By Cindy Kerschner
The Times News, © 2003

April 26, 2003

Spring is here! Time to clean out those overcrowded basements. The junk under the sink and in the attic has to go. Wouldn’t it be nice to have space in the garage to park the car?

Out with old paint, oily rags and that bottle of stuff you forgot what it was used for.

But without a hazardous waste program, many of these items wind up in our landfills. The average household produces 100 pounds of hazardous household waste. Many of these substances can be recycled or made less harmful. Many cannot.

According to Duane Dellecker, director at the Carbon County Office of Solid Waste, mercury is the major issue. And it comes from a little known source.

“One of the biggest problems in the landfills today is mercury,” Duane states, ” and a leading cause is fluorescent light bulbs. Everybody has them. Home lights, shop lights, these fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, and right now there is no way to dispose of them.”

What threat does this pose to our groundwater?

“The landfills have no way of processing mercury. They can trap and collect other hazardous waste such as pesticides or turpentine, but mercury can leach into waterways.” Duane insists the problem is two-fold. First, the state needs to enforce mandates set up by the EPA and second, the public needs to be educated on the facts about mercury in fluorescent bulbs.

In 1997, the U. S. Department of Environmental Protection reclassified fluorescent bulbs from hazardous waste to “Universal Waste” under the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act. Universal Wastes are usually items thrown into the trash by households and small businesses. This classification allows waste management to recycle items whenever possible.

As of now, 87 percent of old fluorescent bulbs go to our landfills. Although this figure is okay by federal standards, Pennsylvania laws are tougher. In 2000, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection banned fluorescent tubes from entering municipal landfills. Newer energy efficient fluorescents are still acceptable.

In 2002, Pennsylvania became one of four states working with manufacturers and the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers to develop a drum top-crushing device to safely recycle old bulbs. This is an important step in keeping mercury from leaching into groundwater.

Presently oil and antifreeze can be recycled, latex paint if opened and let to dry can be trashed, but everything else, (including broken fluorescents) needs to be handpicked and disposed of from our municipal landfills. Newer energy efficient fluorescents are still acceptable.

For more information on recycling and disposing of hazardous waste, go to the EPA website at