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Geneva Disposal of Nonhazardous Laboratory Waste

Geneva Experiment Station chemical drain disposal procedure

Disposal of non-hazardous lab waste down the sanitary sewer

Research and other operations at Cornell University New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) in Geneva, NY, generate chemical waste requiring disposal. Some of these chemicals can be recycled in the chemical surplus program to be reused by other members of the Cornell community, while other chemicals are classified as hazardous waste thus specific rules must be followed, before disposal, to comply with federal, state, and local regulations.

This policy establishes requirements and limitations regarding the disposal of chemicals into campus laboratory drain systems. The policy is based mainly on sewer use restrictions for disposal to the sanitary sewer system serving the NYSAES, which terminates at the City of Geneva Marsh Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant. Limitations differ for locations that are not connected to the Geneva sanitary sewer system (such as laboratories in Ithaca, New York City, Hudson Valley Lab, Cornell Lake Erie Research & Extension Lab, or other locations) and additional prohibitions apply to any drain that terminates at a local on-site system (septic and leach field or similar). Do not dispose of any chemicals into a storm sewer, on the ground, or similar untreated disposal options. Contact your local EHS representative for guidance in areas outside of the Geneva Station.

Any questions regarding the disposal of chemicals generated in Station operations (labs, shops, maintenance, construction, farms, building care, etc) should be directed to Environment, Health and Safety at (607) 255-8200 or


Within individual work areas and laboratories, authorization for specific operations, delineation of appropriate safety procedures, and instruction about these procedures are the responsibility of the Principal Investigators and/or supervisors. This includes appropriate chemical waste disposal practices and accidental discharges.

It is the responsibility of each Cornell employee to ensure that chemical waste generated from their activities is disposed of properly. Some materials may be safely disposed of in the sanitary sewer while most cannot due to potential damage to human health, the environment, or the functioning of the Geneva municipal wastewater treatment plant.

Prohibited from drain disposal

Certain classes of chemicals cannot be poured down the drain - they must be collected and disposed of as hazardous waste using the Cornell University NYSAES hazardous chemical waste procedures. If you have questions regarding the proper collection and disposal of aqueous solutions, low concentrations, or small volumes of chemicals within the categories below, contact Environment, Health, and Safety at (607) 255-8200 or See the City of Geneva Code specific discharge prohibitions in City Code section 277-37 for more information.

The following classes of chemicals are prohibited from drain disposal:

  • Dilution or increasing the use of process water is prohibited as a means of meeting drain disposal restrictions
  • Any flammable liquids with a flashpoint less than 140 degrees F – including but not limited to any quantity of gasoline, kerosene, naphtha, benzene, toluene, xylene, fuel oil, ethers, ketones, aldehydes, chlorates, perchlorates, bromates, carbides, hydrides, and sulfides. This does not include aqueous solutions of these compounds that have a flashpoint greater than 140 degrees F
  • Explosive chemicals
  • Any liquids, solids, or gases that pose a fire hazard alone or can potentially interact with other chemicals in the sewer and become a fire or explosion hazard
  • Solutions outside the pH range of 6.0 to 9.5. Labs may neutralize acids and bases to a pH within this range and then drain dispose of, provided there are no prohibited items in the solution
  • Halogenated hydrocarbons and aqueous mixtures containing halogenated hydrocarbons (including but not limited to: bromodichloromethane, chloroform, chloromethane, dibromochloromethane, methylene chloride, tetrachloroethene)
  • Insoluble materials
  • Mercury Metal (any discharge down the drain must be reported per the Accidental Discharge procedure)

  • Water-reactive materials (including but not limited to aluminum alkyls, barium, lithium, potassium, sodium, sodium borohydride, zinc powder, or zinc dust)

  • Radioactive materials

  • Infectious substances

  • Photographic Chemicals
    • Developer solutions containing heavy metals such as Barium or Selenium

    • Used fixer solutions. (These contain silver that is recycled through Cornell University’s Silver Reclamation program via EHS)

