For years, the city has offered residents very few options for getting rid of hazardous household waste like motor oil, drain cleaner, antifreeze and turpentine. Richmond has no program to recycle or dispose of these materials, so responsible residents unless they employ a disposal company have had no option but to take the stuff to Chesterfield, Henrico, or any of the neighboring counties.
They're not really supposed to do that. Chesterfield County, which operates a substantial and free hazmat collection program, checks vehicle registrations to make sure visitors are county residents. Nevertheless, says Barry Matthews, Chesterfield's waste and resource recovery manager, "We suspect that we do get household hazardous waste coming from city residents; however, there's no way to track that and find out."
In June, Council adopted an ordinance sponsored by Councilmembers Chris Hilbert and Kathy Graziano that allows the city to begin taking care of these materials. City code previously prohibited the collection of hazardous refuse.
Hilbert, who represents the 3rd District, says a few residents had called him with questions about what to do with certain chemicals. But, he says, "I think I'm more concerned about the ones that aren't asking."
Dumping dangerous waste outside or in regular trash cans wasn't a good solution, nor was pawning it off on the counties. "So maybe that's part of our regional cooperation," Hilbert says "not having to do that."
Disposing of toxic materials outside or in a landfill can pollute groundwater and cause other environmental problems. The Central Virginia Waste Management Authority occasionally holds collection days when city residents can bring hazardous wastes to a specified location for disposal. But these are infrequent, says authority spokeswoman Kelley Hope, and "they're not anything that should be used as an everyday relief for this kind of problem."
When people call the waste management authority to ask what to do with old chemicals, they are directed to call a private company for help. "Some people just said that paying to do this was not something they could do," Hope says.
The city of Richmond is now searching for two locations for its household hazardous waste program, which should be up and running by the end of the year. It will cost about $59,000 to set up and about $72,000 to operate each year. Melissa Scott Sinclair
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