Chemicals from La Grande High School are removed Friday as part of the Department of Environmental Quality’s Rehab the Lab program. Excess chemicals and those which could become dangerous over time were among those removed. Transporting the chemicals are Teddy Nickerson, left, of City Garbage Service and Darin Larvik, co-owner of City Garbage Service and program chemist for the Tri County Household Hazardous Waste Committee. DICK MASON - The Observer
Environmental consultant finds number of old chemicals at local schools that need to be disposed
Dave Waddell, an environment consultant from Seattle, was not surprised, still he spoke with a sense of amazement.
Waddell was examining chemicals on Thursday stored at La Grande High School for chemistry classes. He had found a number of old chemicals that needed to be disposed of that intrigued him. Then he discovered a container filled with bethanaphittho merck, a harmless dye, which floored him.
“I bet this is 100 years old, or at least 85,” said Waddell, basing his estimation on the type of container it was in and the wording on it.
The bethanaphittho merck was among many chemicals Waddell recommended be removed from LHS and 10 other high schools and middle schools throughout Union, Wallowa and Baker counties he visited last week. He made the visits while worrying Department of Environmental Quality program, Rehab The Lab.
The program was started, according to the DEQ, because schools throughout the state have stockpiles of unused and improperly stored chemicals that were once helpful in teaching students the basics of chemistry but now may pose a threat to teachers and students. The purpose of the Rehab the Lab program is to address this situation.
Waddell visited schools in Union and Baker counties with Darin Larvik, program chemist for the Tri County Hoursehold Hazardous Waste Committee and co-owner of City Garbage Service. Larvik took the chemicals Waddell had recommended be removed and will take care of them.
Larvik will neutralize the acids, dispose of nontoxic chemicals, incinerate the toxic chemicals and refine the heavy metals so that they can be recycled.
The Rehab the Lab program came to Union, Wallowa and Baker counties with major help from Larvik. He applied for the $7,000 grant the Tri County Household Hazardous Waste Committee received, which allowed the Rehab the Lab program to come here.
Larvik credits Union County Commissioner Steve McClure, chair of the Tri County HHW Committee, with also playing an important role in getting the Rehab the Lab program to come to Northeast Oregon.
La Grande High School science teacher Pat Des Jardin said the Rehab the Lab program is providing a critical service. He said that there are many chemicals in labs that can become explosive over time because of cross reactions caused by exposure to air and other elements.
Des Jardin also noted that labs are often filled with more chemicals than they need. Waddell does a good job of pointing this out to teachers, the LHS teacher said.
LHS had 22 gallons of acids but now has much less after allowing some to be removed after Waddell explained that the school was overstocked. Years ago when LHS had many more students and offered more chemistry classes, it needed far more acid than it does today.
Des Jardin noted that schools tend to have more chemicals than they need because people in the community often bring them in. These include families of people who have died and pharmacies who have extra chemicals they think school chemistry programs could use them.
The LHS science teacher said that the Rehab the Lab program provided a service the La Grande School District could not have afforded if a private contractor had been brought in.
In addition to examining chemical storage areas, Waddell gave a presentation that provided teachers and other school staff training on:
• how to inventory and assess chemicals found in schools.
• how to manage and safely store hazardous chemicals in schools.
• how to reduce chemical stockpiles in biology labs.
• ways to identify chemicals whose risks outweigh their educational usefulness.