An incident leading to the hospitalization of two Casella Waste Systems employees in Dayton, Maine, has prompted waste management companies and organizations to stress the importance of safely disposing household hazardous waste. Courtesy photo Matt Grondin

The safe disposal of household hazardous waste helps protect waste management employees and prevents accidents, said Matt Grondin, communications manager at ecomaine.

Waste management officials have stressed the importance of safety after an event on Oct. 26 in Dayton, where two Casella Waste Systems employees were hospitalized for chemical burns when a container of hydrochloric acid burst, causing a fume cloud, a release from ecomaine said.

Safety is one of Casella Waste Systems Inc.’s top priorities, said John W. Casella, chairman and CEO.

“Every day, regardless of circumstances, our people are providing an essential service that ensures public and environmental health and safety,” Casella said. “It is imperative that our customers and communities continue to play an active role in helping to ensure everyone’s safety. We believe these workers will make speedy and full recoveries, but this incident serves as a reminder that there are specific times and places for residents to dispose of hazardous waste.”

With about 44 deaths per 100,000 employees, waste collection ranks as the fifth most hazardous occupation in the United States, reported the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This is why proper waste disposal is critical, said Grondin. Mixing hazardous waste with non-hazardous materials can create complications. For example, paper can ignite quickly when interacting with other volatile chemicals.

“It’s just really important to remember that there are real people on the other end of these trash and recycling cans,” he said. “There’s just too much that can go wrong to take a chance and throw hazardous waste in your regular cans.”

There are a variety of resources to help residents know what constitutes as hazardous waste, Grondin said.

“There are so many things that qualify, everything from paint to fluorescent lightbulbs, all the way up to gasoline and oil and paint thinner, chemicals that can be quick-moving problems,” he said.

The Cape Elizabeth and South Portland Public Works websites include sections on household hazardous waste, but there are other state resources as well, Grondin said. Ecomaine also provides a list of hazardous waste materials on its website.

“I would say for anyone who has hazardous waste, I’d check with your transfer station,” Grondin said. “The EPA has a great list of local transfer stations. Those are often the most convenient places. They may have a collection one a month — they may have a collection day. In southern Maine, Riverside Recycling is generally that place.”

Maine has a stewardship program for paint disposal, paintcare.org/paintcare-states/maine/#/everyone, and another resource for mercury-containing bulbs, maine.gov/dep/gis/datamaps/brwm_recycling/, he said.

The Solid Waste Association of North America recommends that residents practice safety through ensuring proper disposal of waste, including not placing hazardous waste or chemicals at the curb for collection; contacting local municipal or waste management staff if they have questions; bagging and tying all trash before placing it into their container and putting it out to the curb; and slowing down when driving and approaching collection trucks, said ecomaine.

According to the Solid Waste Association of North America, “Conversely, recyclables should be placed loose in the container, and only the materials accepted by residents’ local hauler or municipal sanitation department should be in that container. Do not place lithium ion batteries or devices containing these batteries at the curb, as they are a fire hazard for industry trucks, facilities, and personnel.”

Kevin Roche, CEO of ecomaine and chair of the association’s New England chapter, said that everyone needs to do their part in preventing accidents similar to the one in Dayton.

“This incident is a truly unfortunate reminder that, as we often say, ‘there is no such thing as away,'” he said. “When we throw things away, there are real people who have to deal with the very real consequences of improper disposal. We all need to work together to prevent occurrences like this one.”

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