For nearly a decade, Carroll County tried to divert household hazardous waste -- oil-based paint, glue, epoxy, pesticides, driveway sealer -- from curbside trash pickup.
The effort never caught on with the public. Now the county government is abandoning it, leaving it up to residents to choose whether to consign the hazardous items with other trash to a York, Pa., waste-to-energy incinerator. County officials say the incinerator is a safe disposal method.
The county government sponsored its last household hazardous waste collection day June 6 at the Northern Landfill at Reese. The collection program has not been cost-effective, said Gary Horst, county deputy public works director.
"We were getting no more than 2 to 3 percent of what we believe is out there in the municipal waste stream. The 2 to 3 percent we were getting was getting that special handling. The 97 percent was going to the landfill," Horst said.
In other words, the overwhelming majority of Carroll residents threw lifeless batteries, ammonia, bleach, pesticides and similar hazardous items into the trash for curbside collection. The items went into county landfills, where they might contaminate ground water.
The county spent $60,000 to $80,000 in 1997 to receive and transport less than 50 tons of household hazardous waste, Horst said.
"If we felt we were getting value for the money spent, we would have recommended that the commissioners keep on spending it," he said.
Horst said he isn't advising county residents to put household hazardous wastes in their garbage cans, because some private haulers have rules against accepting the waste. Customers who have questions about how to handle an item should contact their haulers, he said.
"But if a homeowner wants to throw that used can of Raid in his trash, quite frankly, the hauler isn't going to know," Horst said.
Waste Management of Maryland Inc., a hauler operating in Carroll County, will not take items the hauler can identify as hazardous, such as cans of oil-based paint set out on the curb, said Sherry Jackson, customer service representative.
"If it's in the waste stream, if it's bagged up and closed, of course the trash man is not going to tear open every bag" to check for hazardous items, she said.
When customers call to ask how to dispose of pesticides, gasoline, propane tanks and similar hazardous items, Jackson said, "We refer them to their county public works department."
Nine years ago, the possibility of ground water contamination and a costly cleanup at taxpayer expense spurred the County Commissioners to try to divert household hazardous wastes from county landfills. Public works officials staged annual or semi-annual collection days for the items. Two years ago, the county opened a household hazardous waste pavilion at the Northern Landfill.
County trash has been transported to the York incinerator since July 1997. That means the hazardous items no longer enter the landfill, where they might leak and contaminate ground water, Horst said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn't regulate household hazardous waste. But the potential for contamination and prospective cleanup costs provide an incentive for local governments to keep the material out of landfills, said EPA spokeswoman Ruth Podems.
Podems said the possibility of air pollution from the incineration process "depends on the incinerator." If the York incinerator accepts the waste, "presumably they have a permit to do that and are operating within the limits of that permit," she said.
Ellen C. O'Connor, community services manager for the York County Solid Waste and Refuse Authority, praised the incinerator's environmental record in its nine years of operation. The county pays a private waste hauler about $3.4 million a year to transport local trash to the incinerator under a five-year contract that began in 1997.
Pub Date: 6/14/98