Disposing of Chemicals

Disposing of Chemicals from Montana Schools

By Annette Satterly, Risk Management Associate

I am often asked for information about proper chemical disposal. Dusti Johnson, of the Waste Management and Remediation Division of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, provided the following helpful information on this topic (Ms. Johnson can be reached at dujohnson@mt.gov or at 406-444-6499).

The majority of the Montana Schools have chemicals that they would like to dispose of but have no idea where to start.  There are also districts that may have a chemical disposal problem and don’t know it. If you have labs or chemical storage areas or containers that resemble these (below), you likely have issues that need to be addressed.


Chemical safety is not a new problem. In the 2014 School Environmental Health Report, Montana scored an average of 46% (F) for jurisdictions participating in the state assessment.

There are steps that you can take to improve lab safety. These include the following:

  1. Name a chemical coordinator. While this individual does not have to be the science teacher, it is a good idea that s/he coordinate with the science teacher. Once a coordinator has been named, Dusti can assist that individual through the development of proper storage-plan processes.
  2. Draft a chemical management plan. A sample plan has been included in this document. While drafting the management plan, determine the initial plan of action and start documenting the district’s work. The plan will address such topics as a) providing training for the staff, b) researching historical lab information, c) ensuring the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is in place, d) ensuring the proper ventilation systems are used, and, e) developing a spill-response plan.
  3. Inventory Chemicals. The inventory will need to include the following:
    1. the chemical/product name,
    2. the place it is stored (be sure to identify the room, the name, and, the building,
    3. the program that uses the chemical or who currently uses it,
    4. when the chemical was purchased (prior to the present date may need to be the date listed on many chemicals),
    5. the size of the container that the chemical is stored in, and,
    6. how much of the chemical is in that container.

Following these guidelines, an entry in the inventory may look like this:

Mercury; Lab Hood, Room 4, High School, Second Floor; Used by Science Lab, Mr. Smith’s Class; Purchased 1/12/72 (or prior to now); a 14-oz. jar that is ¾ of the way full.

Also, when inventorying chemicals, no one should work alone. Further, goggles, gloves, and aprons should be worn. Finally, have a plan in place in case of an emergency occurs in the lab. (Although this article focuses specifically on labs and lab safety, it is prudent to inventory all chemicals in the district.)

  1. Gather as much information about each chemical as possible. When doing so, consider such questions as these:
    1. Is it used in the curriculum?
    2. Is it labeled?
    3. Does it have a safety data sheet?
    4. Can you find information about it in books or on a website?

These questions will help to answer whether the district has excessive risk chemicals.

  1. Determine the need for the chemical.
    1. Is it currently used?
    2. How much is needed?
    3. And if a chemical is not needed and not current, get rid of it. 
  1. Dispose of unwanted chemicals. Using the inventory and the list of current needs, determine which chemicals need to be disposed of. With the other information that was gathered, the district will be able to determine if a chemical can go to a landfill if the teacher can make the chemical inert, if it can be treated to meet sewer requirements, or if it needs to be handled as hazardous waste. The Flinn website can be helpful with these determinations. http://labsafety.flinnsci.com/CourseDetails.aspx?CourseCode=CSA
  2. Finalize the Chemical Management Plan. The plan should address administrative policies; purchasing procedures with an emphasis that only what is needed should be purchased; on-site chemical management (inventory, storage procedures, spill response, disposal, etc.); and annual review, training, and updates as needed.

Please be aware that disposal costs are astronomical! Have a plan and a budget for the disposal. Budget for at least $10-15 thousand dollars!

Once you have an inventory, we recommend that you submit it to waste consultants and request bids. Dusti can help with this process. 

Again, a sample Chemical Hygiene and Laboratory Safety Plan, as well as the Florida School Cleanout Manual, have been attached to this article to assist you in this process of developing your own plans.

Please do not hesitate to contact Dusti for assistance ( dujohnson@mt.gov or at 406-444-6499). I am also available to answer questions. I may be reached at 406-457-4410 or at asatterly@mtsba.org. Return to newsletter