Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) from Residents

If you have a chemical emergency, please dial 9-1-1.

For questions which are not listed below, please call Toxics Management Division (TMD) at (510) 981-7460. 

  1. How do I report someone who is dumping a hazardous substance? 
  2. How do I dispose of household hazardous waste? 
  3. What can I do with paint cans? 
  4. Where can I dispose of used motor oil and oil filters? 
  5. How do I dispose of needles and syringes? 
  6. How do I dispose of expired/unused medications (prescription & over the counter)?   
  7. How can I get information about household lead poisoning? 
  8. What is the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule? 
  9. How can I get information about asbestos handling and exposure? 
  10. How can I dispose of old mercury-containing thermometers? 
  11. How do I clean up spilled mercury? 
  12. How do I report an odor or exterior emission? 
  13. How do I report a smoking vehicle? 
  14. How can I get more information on a facility in my neighborhood?  
  15. How do I dispose of treated wood?  

Toxics-Abandoned Drums

 

 
Toxics - Hazardous Debris



1.  How do I report someone who is dumping a hazardous substance?  

    Call Toxics Management Division at (510) 981-7460 and provide information about the incident such as:

  • the exact location of the incident (address with cross street or intersection);
  • a detailed incident description;
  • a description of the nature of the hazardous substance;
  • your contact information (if you would like follow-up or to help us clarify the incident); and
  • a description of the person and/or vehicle involved in the incident.  
 If the business is a restaurant, please contact Environmental Health at (510) 981-5310.
If it is construction-related, please contact Building and Safety at (510) 981-7440 and ask for an Engineering Inspector.

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2. How do I dispose of household hazardous waste?  

 Do not dispose of any hazardous wastes in the sewer (sinks, toilets, drains); storm drain (street gutter); garbage, yard waste, or recycling bins. 

Household hazardous wastes (HHW) are common household products that can pose a hazard to human health and the environment if they are not handled properly for disposal.  HHW includes materials like:

  • Paint, stain, varnish, thinner and adhesives;
  • Auto products such as old fuel, motor oil, oil filters and batteries;
  • Household batteries, fluorescent lamps, cleaners and sprays; and
  • Garden products, including pesticides and fertilizers.

If you are a resident of Alameda County, take your HHW to one of the three Alameda County HHW drop-off locations listed below.

  • Oakland Facility – 2100 East 7th Street, Oakland
  • Hayward Facility – 2091 West Winton Avenue, Hayward
  • Livermore Facility – 5584 La Ribera Street, Livermore

These facilities accept most types of HHW, however, please contact Alameda County HHW at (800) 606-6606 for a complete list of materials accepted and for dates and hours of operation, or visit their website at www.StopWaste.org.

According to California law, it is legal to transport up to five (5) gallons of liquid or 50 pounds of solid hazardous waste without having a special license.  After you carefully pack your car, go directly to the HHW facility.  Drive carefully.

For locations within and around Berkeley that accepts Universal Waste, including fluorescent light bulbs, household batteries, electronic devices, and other types of mercury containing devices, please visit TMD's Household Hazardous Waste webpage.

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 3.  What can I do with paint cans?  

Empty plastic and metal paint cans, with lids removed, can be placed into your garbage container if they contain NO liquids or other materials; some dried residue is acceptable, as long as it is minimal.

If your paint cans contain liquids, including latex or water-based paints, the best way to get rid of the paint is to use it up in the manner that it was intended.  Check with neighbors, public-service clubs or organizations, local schools, theaters, or low-income housing organizations to see if they have a use for it.  If this is not an option, ensure that you take the paint to the Alameda County Household Hazardous Waste for recycling or proper disposal.  Call (800) 606-6606 for dates and hours of operation, or visit their website at http://www.stopwaste.org/home/index.asp?page=293

Spreading paint for the purposes of drying and disposing of it is not permitted. 

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4.  Where can I dispose of used motor oil and oil filters?

Berkeley has a used oil collection program funded by a grant from the California Integrated Waste Management Board.  Up to 15 gallons per visit may be dropped off at the City of Berkeley Transfer Station located at 1201 Second Street.  Also, up to 5 gallons of used oil may be taken to a Berkeley certified used oil collection center. Many of these centers also accept oil filters and antifreeze.  For a list of collection centers in Berkeley and their hours of operation please go to TMD's Used Oil Recycling webpage.

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5.  How do I dispose of needles and syringes?   

