Nick Flax, Penn State Extension: “We’re trying to be much more judicious about managing our watersheds.”
Photo by Stephen Wagner

by Stephen Wagner

Nick Flax from Penn State Extension wants to know how many growers have a pesticide storage area that looks “nice, neatly organized, everything alphabetically sorted, clean labels where you can read everything.” His example was anything but that. The facetious photo showed a pesticide shed that came as close to a human sty as possible. When you have old bottles and cans containing the dregs of chemicals, he said, “That’s where Chemsweep comes into play.”

The problem came about with the prohibitively high cost of hazardous waste disposal. The only alternative was to keep the chemicals instead of disposing of them. Many pesticides are phased out of use every year. Some are voluntarily recalled by the manufacturers; others are removed from the marketplace by the EPA; still others are replaced with newer or less toxic products. Chemsweep started in 1993 with a collection of 29,700 pounds of pesticides from six Pennsylvania counties. It provided a means of legally disposing of waste pesticides at little or no cost. The most recent five-year average is 78,000 pounds a year. To date, over two million pounds have been collected. Those figures, however, came with environmental liabilities. Long time storage in barns, sheds and other less than appropriate areas sparked concern, especially when those storage areas have the potential to contaminate water supplies.

“If you have a pond not far from your storage building and you get a leak in your roof, a bunch of your pesticides get wet,” Flax said. “That run-off can go right into your pond or local waterways … We’re trying to be much more judicious about managing our watersheds.

“There’s also the hidden costs of clean-up,” Flax pointed out. If you’re looking to retire or sell your business or sell some of your property and a potential buyer sees a pesticide mess in a storage facility, it may raise red flags. “The cost of remediating that is passed on to you unless you can very carefully keep them away from that area.” Leaky bags and broken bottles lead to exposure. The human health hazard component is a big factor in any argument against continued storage of potentially harmful chemicals.

“The Chemsweep service is available to anyone who has pesticides that are accumulating to excess that they want to get rid of,” said Flax. Chemsweep’s program comes with criteria. The pesticides eligible must be (or have been at one time) registered for sale and used in Pennsylvania. Amounts over a ton will be paid by the participant directly to the contractor at the price paid by the state’s Department of Agriculture. And the participant must be in a selected county, as it’s a rotating process around the commonwealth. “It is not available every year to every county,” he said.

If you’re serious about getting rid of your old chemicals, here is what you have to do:

  • Determine if your county has been selected to participate.
  • Complete the inventory form. These are mailed to private applicators, commercial application businesses and dealers in selected counties in December. They must be mailed back to the Department of Agriculture by Feb. 28.
  • With unknown chemicals, list them as “UNKNOWN,” even if they’re not in their original containers.
  • Estimate the quantity. Greater than five gallons to 50 pounds may be sampled to determine if they are pesticides. Less than five gallons/50 pounds are not analyzed and may be accepted at the discretion of the PDA.

An inspector reviews the inventory form and schedules a visit. Selections are scheduled and picked up by the contractor, who is accompanied by the same regional PDA inspector who verified your inventory form. “You need to put very explicit instructions for where all of your materials that are being picked up by Chemsweep are being stored. Inspectors don’t want to be running around your whole property trying to find the stuff,” Flax said.

Pesticides are gathered at each site. Everything is weighed and recorded; liquid and dry materials are separated. Similar items are packed in drums or yard boxes. Drums/boxes are labeled “Universal Waste” and, when loaded, are stacked in the truck – and away they go! Participants are given a receipt for pesticides taken for proper disposal. From this point on, the contractor takes ownership of the pesticides and assumes liability for their disposal. Participants have no responsibility from this point forward. Pesticides are burned at an EPA-approved incinerator. The remaining minimal waste is disposed of in a lined landfill.