  • Any solids or viscous substances capable of obstructing the flow of sewers, including but not limited to:
    • Waste or wastewater containing fats, grease, wax, oils, or other substances, whether emulsified or not, may solidify or become viscous at temperatures between 32 degrees F and 104 degrees F (0 and 40 degrees C)
    • Particulates greater than ½ inch in any direction
    • Animal products (gut or tissue, paunch manure, bones, hair, hides or fleshing, entrails, whole blood, feathers)
    • Ashes, cinders, sand, spent lime, stone or marble dust, metal, glass or residues from glass grinding or polishing, straw, shavings, grass clippings, spent grains
    • Rags, waste paper, wood, plastics, rubber, tar, asphalt residues, or mud
    • Residues from refining or processing of fuel or lubricating oil, petroleum oil, non-biodegradable cutting oil, or products of mineral oil origin
    • Water-soluble polymers that could form gels in the sewer system
  • Any solution alone or by interaction with waste that can cause a noxious or malodorous gas (such as Hydrogen Sulfide, Sulfur Dioxide, or Nitrous Oxide) that can be hazardous individually or by reaction with other components in the sewer
  • Any chemical that either alone or if mixed with other wastes results in the presence of toxic gases, vapors, and/or fumes that could be harmful to utility workers, workers of the municipal wastewater treatment plant, or create a public nuisance
  • Malodorous chemicals such as Mercaptans
  • Rinsate from the highly hazardous U or P-listed wastes – first rinse of the triple rinse protocol
  • Carcinogens as grouped by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
  • Mutagens or Teratogens, such as Ethidium Bromide

The municipal wastewater treatment plant specifically restricts discharges to the sewer that contain the following. If chemicals or solutions contain any of these, contact Environment, Health, and Safety at (607) 255-8200 or to determine if drain disposal is acceptable.

  • Aluminum
  • Arsenic
  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Lead
  • Molybdenum
  • Nickel
  • Phosphorus (total)
  • Selenium
  • Silver
  • Zinc

Please note, if you are generating or planning to generate large volumes of waste please contact Environment, Health, and Safety at (607) 255-8200 or for further information. Slug discharges may harm the sewer system and/or municipal wastewater treatment plant.

Acceptable chemicals for drain disposal

The following list identifies chemicals that can be disposed of down the drain, providing the solution does not contain materials otherwise prohibited.

  • Aqueous solutions such as salts and buffer solutions within the 6.0 to 9.5 pH range
  • Chemicals that are water-soluble and non-hazardous by way of definition
    • Naturally occurring Amino Acids and Salts
    • Enzymes
    • Sugars
    • Proteins
    • Citric acid and its Na, K, Mg, Ca, and Ammonium Salts
    • Lactic acid and its Na, K, Mg, Ca, and Ammonium Salts
  • Acids and bases that have been neutralized and fall within the 6.0 to 9.5 pH range
  • Biological liquids that have been treated with disinfectant or autoclaved
  • Photographic chemicals
    • Developer solutions that DO NOT contain heavy metals above the listed limits above
    • Stop Baths
    • Photo Flo (surfactant)
  • Chemicals within the defined limits (see above table).
  • Methanol and Ethanol (limited to 200 milliliters per day per lab).
  • Mop water.

Accidental discharge

Sewer use law has reporting requirements for accidental discharge. It is the responsibility of the person causing any accidental discharge to notify IMMEDIATELY at Environment, Health and Safety at (607) 255-8200 or if prohibited chemicals or solutions containing prohibited chemicals are accidentally poured or spilled down the drain via sink, plumbed equipment or floor drains.

Faculty, staff, and students should be made aware of their roles and responsibilities for accidental discharge by in-house training and or posting in a central communication area. Notification should include:

  • Building and room number
  • A detailed description of what went down the drain, for example:
    • Names of chemical(s)
    • Concentration and percent in solution
    • Volume lost
  • Any corrective actions taken