Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Household Hazardous Waste Disposal in Benton County, Oregon

Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Household Hazardous Waste Disposal in Benton County, Oregon

Article excerpt

Every year, the United States produces at least 236 million metric tons of hazardous waste. The safe disposal of this waste, necessary to protect human health and the environment, is an enormous technological and economic challenge (1). The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), enacted in 1976, and the Hazardous and Soil Waste Amendments to RCRA, passed in 1984, established a comprehensive regulatory program for the generation, transport, storage and disposal of commercial quantities of hazardous wastes.

Commonly used household items such as household cleaners, automotive products, paint products, wood preservatives and pesticides often meet the RCRA definition of hazardous waste and, therefore, may endanger human health and degrade environmental quality if incorrectly disposed (2). Because 0.3% to 0.5% of municipal solid waste is hazardous waste from households (3), significant quantities of these household hazardous wastes (HHW) can be generated by communities. For example, a city with a population of 40,000, having 14,000 households, could produce approximately 43.7 metric tons of HHW each year.

Household waste is defined by RCRA as "any material (including garbage, trash and sanitary waste in septic tanks) derived from households including single and multiple residences, hotels and motels, bunkhouses, ranger stations, crew quarters, campgrounds, picnic grounds and day-use recreation areas." It is exempt from regulatory control (4); therefore, HHW may enter disposal systems such as landfills and sewage facilities that are not designed to handle hazardous materials. In the early 1980s, environmentally concerned citizens became increasingly aware that current disposal methods for household hazardous waste did not ensure the protection of public health or the environment (5). Programs giving citizens a safe option for disposing of these wastes were designed and implemented across the country. The majority of these activities were community "collection days," which allowed residents to dispose of HHW safely and free of charge by bringing these wastes to a site where the wastes were collected and handled by hazardous waste disposal companies. In some communities, permanent collection sites were opened to provide regular access to a safe disposal system.

The objective of this study was to investigate household hazardous waste disposal in Benton County, Oregon. Specifically, the study was designed to assess current and recent disposal practices, plan for future HHW disposal programs, and help formulate educational and information resource strategies that foster the safe disposal of hazardous household wastes. Data also were obtained regarding respondents' knowledge of the present community recycling program.


The study was conducted among households in Benton County, Oregon (pop. 70,811) (6) from January through April 1991. The county includes the city of Corvallis (pop. 44,749), the smaller cities of Philomath and Monroe, and a substantial rural population.

A random digit dialing system (7, 8) was used to obtain a random sample of Benton County residents aged 18 years or older. (Approximately 95 percent of Benton County households have a telephone |9~). Specifically, review of current telephone directories revealed that 14 telephone prefixes served the geographical boundaries of Benton County. A random four-digit number (10) was joined to each prefix, forming a set of 14 complete telephone numbers. Each number in a set was called in succession; when completed, a new set was drawn and called. To select a respondent, the interviewer asked to speak to the adult in the household with the most recent birthday. The sample size (100 completed interviews) was determined in part by statistical considerations (interviewing enough participants to yield reasonably precise estimates of the responses to the study questions) and in part by logistical considerations, particularly the cost of the study. …

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