Published Nov. 10, 2022
BY SARA EYJOLFSDOTTIR
Tinkering with chemicals in science class to elicit anything from a color change to mini explosion is a well-known experience for students, but what happens to those chemicals afterwards is far less familiar. California Department of Education’s regulations on hazardous waste disposal ensure student and faculty safety, yet regularly performed audits by CHS’ insurance company have helped reveal holes within the system of chemical removal.
“Ed Code calls for the schools to regularly remove all chemicals whose shelf life has elapsed,” says Dan Paul, the chief operations officer for Carmel Unified School District. “The county office of education may perform this or permit school districts to arrange for disposal.”
EC Section 49411 states that there must be an implemented system for the storage, usage and disposal of hazardous materials in schools, most typically found in science classrooms. CHS is audited annually on their chemical disposal procedure, with recent audits contributing to concerns regarding the efficiency and effectiveness of CUSD’s system.
“We have an independent company that comes to the campus every year to audit our chemical storage,” CHS science department chair Don Freitas explans. “We have to make sure our substances are properly stored, and this includes the science classes, art classes and the auto shop.”
Regulations also require stored chemicals to be properly separated to avoid cross-contamination and tested before removal. Chemicals are supposed to be removed from CHS on schedule by the transportation of hazardous materials and CUSD’s department of maintenance, operations and transportation, or MOT.
“For the science department, we schedule a yearly pickup, and someone from the district comes to collect our waste,” Freitas adds.
Once the chemicals are removed from the classroom, they are no longer under the control and management of CHS. The science department has raised concerns over the chemical removal schedules and protocol of MOT, including the effort it takes to get them to the campus and the timeliness of their response time.
“MOT can be a little slow in picking up stored chemicals,” says district science teacher Joe Mello.
According to Paul, these issues are a matter of student and faculty safety, which is why they are so specifically outlined in California law.
“Expiration of the shelf life may cause a chemical to change properties and present hazards in the classroom,” Paul explains.
Improper hazardous waste removal and storage can have severe environmental impacts.
“The law for safely disposing of chemical and biological waste is important to protect the environment,” Freitas says. “Every high school has science classes that generate waste, and it adds up, so we need to make sure that it is properly disposed of.”
California Department of Education requirements also include specific training measures for staff and providing all necessary equipment for chemical removal. Moving forward, CHS teachers say they hope for more efficient removal of hazardous waste, but no timeline for any changes to the system has been provided by the district.