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Landfill accepts dangerous trash

Once a month, residents can drop off hazardous household chemicals at the landfill free of charge.

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001

Behind tables filled with pesticides and household cleaners, between small trailers containing cans of paint, Patty Jefferson stood in a yellow apron and plastic gloves directing traffic.

Thursday was monthly "amnesty day" at the county landfill, and in just three hours, about 138 residents dropped off bottles, cans and buckets filled with household chemicals that should not go down the drain or into the garbage. Jefferson, the county's hazardous materials coordinator, tried to group similar substances together.

"I have no idea what this is, and I have no idea what that is," Jefferson said, picking up an old pizza sauce jar filled with red liquid and a second jar containing clear liquid, both unmarked. "Would you please tell people to put labels on these things?"

Jefferson deals with some of the messiest, most dangerous kinds of trash. On good days, it's jars of primer brought in for safe disposal. On bad days, it's illegal trash heaps where gasoline or old paints have seeped into the ground.

As Jefferson told staff writer Bridget Hall Grumet, the county goes to extra lengths to put this trash in its proper place. Once a month, residents can drop off their hazardous household chemicals at the landfill free of charge. And if they dump the chemicals anywhere else, Jefferson said, they could face fines or even jail time.

Question: What happens to the materials you collect here?

Answer: The oil-based paints we pour into 55-gallon drums that are taken to a fuel-blending plant in Bartow. Flammable liquids are poured into different 55-gallon drums and also taken to Bartow for fuel-blending. The poisons are sorted into different types and kept in a storage locker until our hazardous waste transporter packs it in a drum and takes it to an out-of-state incinerator. The corrosives, the acids and bases such as pool chemicals, we neutralize ourselves. For aerosol cans, we puncture the can to remove the propellant, drain the product into a drum and recycle the can.

Q: Where would these materials go without this program?

A: In the woods, in the back yard, in the sewer, in the landfill, in the neighbor's yard, buried or left in people's sheds. We see a lot of paints left out in the woods, but I think a lot of the materials out there are coming into this program. We have a lot of informed residents making a conscientious effort out there. Last year we collected 22 tons of material through this program.

Q: How many illegal dump sites are you investigating now?

A: We have at least 35 sites with open files. They're sites with more than just a bag of garbage. You have to get a truck to pick up the load. We go through the garbage to see if we can identify the responsible party, and if we can, we make them clean it up. If their name pops up again (for illegal dumping), it becomes a criminal offense. In the past 10 years, we've had about 20-25 criminal cases. In a couple of them, people served jail time. But in most cases, they get a misdemeanor, pay a fine and court costs and do some community service.

Q: How large is your crew?

A: We work for the Public Safety Division and we have two full-time employees: the hazardous materials coordinator and the hazardous materials specialist. We also have some hazardous materials technicians from the volunteer firefighter service, and we work closely with Solid Waste Management. It becomes a team effort to keep what you see here out of the waste stream and the back woods.

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