Hazardous Waste

Image from thebeautybrains.com.

I got really annoyed this morning seeing a discarded bottle of antifreeze in a parking ramp. I’m not going to bust out the crying Indian line – even though I have more American Indian in my blood than Iron Eyes Cody (for the record, a Sicilian) – but antifreeze is super nasty stuff. It used to smell sweeter, and kids would drink it and die. It is toxic, making it hazardous waste.

Many household items are hazardous waste, and it is an important part of being a “green” consumer to understand what is hazardous and what is non-hazardous. The EPA started setting down rules in 1974 in the RCRA legislation (depending on what level of government you work in, you might pronounce that “rick-ra” or “wreck-ra”) – the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act – defining what is hazardous waste requiring special handling and disposal. It’s sort of surprising how many common items are hazardous:

– batteries
– automotive fluids, including oil and antifreeze
– bleach
– paint
– dran-o

There is a rhyme or reason to this: anything flammable, corrosive, or toxic/carcinogenic is hazardous. Governments split it up into “listed” or “characteristic” hazardous waste, but “listed” wastes are mostly things that industries will have to worry about – solvents, etc.

Apart from being a Grammy-winning hit song by Britney Spears, a “toxic” label is one clue that a product is hazardous. If it can poison you, you don’t want your garbage person dealing with it. Take it to your local county household hazardous waste disposal site.

If a product is corrosive or flammable (like paint or oil), it is also considered hazardous. Again. Don’t throw it in the trash. Take it to your local county household hazardous waste disposal site.

Find out more from the EPA about how to avoid harmful substances.



  1. brutus said

    Heya. Nice blog.

    Funny thing about the antifreeze, though. The active ingredient, ethylene glycol, is actually not toxic of its self. Chemically, it looks like an ethanol molecule with an extra hydroxyl group hanging off the other end.

    So when someone drinks it, initially things are ok. The kidneys start excreting the stuff, and all is well…But then the liver kicks in, and treats the molecule like it would Ethanol. The same enzyme gets to work, ethanol dehydrogenase. And the molecule gets oxidised, via some intermediates, into oxalic acid. Which clogs the kidneys, suppresses breathing, and does a host of other nasty things.

    This is the great irony. Its called lethal synthesis, when the body’s own detox pathway makes the problem, rather than the molecule itself.

    The really hilarious part about this is the cure. You have to keep the enzyme busy so that the antifreeze gets excreted and not oxidized. You must overwhelm the body’s supply of ethanol dehydrogenase enzyme with its intended substrate. Which means getting drunk! Smashed, and staying that way a good while.

    The trouble starts when some staunch Christian parents bring in a wee little child that has taken antifreeze, and the doctor tries to give them whiskey. Has to be done, but the parents think the doctor is a quack!

    Antifreeze is still as sweet as ever, BTW. Tastes really good, as I found out one day starting a siphon. I can understand how kids can drink it, and enjoy it too. It also often is made a nice bright Cool-aid color for some reason.

    It is amazing though that every fluid that comes out of a car is hazardous to life. They are truly an awful machine.

    Be well,


  2. Jenn said

    Hey, thanks for the comment! That’s bizarre and horrifying and fascinating re: ethylene glycol.. and its treatment.

    Cars really are amazing. I second that your thoughts entirely – cars are hazardous machines. I watched mine today, belching exhaust, and wondered who *really* thought these contraptions were a good idea.

    Stay warm, and stay away from getting more antifreeze in your mouth,


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