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Management of Paint and Paint Related Materials

MARCH 2004


Many of us use paints (including stains) periodically as part of our work here at Northeastern University. Most paints fall into one of two categories: water-based or oil-based. Water-based formulas are sometimes referred to as latex, vinyl, or acrylic. Oil-based formulas are sometimes referred to as alkyd, polyurethane, or varnish. Paints may be regulated as a “hazardous waste” when disposed, depending on the formulation. This fact sheet provides information about how to correctly manage paints and associated thinners.

What’s Regulated.
Oil-based paints (including stains) are regulated due to their flammability and the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as xylene and toluene. Water-based paints are generally not regulated since they are nonflammable. However, paints (both water-based and oil-based) and stains that contain certain metallic pigments or fortifiers are regulated as a hazardous waste when disposed. These regulated metals include the following: cadmium, chromium, lead, silver, barium, mercury, arsenic, and selenium. Information concerning the presence of regulated materials and the type of formulation can be obtained from the label, Material Safety Data Sheet, or manufacturer. Aerosol cans containing paint and other materials are also regulated as a hazardous waste when disposed. This can be due to the oil-based paints in the can, certain chemical mixtures, or the propellants used to discharge them.

Water-based Paint.
Disposal of water-based paints that do not contain regulated metals can be accomplished by spreading the paint on a piece of plastic or cardboard (no thicker than one inch) and allowing it to air dry. For drying purposes, the paint should be dried in a well-ventilated area that is protected from rain. When completely dry, it can be disposed in the normal trash. Never place wet paint in the trash; this is a violation of state regulations. When washing paint brushes, pans, and related materials that have been used with water-based paint, always use a drain that is connected to the sanitary sewer. Never wash paints to the storm sewer.

Oil-Based Paint.
Where possible, substitute water-based paint for oil-based paint. If oil-based paint must be used, all wastes must be managed appropriately. Excess oil-based paints, since they contain VOCs, cannot be dried but must be collected by Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S). If paint cans have missing or deteriorated labels, you must replace them with your own label(s). Include manufacturer, product name, product number and chemical constituents. Never discharge any oil-based paint or residuals down the drain.

Paint Thinners.
Used paint thinners must be collected and disposed via EH&S. Collect used thinners in metal cans or glass bottles with a tight fitting lid and label as “hazardous waste” as detailed below. Thinners can be recycled by placing them in a covered container and allowing the paint solids to settle for several weeks. After the solids have settled, the clear supernatant can be poured off and reused. The remaining solids must be disposed via EH&S. Never discharge any paint thinners or residuals down the drain.

Aerosol Cans.
Full or partially full aerosol cans must be collected and disposed via EH&S. Cans that have been emptied and contain no residual materials or pressure are not regulated as hazardous wastes and can be put into the trash. If the cans do not meet these criteria, they remain a hazardous waste subject to regulation.

Scheduling Disposal.
Hazardous wastes including oil-based paints, thinners and aerosol cans, are currently picked-up from studios and other locations every Wednesday for those that have called our office (x2769) to be put on a list. Remember your waste can not be picked-up unless you call our office (x2769) and give details with your name, phone number, location, and quantity and type of hazardous waste you have ready for disposal. In addition to calling, you can request hazardous waste to be picked-up through an on-line Hazardous Waste Disposal Request Form available in the Hazardous Waste Management section of EH&S’s web site. Filled waste must be removed from the studio within three days so it is important that you contact us once your container(s) become full.

Appropriate Container.
All waste must be put into appropriate containers such as glass bottles, plastic containers, or metal containers. Please also note that containers must have secure tops and be compatible with the waste(s) they are holding. Secure tops must be kept on containers at all times unless adding or removing waste.

All wastes that are hazardous must be clearly identified as “hazardous waste” on the label. In addition, the date when the waste container was filled, the physical hazards of the waste (e.g. ignitable), as well as an identification of the chemicals or chemical mixtures, must all be put on the label. Hazardous waste disposal labels are available through EH&S and should be used when declaring a material a hazardous waste. Please call in advance for labels so they can be sent to you via University mail prior to the scheduled pick-up.

Designated Satellite Accumulation Area.
An appropriate designated “Satellite Accumulation Area” must be established to accumulate or store all hazardous waste. This area can be established on a bench top, shelving unit or cabinet. It is recommended that hazardous waste should not be stored on the floor unless there is secondary containment, and they are away from exits and egresses. If a leak of hazardous waste could lead to a release into a floor drain or sink, then secondary containment will be required in all cases. EH&S has gray tubs available for use as secondary containment and which are helpful in setting up hazardous waste satellite accumulation areas. These areas must be inspected by the generator of the waste on a weekly basis. A person(s) should be assigned to make these inspections and it is recommended that a log be kept to document them.

Emergency Spill Responses.
Steven Brehio and John Price (x2769 – day or x3333 – 24 hour coverage) are Emergency Coordinators for the University and must be contacted in the event of a major (a threat to public health, safety or the environment) spill or other emergency. Fire extinguishers are located in each studio and fire alarms are located in hallways and and should be used as necessary. The Boston Fire Department can be reached by calling the Northeastern University Public Safety Division emergency number at x3333. Any large or dangerous spills that are beyond the studios workers ability to handle it, or is a hazard to health, safety or the environment, must not be handled by untrained personnel. In such a situation, the University’s emergency number (x3333) should be called, so appropriate emergency spill response can be made. This number is posted where ever hazardous wastes are accumulated in the studio. If it appears necessary that the building should be evacuated because of the extent of the spill, then the fire alarm should also be pulled. During such an emergency please make sure you are available, so you may report information on the nature of the spill to emergency responders. If laboratory workers handle a small spill they should consult with EH&S to confirm whether the material recovered should be considered a hazardous waste.

All employees involved in the generation or management of hazardous waste are required to be appropriately trained. This training is required to take place within six months of your hire and annually thereafter. Upcoming training dates are posted in the training section of the EH&S web site. In addition to this formal training, EH&S has a hazardous waste training slide show that you can view on the Hazardous Waste Management section of this Web Site.

Waste Minimization.
The U.S. Congress has made waste minimization a national policy and goal of each waste generator. You as a user of oil-based paints, thinners and aerosol cans, have the responsibility to minimize the waste you generate. Waste minimization has benefits such as decreasing your exposure to hazardous substances, protection of the environment, and the overall reduction in the cost of disposal which frequently can exceed the original cost of your materials by 4 to 20 times. Waste minimization includes such things as changing procedures, reducing scale and substituting materials. In addition, if you have paints that you no longer have a use for and feel it could be recycled within the University, please contact EH&S. A Chemical Recycling Redistribution List, is now available on the Hazardous Waste Management section of the EH&S Web Site, to allow materials to be reused across campus rather than being disposed of as hazardous waste.

If you have any questions or would like to schedule disposal of your paint or hazardous waste, please contact the Office of Environmental Health and Safety at x2769. The EH&S web site is located at:

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