Managing Chemical Waste  |  print version of this document 

Identifying Hazardous Wastes In Your Lab

Laboratory personnel should treat all waste chemical solids, liquids, or containerized gases as hazardous wastes unless a specific chemical waste has been confirmed to be a non-hazardous waste by VEHS. A laboratory chemical becomes a "waste" when you no longer intend to use it, regardless of whether or not it has been used or contaminated. Also, spilled chemicals and absorbent materials used to clean the spill should be disposed of as hazardous waste. Please note that the term "chemical" includes items containing chemicals such as acrylamide gels, paints, solvents, degreasers, glues, varnishes, and disinfectants, in addition to stock chemicals and chemical solutions used in laboratory processes.

Additional Information on the Definition of Hazardous Waste

To ensure consistency with the hazardous waste determination process, laboratories should treat all waste chemicals as hazardous waste and allow VEHS to make the final determination as stated above. However, a more complete description of the hazardous waste determination process is provided here for informational purposes.

Hazardous wastes are defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) as waste solids, liquids, or containerized gases that meet the definition of a characteristic or listed hazardous waste. Each hazardous waste type is described in detail below.

Characteristic Hazardous Wastes

Waste solids, liquids, or containerized gases that exhibit any of the following characteristics are defined as characteristic hazardous wastes: 1) Ignitability; 2) Corrosivity; 3) Reactivity; or 4) Toxicity.  A detailed discussion of characteristic waste is available here.

Listed Hazardous Wastes

The USEPA has already predetermined that certain wastes are hazardous and these hazardous wastes have been incorporated into published lists. The hazardous waste lists are included on the VEHS website.

  • K-Listed Hazardous Wastes: K-listed hazardous wastes are source-specific wastes that are generated by specific industries such as iron and steel production facilities. K-listed hazardous wastes are not likely to be found in a laboratory.
  • F-Listed Hazardous Wastes: F-listed hazardous wastes are non-specific source wastes that are generated by particular industrial processes that can occur in various industries. Industrial processes that generate F-listed hazardous wastes include wood preservation, electroplating and other metal finishing processes, and processes that generate waste solvents.
  • P- and U-Listed Hazardous Wastes: The P- and U-listed hazardous wastes are pure and commercial grade formulations of specific unused chemicals that are considered wastes. Unused chemicals may be considered wastes because they are no longer needed, they are spilled, or they are off-specification. 

Acutely Toxic Hazardous Wastes

Certain listed hazardous wastes are considered to be acutely toxic to human health and the environment and are further defined as "acute hazardous wastes." Acute hazardous wastes include F-, K-, and P-listed hazardous wastes described above.

Listed Hazardous Wastes in Laboratories

F-, P-, and U-listed hazardous wastes are the most likely listed hazardous wastes to be found in laboratories. F-listed hazardous wastes may be found in laboratories where electroplating or metal finishing operations are conducted that utilize solutions containing cyanides. Other F-listed wastes that may be found in laboratories include the following solvents or mixtures containing 10 percent or more of the solvent when spent:

Tetrachloroethylene Trichloroethylene 1,1,1-trichloroethane 1,1,2-trichloroethane Chlorinated fluorocarbons
Ortho-dichlorobenzene Trichlorofluoromethane Methylene chloride Carbon tetrachloride Cresols
2-nitropropane Cresylic acid Nitrobenzene Toluene Methyl ethyl ketone
Carbon disulfide Isobutanol Pyridine Benzene 2-ethoxyethanol
Xylene Acetone Ethyl acetate Ethyl benzene Ethyl ether
Methyl isobutyl ketone n-Butyl alcohol Cyclohexanone Methanol  

There are over 300 U-listed hazardous wastes. A complete list is available on the U-listed waste page. The U-listed hazardous wastes most commonly found in laboratories include the following:

Acetaldehyde   2-Propanone Acetone Acetonitrile
Acetophenone Acrylamide Acrylonitrile Aniline Benzene
1-Butanol Chlorobenzene Chloroform o-Chlorophenol Cresol
Cyclohexane Cyclohexanone o-Dichlorobenzene Ethylene dichloride 1,2-Dichloroethylene
Methylene chloride 2,4-Dichlorophenol 1,4-Dioxane Ethyl acetate Ethyl ether
Trichloromonofluoromethane Formaldehyde Formic acid Hydrazine Isobutyl alcohol
Lead acetate Mercury Methanol Methyl ethyl ketone Methyl isobutyl ketone
Methyl ethyl ketone peroxide Methyl methacrylate Naphthalene Phenol Resorcinol
1,1,1,2-Tetrachloroethane 1,1,2,2-Tetrachloroethane Tetrachloroethylene Carbon tetrachloride Tetrahydrofuran
Thallium acetate Thiourea Toluene Methyl chloroform Trichloroethylene

There are over 100 P-listed hazardous wastes.  A complete list is available on the P-listed waste page. The P-listed hazardous wastes most commonly found in laboratories include the following:

Acrolein Allyl alcohol Ammonium vanadate Arsenic acid Brucine
Carbon disulfide Chloroacetaldehyde Chloroaniline Cyanides Diisopropylfluorophosphate
2,4-Dinitrophenol p-Nitroaniline Phosgene Potassium cyanide Sodium azide
Sodium cyanide Thallium oxide Vanadium pentoxide    

Quick Facts About Identification of Hazardous Wastes

  • Treat all waste chemical solids, liquids, and containerized gases as hazardous waste.
  • Acute hazardous wastes are F-, K-, and P-listed hazardous wastes.