. They were shut down while we safely addressed the situation. The employees know that their work area had a potentially highly dangerous chemical sitting around waiting for someone to stumble upon it.

Also, imagine if the container did detonate. Would the news hear about it? How many employees told others that their facility was shut down and people in Kevlar suits removed a dangerous chemical? How many other people outside the business heard that story? I doubt that is the public relations message any of us wants for our businesses. Also, imagine the cost of having a high-hazard team respond to a situation like this.

What should have been an inexpensive chemical removal project long ago, now is a major safety situation that is exponentially more expensive.

Prevent Disaster with Spring Chemical Cleaning

The one thing all these situations have in common is that they are preventable. Every one of these situations could have been dealt with in a relatively cost-effective and safe manner versus running the risk of regulatory liability, increased disposal-related costs, and potential environmental & safety concerns.

Below is a list of some ideas and suggestions we give our clients to help ensure the situations I described above don’t happen at the facility you are responsible for:

  1. We all have deadlines. Deadlines for inspections, regulatory reports, employee training, internal project deadlines. Make a Chemical Spring Cleaning deadline. Put it on your calendar as an every year occurrence and make it part of your EHS culture. Once per year have everyone review their work areas and identify what chemicals are no longer useful business assets. Create an obsolete chemical inventory and have the project dealt with while it is small, inexpensive, and safe. If a yearly lab pack isn’t appropriate for the amount of waste your facility generates, adjust the frequency as needed. The point is, make it a deadline that must be adhered to.
  2. If you don’t have a chemical management system in place, create one. Even a basic practice that identifies how long a chemical has been onsite is a good way to help ensure a chemical doesn’t sit around for years while the chemical and/or container might be deteriorating. There are many options for chemical inventory management systems. You can buy software, create an Excel spreadsheet, or simply write the date when a chemical was first brought onsite on the container lid. Create a system that is sustainable and that works. It doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive.
  3. Incorporate proper chemical management in your employee training sessions. Create a culture where everyone knows the protocol for dating and tracking chemicals onsite. Create a culture where no one is above the law and secret chemical hoards are accepted.
  4. Actually, DO Chemical Spring Cleaning at your facility once per year. Do a thorough walkthrough. Look in all the nooks and crannies to hunt up any chemical stockpiles someone might be secretly creating. I’ve seen where well-intentioned employees create their own little stockpile, in an effort to be more efficient, and they don’t realize the chemicals are not properly contained or being managed.

Whether you call it a lab pack, obsolete chemical removal, Chemical Spring Cleaning, or anything else, I can tell you this about your project – it will never be cheaper, safer, or more efficiently handled than right now. Managing your onsite chemicals should never be a project that is put on the back burner. The communities in which we operate our businesses expect, and deserve, us being good stewards of tools we use to create the products and services we offer.

If you have obsolete chemicals, unknown chemicals, a small lab pack project, or a facility cleanout project, please feel free to contact Certified Environmental Solutions and have an experienced professional review your project. We will come up with a cost-effective and safe plan to have it addressed efficiently.