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Subject: Discarding solvents

Discarding solvents

From: Tom Dixon <tom.dixon>
Date: Monday, May 22, 2000
Lynn Campbell <lynn.campbell [at] ccc__govt__nz> writes

>We are planning to build a new provincial art museum for Canterbury
>New Zealand and we have concerns regarding special drain/waste traps
>for the removal of solvents used in conservation labs. Has anyone
>any recommendations?

You should be able to get current information from your local
university chemistry department for applicable regulatory standards.
In our situation, we have specified in our new conservation labs
standard domestic quality stainless steel sinks and we educate our
conservators not to use solvents anywhere near drains- it just isn't
appropriate.  Down the drain means, ultimately, back into the
natural waterways and a little bit of the wrong solvent or chemical
can do a lot of damage to the sewage treatment facilities on its way
through as well as poisoning the planet once its past the
facilities.  The only solvents or chemicals I can think of that you
could introduce to the waste system of a building would be small
quantities of weak mixtures with water of alcohol, ammonia or soap.
Anything flammable or poisonous should not go in the drain and
drains that people think will "trap" the solvents encourage them to
rely on an unreliable system.

Therefore, I argue, make it clear to staff they need to reduce
solvent and chemical use to a minimum, collect and separate all used
solvents and chemicals in appropriate containers and dispose of them
properly through (in our case, licensed) chemical waste disposal
contractors. They will advise you on the categories of separation
and provide appropriate containers.  This is a pest of a thing to
do, but I'm shocked at how much my insisting on this has reduced my
department's use of these things in the past few years.  Our biggest
use of solvents now is probably for varnish removal on paintings and
objects and we dispose of the small amounts of organic solvents
remaining on swabs by letting them evaporate in glass trays in the
fume cupboard and then putting the dried swabs in sealed plastic
bags for disposal in the normal garbage stream.  We haven't been
allowed to burn such things in years- though that was a common
method of disposal in the dim distant past.

The days of use of masses of chemicals or solvents should truly be
over- among other reasons, the stuff is so expensive now days.  If
you are in a situation of having to do mass treatments with
solvents, talk to the supplier about providing the solvent then
buying it back for recycling (think of it as rent-a-molecule).  I
understand for big users, this is becoming available quickly and
seems to be the future in a lot of areas.

Tom Dixon
Chief Conservator
National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne Australia

                  Conservation DistList Instance 13:59
                  Distributed: Thursday, May 25, 2000
                       Message Id: cdl-13-59-003
Received on Monday, 22 May, 2000

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