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Safeguarding Education: The Imperative of Hazardous Waste Management in Educational Institutions

March 20, 2024

In the bustling corridors of educational institutions, a silent threat often lurks – hazardous waste. From laboratories to maintenance closets, schools generate a myriad of hazardous materials that, if not managed properly, can pose serious risks to the health and safety of students and staff alike. This blog delves into the compliance challenges facing educators, with examples, and highlights the solutions available to mitigate these risks.

  1. Safety on the Line: Consequences of Mismanaged Hazardous Waste in Schools
  2. Solutions to Hazardous Waste Threats in Schools
  3. Minimizing Risks, Maximizing Safety


Safety on the Line: Consequences of Mismanaged Hazardous Waste in Schools


In 2017, Walled Lake Central High School in Michigan faced a health crisis; one that is running rampant in schools across the United States. And it cost them. Since 2014, nine staffers at the school had developed cancer. Therefore, in late 2017, when several employees began reporting worsening sore throats and tingling tongues, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) intervened (Detroit Free Press, 2019).

MIOSHA inspected the school of 1,600 students and discovered a potential culprit: improper chemical storage in their science lab. Over 3,200 students and 200 staffers had attended the school in the last eight years, with a majority of them likely in contact with those chemicals at some point.

The school was immediately fined $2,100, ordered to fix the lab on their own dime, and likely faced an increase in insurance rates. Though officials are hopeful – and confident – that the correlation between the cancer and chemicals is random, this discovery is concerning, and the consequences are potentially widespread.

“If you went to most schools in the state, many of them are probably not storing their chemicals properly,” said Dr. Kenneth Rosenman, Chief of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Michigan State University (Detroit Free Press, 2019).

This is not confined to just schools in Michigan. One such school, located in Oregon, was fined $11,500 for “negligent” hazardous waste violations. Upon an investigation of the 120-student Oregon School of the Deaf, investigators discovered 22 containers of old, unused chemicals and pesticides (a total of 345 gallons), stored in a shed on the school campus (Statesman Journal, 2019).

Speaking of storage, let’s talk about expired hand sanitizer: the ticking time bomb. The Los Angeles Unified School District ordered over 325,000 gallons of hand sanitizer at the height of the pandemic, only using 200,000 gallons in the coming years. This left the district with 123,000 gallons of expired hand sanitizer; a notoriously volatile and flammable substance due to its alcohol content (CBS News Los Angeles, 2023).

This danger became a reality in early January when cases of sanitizer – not connected to the district – caught fire in downtown Los Angeles. Luckily, these chemicals were stored off school property in cargo containers, and no students or staff were harmed.

This problem is not strictly limited to K-12 education. Even major Universities, worth billions and armed with entire legal departments, can not escape these fines. In 2022, the University of Tennessee was one of those schools, having to hand over nearly $20,000 in “improper hazardous waste storage” fines (TNJN, 2022).


Solutions to Hazardous Waste Threats in Schools


Ensuring compliance with hazardous waste regulations is paramount for educational institutions to safeguard the health and safety of students, staff, and the surrounding community. The incidents at Walled Lake Central High School in Michigan, the Oregon School of the Deaf, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and even the University of Tennessee underscore the urgent need for proactive measures to address hazardous waste management. Here are some steps that educators can take to stay compliant and mitigate risks:

  1. Educate Staff: Provide comprehensive training to staff members on proper handling, storage, and disposal of hazardous materials. This includes understanding safety data sheets, chemical hygiene plans, and emergency procedures.
  2. Regular Inspections: Implement routine inspections of storage areas, laboratories, maintenance closets, and other facilities where hazardous materials are stored. Identify and address any issues promptly to prevent accidents or violations.
  3. Proper Storage: Ensure that all chemicals and hazardous materials are stored according to regulations. This includes using appropriate containers, labeling, and segregating incompatible substances to prevent accidents and spills.
  4. Inventory Management: Maintain an accurate inventory of hazardous materials, including tracking quantities, expiration dates, and usage. Dispose of expired or unused materials properly to prevent accumulation and potential hazards.
  5. Contract with Certified Disposal Companies: Partner with reputable hazardous waste disposal companies to safely and legally dispose of hazardous materials. Ensure that these companies are licensed, insured, and compliant with all relevant regulations.
  6. Stay Informed: Stay updated on relevant regulations, guidelines, and best practices for hazardous waste management. Participate in training programs, workshops, and industry events to enhance knowledge and skills in this area.
  7. Community Engagement: Engage with the local community, parents, and stakeholders to raise awareness about hazardous waste management and promote a culture of safety and responsibility.

By implementing these proactive measures and staying vigilant, educational institutions can minimize risks associated with hazardous waste and demonstrate their commitment to safety and compliance. Remember, compliance is not just a legal obligation but a safety responsibility, for both your students and your staff.


Minimizing Risks, Maximizing Safety


Effective hazardous waste management is essential for minimizing risks and maximizing safety within educational environments. Hazardous Waste Experts offer comprehensive waste management strategies tailored to the unique needs of schools. From proper identification and storage to safe disposal, these solutions ensure the protection of students, faculty, and staff. By partnering with Hazardous Waste Experts, schools can mitigate risks and create safer learning environments.

Disposal of hazardous waste doesn’t have to be painful.