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Environmental Affairs stresses potential disposal, storage hazards

18 Jul 2008 | Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

The Combat Center’s Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs division cautions training units and civilians to follow proper guidelines for disposal of toxic and hazardous material.

An issue stressed lately by NREA is the proper disposal of lithium batteries, which can cause damage if not appropriately cared for.

Most disposable batteries used for small electrical devices are run by maintenance-free lead acid batteries, which are less dangerous than lithium batteries.

However, other heavy-duty batteries contain toxic substances such as lithium, magnesium, cadmium, alkaline, mercury and carbon zinc.

Proper storage of batteries containing magnesium and lithium is especially paramount since they are so reactive, said Joe E. Valls, NREA compliance support supervisor.

“The environmental standard operating procedure tells us how to handle and store these batteries because of their volatility and reactivity,” said Valls. “Our effort is to educate Marines and civilians on the proper handling and disposal of these batteries.”

Lithium batteries, although dependable and in some cases rechargeable, pose a tremendous threat to military equipment, personnel and the environment if not stored in cool, dry rooms and in their proper containers, according to the Marine Corps Installations West Online Environmental Campus, an online training evolution designed to educate Department of Defense personnel on environmental safety measures.

Patrick Mills, NREA hazardous waste management branch manager, said proper maintenance of lithium batteries is important, yet not difficult.

“If a battery is no longer useable, it needs to be wrapped in plastic, put into a plastic container or drum and then put into a near-by satellite waste accumulation area,” said Mills. “Lithium is toxic, shock sensitive and reactive to water and temperature. It is not a substance you want to mix with any other materials. And one of the byproducts that comes from them when they are not fully exhausted is lithium sulfur dioxide gas, which is a blood poisoning agent.”

Aside from being hazardous to human health, lithium may also contaminate soil and water quality, as well as run the risk of explosions and fires, said Valls.

Mills added that the maximum safe temperature at which lithium can be stored is 125 degrees, which could easily be surpassed in a non-ventilated building in the desert during summer.

Rick Buckles, NREA compliance support inspector, said he wants to see each unit’s environmental compliance coordinators pay special attention to these details and continue training units on the guidelines.

Jim Lessard, NREA director, says the proper disposal of these substances cannot be stressed enough to the units who use them.

“We want to make sure the proper disposal of these is used,” said Lessard. “If it ends up in a dumpster or trashcan somewhere, we could end up with a fire … and we have already.”

Earlier this year, a fire at the Combat Center’s hazardous waste accumulation area ignited two 55-gallon container drums that were allegedly exposed to moisture, said Valls. After one container caught on fire, the heat caused the second container to ignite.

“Luckily, the damage was confined to those two containers due to the response by the base fire department,” said Valls.

For further information on proper waste and hazardous material disposal, call the NREA division at 830-5403.


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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms