Jon Tulman of Washtenaw County Water Resource Commissioner’s office (WCWRC) recently spoke at Dexter Rotary’s weekly breakfast on the reduction and disposal of toxins in the home.
WCWRC focuses on making the environment safer with the mission “to provide for the health, safety and welfare of Washtenaw County citizens and the protection of surface water and the environment and to promote the long-term environmental and economic sustainability of Washtenaw County by providing storm water management, flood control, development review and water quality programs.”
Jon’s department specifically handles Washtenaw County concerns such as hazardous household waste, community clean-up days, lake management, solid waste planning, and school recycling programs.
When it comes to household hazardous waste disposal, a guiding principle of Jon’s department is
Everything must go somewhere.
Mercury is one example of a toxic substance that is widely used in a variety of ways: thermometers, thermostats, blood pressure gauges, watch batteries, teeth fillings, fluorescent lights, and nuclear weapons to name a few.
Jon says, “There are over 1,000 patents for mercury. It is an extremely useful material. But it’s got a problem. Mercury is a neurotoxin. It literally interferes with your brain. Back in England they used mercury to cure the felt used to make hats. Something was going wrong with the people who worked in this industry. People thought it was insanity. That’s the emergence of the ‘Mad Hatter’.”
Once released into the environment, mercury is impossible to get out and is now widely dispersed throughout the entire planet. During his prior work in Wisconsin with hazardous waste, mercury was found in 100% of the state’s lakes and rivers. “The same is true of Michigan,” Jon told the Rotarians, “and probably every state now. This means all the fish in those waters have mercury too.”
True to Jon’s first guiding principle, mercury had to go somewhere and now it is found everywhere. Jon’s department looks to keep such hazardous waste contained, to control the “somewhere” in which it will go.
Jon has also has an addendum to that first principle:
That which is environmentally bad tends to be persistently bad.
For example, DDT was banned in the United States back in 1972 but it is still found in 85% of Americans,” Jon says. “I took in a gallon of DDT just two weeks ago. DDT is still manufactured in the U.S. but it just isn’t used here.”
Another example is lead which was banned in paint in 1978 and from gasoline in 1996. In 2010, 147,762 children in Michigan were tested for lead in their blood: 9,013 (6.1%) had elevated levels. Five years later in 2015, 122,042 children were tested for blood lead: 4,266 (3.5%) had elevated levels.
Even with all of the dangers, Jon maintains that “without chemicals, life itself would be impossible.” The key is in the handling, more specifically the disposal of hazardous materials, which is the key and that is the focus of the Home Toxins Program he oversees.
Located at just north of I-94 at 705 N. Zeeb Rd. in the county complex is the drop-off station where Washtenaw County residents can bring toxic substances for proper disposal. Items accepted include:
- Acids & bases
- Aerosol cans
- Asphalt and roofing tar
- Brake & transmission fluid
- Car batteries
- Cleaners & polishes
- Compact fluorescents
- Fire extinguishers
- Flammables such as gas, kerosene, and paint
- Floor wax/stripper
- Fluorescent tubes & ballasts
- Home repair products – glues, caulks, etc.
- Household batteries
- Mercury – thermometers, thermostats, etc.
- Motor oils, anti freeze and similar products
- Nail polish & polish remover
- Paint (latex & oil)
- Photography chemicals
- Propane/butane tanks up to 20#
- Stains & varnishes
- Smoke detectors
- Vegetable oil
- Wood preservatives
Drop-off times are the first three Saturdays of the month, April through November, with hours 9 a.m. to 12 noon. For the winter months a call ahead is necessary.
In 2017, 9,558 Washtenaw County residents used Jon’s department to dispose of their household hazardous waste for a total of 452,222 pounds of toxins. Participation rate for the County is 6.9% of households. Washtenaw County ranks second highest in Michigan for household hazardous waste disposal behind Kalamazoo County at a whopping 12.1%.
Funding for the Home Toxins Program comes from a variety of sources, none of which are taxes.
- Royalty payments from Arbor Hills Landfill
- Reimbursement grants
- Donations from drop-off days and Community Clean-Up Days
- Resale of commodities
- Offsets to expenses
Jon encourages Washtenaw County residents to bring their products in. It’s not just proper disposal, but a lot of the items can be recycled. “The nice thing about batteries is that they are 100% recyclable,” he says. “Paint can be resold to charitable organizations. Aerosol cans are a high-quality steel that can be recycled. Americans threw out enough aerosol cans last year that you could build 35,000 cars.”
Jon commended the recycling program in Dexter Schools. “Dexter is the one school district in the county that is absolutely doing it right. And I want them to be a model for the rest of the county.”
“Effective April, 2018, all 8 Dexter schools began participating in the recycling program. Cornerstone Elementary was in the program all school year (ten months) and Mill Creek Middle was in for early fall and then spring (five months). The other 6 schools participated for 3 months. The approximate number of students and adults in these buildings is 3,905. During this time period, the schools recycled 36,155 pounds of office paper, metal cans and plastic bottles.”
“By paying attention to collection data, e.g., measuring how much material is placed in the various dumpsters, the school district this spring was able to reduce trash collection services at 4 schools ranging from 25% – 67%.”
If you would like to learn more about Washtenaw County Home Toxin Program, you can visit their website at https://www.washtenaw.org/287/Home-Toxics-Paint-Oil-Pesticides-more