If you took all the materials commonly found in your shop and placed them on the side of the road, you'd have to call the hazmat team to clean them up. Oil, solvents, antifreeze and other materials all need special handling, storage and disposal. Here's a brief guide to hazmat in your shop.
Motor oil. Used motor oil contains hydrocarbons and a variety of heavy metals. Although it’s generally not a controlled hazardous material, it is toxic to many plants and animals and is a major source of waterway pollution. In fact, the federal EPA now uses the slogan "You dump it, you drink it" to emphasize the harmful effects of pouring used motor oil into storm drains or other illegal disposal methods. Many areas have oil recycling programs with designated drop-off centers where individuals can bring their used motor oil in gallon jugs. Larger users can arrange to recycle oil through local companies. The recycled oil is then filtered and re-refined into a base stock for lubricating oils. Recycling is mandatory in some areas, and disposal in landfills is prohibited. Penalties for improper disposal may include fines or jail time.
Oil filters. Used oil filters should be removed, punctured and drained into appropriate containers while the oil is hot. Puncturing the filter housing or disabling the anti-siphon valve allows the filter to empty completely. Once drained, the filter may be recycled for recovery of the metal content or discarded in a landfill. Local regulations may apply, and departments should check with their refuse collection service or environmental protection agency on the proper disposal method.
Antifreeze. The most common antifreeze formulations contain ethylene glycol, which is poisonous. It’s especially hazardous to animals and small children, who are attracted by the bright color and the sweet smell. If ingested, antifreeze can result in heart failure, kidney damage and brain damage. If absorbed through the skin, it can damage internal organs. If inhaled, it can cause dizziness.
Store antifreeze in sealed containers in a cool, secure location. Small quantities of antifreeze and used engine coolant can be poured down the drain of buildings connected to municipal sewer systems because the digesters in those systems can handle it. Larger quantities should be removed by companies that specialize in industrial waste removal. Never dump antifreeze into septic tanks, storm drains or directly onto the ground. Treat all spills with an absorbent such as kitty litter, and dispose of the absorbent in a sealed bag in the trash.
Batteries. Most vehicle batteries contain sulfuric acid. Direct contact with sulfuric acid can cause severe chemical burns to clothing and the skin. If acid contacts the eyes, it can cause permanent eye damage or blindness. Always wear protective clothing, gloves and goggles with splash protection when handling or working near batteries. Transport batteries in a level, upright position using a four-wheel hand truck or carrying strap. The average vehicle battery also contains a large amount of lead. Lead is a major contaminant of the environment, and in many states it is illegal to dump lead batteries in landfills. Recycling is an environmentally and economically sound method of disposing of old batteries and is often required.
Other materials. Most shops regularly deal with a wide variety of other substances including automatic transmission fluid, greases, solvents, paints and diesel fuel. Some are flammable, some toxic, others relatively harmless. To understand the proper medical precautions, storage, handling and disposal methods required for these substances, shops should obtain the applicable material safety data sheets from the manufacturers. Each MSDS is short and easy to read. It will give you all the information you need to know and having it is usually required to comply with OSHA regulations. Post the MSDS in a conspicuous place and make sure everyone who may come in contact with the substances reads and understands the information on the sheets.
Like anything in life, knowing what the hazards are and what to do about them can help keep everyone safe. It's true for firefighting and it's equally true for dealing with hazmat in your shop.