Wednesday, June 3, 2009

trying to be a good environmental citizen

Twelve and a half years ago our region suffered a destructive mid-winter snow and ice storm that knocked out power to a wide area for three days. It was our first winter in our house and our only alternative source of heat was an open fire place. It kept us from freezing, but it was a very unpleasant three days. So early the next fall we invested in a large size kerosene heater and a five gallon drum of kerosene.

However, we did not have another winter time power outage until this year, which lasted two days, but they were unseasonably warm days despite being in February, and we only needed the fireplace in the evening to take off the chill. So here we are twelve years later with five gallons of kerosene which have taken on moisture and gone bad, and cannot be safely burned in our kerosene heater.

I started calling all over our county trying to find someone who would accept kerosene for environmentally sound disposal. Everyone was very quick to say "no" -- some even vehemently, including the major distributor of kerosene in the area. I got discouraged and stopped searching for a while.

Last week, I decided to try the web, and ended up with Kentucky's state department of hazardous waste. I sent an e-mail, and got a quick response telling me that they would refer me to the regional hazardous waste office. Two days later, I got an informative e-mail from the regional office. The regional official said that "most" places that accept used motor oil will also accept kerosene, and he provided me a list with phone numbers of four or five locations within 40 miles of my home that accepted motor oil. I called all of them and each of them said, in no uncertain terms "NO," they only accept used motor oil, and would not accept kerosene.

One person I talked to suggested that I use the kerosene up by burning brush on my property. [First I don't have that much brush, and second we try to leave brush in place to provide habitat for wild critters.]

Back, by e-mail, to my regional office. The response was quick and informative -- kerosene can be disposed of in a properly contained landfill, but only after it is "solidified" by mixing it with something like kitty litter, and leaving it open to the air to evaporate. Only when it is totally dry can you dispose of it, and only in properly lined and sealed landfill. Since I am not yet certain we have one of those, I'm still not certain whether I will be able to dispose of my ancient and contaminated kerosene.

The point of my narrative is this: how can citizens be the solution and act in environmentally responsible ways with toxic wastes if there is no one within any reasonable travel distance who will accept those wastes? I now have at least a smidgen more sympathy for the local oil distribution company that has just been stacking old diesel fuel tanks on an empty lot -- with the not too unexpected outcome of leakage into the regional water supply.


E. R. Dunhill said...

Herein lies the weakness of the landfill as a means of waste disposal. I've addressed a similar issue in my work for my city government. Compact fluorescent lamps, like your kerosene, are hazardous waste that many people are forced to either accumulate or dispose of through environmentally harmful means. In the CFL case, fortunately, there are a number of avenues to address the problem. As for the kerosene, I don't have a great solution.
To my thinking, the longterm answer is that we need to untrain people to think of "trash" as a catch-all, and instead understand that different wastes require different disposal, recycling, or treatment (just like you're doing by trying to properly get rid of your kerosene). And, clearly, we need our waste-handlers to accomodate those different requirements.
In answerign the question more pragmatically, I think you may have a lifetime supply of fuel for a multi-fuel lantern. Also, I think people still use kerosene to degrease engines, bike/motorcycle chains. If you have service shop nearby, they might be willing to take it.
If you want to play mad-scientist, there may be an option to turn the kerosene into something useful. If anything comes to mind, I'll post it here.

Chris Crawford said...

You could "flare off" the kerosene with a simple wick-burner consisting of a closed container with a wick penetrating the container wall. Kerosene has low volatility but wicks readily. Light the wick and it will burn readily (although you want a wick that won't burn, something like (shudder) asbestos. Depending on how big a flame you use, it might take a few months to burn it off.

Of course, kerosene smells, so no matter what, you'll have that issue.

You might also use it to soak wood to get a fire started. Again, the smell problem could be significant.

Finally, it might be possible to sieve out the water. After all, kerosene and water are immiscible, so it might be possible to get the water out with a fine paper filter -- perhaps one of the 20 micron filters used to filter domestic water.

Sorry I've been AWOL, my business has been pretty frantic for the last two months. I hope to get something together in the next few weeks.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Maybe the local fire department would take it for brush-fire exercises or other training.

Pat Jenkins said...

next time sue "bottle it up" and ship it our way!! i can find a winter use for it!!!