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DEQ and CCHS join forces to dispose of hazardous chemicals

Hazardous material from the local high school's chemistry lab was added to the state's Science Lab Chemical Cleanup Project
High school chemistry instructor Chuck Gates stands watch as environmental specialists Mark Lafata, in white protective gear, and DEQ's John MacKellar inventory the old and potentially hazardous material.
   Some of the bottles of dangerous chemicals Crook County High School got rid of last week were old. Nobody was sure exactly how old, but according to the school's chemistry teacher, they were very old.
   The opportunity for the hazardous waste experts hired by the state Department of Environmental Quality to travel from Bend to Prineville was too good to pass up. The experts are environmental specialists based in Vancouver, Washington. They were in Bend performing a business hazardous waste disposal program and DEQ decided to include a number of high school chemical labs in the program. Crook County high was added to the list.
   "High school chemistry labs tend to horde chemicals over time," CCHS chemistry teacher Chuck explained, "and we're one of them."
   Along with the brown-glass bottles, the clean-up was also an opportunity to dispose of old mercury thermometers and a few gas-filled electronic tubes.
   Most of the bottles carried labels with names straight off the large elemental periodic tables poster displayed on a class room wall.
   "There are two types we are disposing of," Gates said. "There are chemicals that are hazardous for student use and chemical substances so old they are probably not good for anything anymore."
   One of the dangerous chemicals, ether, is a very volatile substance, Gates said. "It is so flammable that it is not practical to have in a high school lab."
   Another brown bottle contained an innocuous substance, calcium carbonate. That is not dangerous, Gates explained, "but we've had it so long, it's time to dispose of it and buy fresh."
   A few of the brown bottles were without labels. "Look at the style of the bottles," Gates said, pointing to a few of the unlabeled containers. "They are pretty old. Anyway, there is no reason no t to get rid of anything we haven't used in the last 20 years or so."
   Two environmental specialists back their truck up to a rear door of the near empty school and the bottles and other materials were rolled out. After carefully checking the containers for leaks and seepages, the experts loaded them into the truck, protecting them from any breakage for the long haul to a disposal plant.
   For the first time in nobody knows how long, Crook County High School's chemical lab contains only fresh, safely stored chemicals, both the innocuous and the dangerous kind.