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Appendix B - Disposal of Nonhazardous Laboratory Waste Down The Sanitary Sewer for Ithaca Campus

Chemical Drain Disposal

Research and other operations at Cornell University 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 and specific rules must be followed, prior to disposal, to be in compliance with federal, state and local regulations.

This appendix provides information for compliance with the Ithaca Area Waste Water Treatment Facility (IAWWTF) established requirements and limitations regarding disposal of chemicals into campus laboratory drain systems.  Drainage from disposal systems on the core Ithaca campus terminate at the IAWWTF.  Limitations may differ for locations that are not connected to the Ithaca area sanitary sewer system (such as laboratories in Geneva, New York City, or other locations) and additional prohibitions will apply to any drain that terminates at a local on-site system (leach field or similar).  Do not dispose of any chemicals into a storm sewer or similar untreated disposal options. Contact your local EHS representative for guidance in areas outside of the core Ithaca campus.

Any questions regarding the disposal of chemicals generated in university operations (labs, shops, maintenance, campus life, building care, etc) should be directed to Environmental Health & Safety at "askEHS".  Any questions regarding the disposal of chemicals or wastewater from construction activities or utilities should be directed to Environmental Health & Safety at "askEHS".  The following information should be included in the "askEHS" question to expedite this process:

  1. Constituents of the waste solution to be drain disposed
  2. Volume of the waste chemical to be disposed, e.g. one liter, 50 ml etc.
  3. Concentrations of each constituent in the waste
  4. Process from which the waste was generated
  5. Frequency of discharges
  6. SDS or MSDS of constituents, or product name and manufacturer


Within individual work areas and laboratories, authorization for specific operations, delineation of appropriate safety procedures and instruction about these procedures is 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 into the sanitary sewer while most cannot due to potential damage to human health, the environment or the functioning of the IAWWTF.

Prohibited From Drain Disposal

Certain classes of chemicals cannot be poured down the drain - they must be collected, managed and disposed of as hazardous waste using the Cornell University Department of Environmental Health and Safety’s 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 EHS at "askEHS".

The following classes of chemicals are prohibited from drain disposal:

  • Any flammable liquids with a flashpoint less than 140 degrees F – including but not limited to any quantity of gasoline, kerosene, naptha, 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 5.5 to 9.5.  Labs may neutralize acids and bases to a pH within this range and then drain dispose, 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 and mercury compounds such as Thimerosal, Mercuric Chloride, etc. (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 Hydroquinone or 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 causing obstruction to the flow of sewers, including but not limited to:<
    • Grease
    • 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, 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, 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 utilities workers, workers of the Ithaca Waste Water Treatment Facility or create a public nuisance.
  • Malodorous chemicals such as Mercaptans.
  • Rinsate from the acutely toxic 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.
Please Note: If you are generating or planning to generate large volumes of waste that you think may exceed these limits, then please contact Environmental Health & Safety at "askEHS" for further information.

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 5.5 to 9.5 pH range.
  • Chemicals that are water soluble and are 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 5.5 to 9.5 pH range.
  • Biological liquids that have been treated with disinfectant or autoclaved.
  • Photographic chemicals
    • Developer solutions that DO NOT contain Hydroquinone or heavy metals above the listed limits above
    • Stop Baths
    • Photo Flo (surfactant)
  • Mop water

Accidental Discharge

The campus sanitary sewer discharge permit issued by IAWWF and sewer use law have reporting requirements for accidental discharge.  Anyone causing an accidental discharge of a prohibited material to the sanitary sewer must notify EH&S IMMEDIATELY during normal business hours at 607-255-8200. This includes materials accidently poured or spilled down the drain via sink, floor drain, or plumbed equipment.

For accidental discharges from construction or utilities activities, notify EHS IMMEDIATELY at 607-255-8200 during normal business hours.

If accidental discharges occur after EHS normal business hours NOTIFY CORNELL DISPATCH AT 607-255-1111.  Normal business hours are 8 am to 4:30 pm Monday through Thursday and 8 am to 4 pm Fridays.

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