Home-generated “sharps” are defined as disposable hypodermic needles, syringes, lancets, and other medical devices used for self-injection or blood tests, which may have a sharp tip or end.  These sharps can be a hazard because they may be contaminated with potentially fatal diseases.  Improperly discarded sharps can also injure family members, waste and recycling workers, or end up in places such as beaches where they are a danger to the public.  Medical and health care facilities and in-home health care professionals are required to properly collect and dispose of their sharps as medical waste.  As of September 2008, households are also required to dispose of sharps as medical waste. 

Sharps may be disposed of at the Alameda County Household Hazardous Waste facilities.  See their website, Sharps Disposal Service, or call (800) 606-6606 for more information.  You may also use the Recycling Wizard at http://www.stopwaste.org for other sharp disposal options.  In addition, the California Integrated Waste Management Board lists some disposal options on their website at: http://www.ciwmb.ca.gov/HHW/Sharps/.  NOTE:  Sharps MUST be packaged in approved sharps containers before taking to the disposal site.

The California Department of Public Health, Medical Waste Management Program is the oversight agency in the City of Berkeley.  For more information on the program, visit their website at http://www.cdph.ca.gov/certlic/medicalwaste/Pages/default.aspx or call (916) 449-5671.

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6.  How do I dispose of expired or unused medications (prescription and over the counter)? 

Old, expired, or unused medications (except controlled substances) should not be thrown in the trash or flushed down the toilet.  This type of improper disposal may contaminate drinking water and the environment.  There are locations throughout Berkeley and the Bay Area that offer free and safe disposal of unwanted medicines.  Visit the Teleosis Institute website at http://www.teleosis.org/gpp-locations.php for more information.

Controlled substances should not be taken to these drop-off locations.  If there are no options for safe disposal, the next best alternative is disposal into the trash.  We recommend mixing pills or liquids with unsuitable substances, such as ashes, kitty litter, coffee grounds or dirt, to discourage accidental consumption.  This mixture should be kept in its original container, with personal information marked out to maintain privacy.  Seal original container, and place in an additional level of containment (such as a Ziploc bag) before disposing of in the trash. 

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7.  How can I get information about household lead poisoning? 

Lead is a metal used in numerous products because of its strength, low melting point, density and other properties. Unfortunately, lead is  a carcinogen aand may present a health hazard in the workplace or to young children. Although lead exposure can result from many sources through hobbies, plumbing, etc., the principle source of concern is from lead paint. Lead paint was used primarily before 1978. Lead dust hazards can be created when lead paint is sanded, scraped, burned, etc., without adequate control measures. Numerous federal and state laws regulate work with lead and the disclosure of lead hazards in housing.

The City of Berkeley’s Public Health Department has a Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.  For information on their services go to:  http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=11244 or call (510) 981-5289.

The Alameda County Lead Poisoning Prevention Program also provides many health, environmental and residential hazard reduction services, including how to test your paint and soil for lead. Visit http://www.aclppp.org/ or call (510) 567-8280 for more information on their programs.

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8.  What is the Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule?

EPA issued the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule requiring the use of lead-safe work practices to ensure that common renovation activities like sanding, cutting and demolition, which can create hazardous lead dust, are conducted properly by trained and certified contractors or individuals.  For more information, please visit the EPA's website at http://www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/renovation.htm.

Please report violations to EPA through their Report an Environmenal Violation website: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/complaints/index.html.

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9.  How can I get information about asbestos handling and exposure?   

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) regulates all asbestos removal and handling activities. For more information on asbestos removal and exposure please visit http://www.baaqmd.gov/Divisions/Compliance-and-Enforcement/Asbestos-Programs.aspx or call (415) 749-4762. 

To report improper removal of asbestos, call BAAQMD at (800) 334-6367.  Visit http://www.baaqmd.gov/Divisions/Compliance-and-Enforcement/Air-Pollution-Complaints.aspx for more information.
  
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10.  How can I dispose of old mercury-containing thermometers?   

Small spills involving less than a dime-sized puddle of mercury metal can be scooped up using a small, disposable dustpan or sucked up using a syringe or an eyedropper, but this method doesn't deal with the vapor problem. The most effective way to clean up mercury spills is to first spread sand, clay or sawdust in a circle around the spill to stop the mercury from spreading. Keep uninvolved people and pets away until the spill is completely cleaned up. Safety equipment, if available, should include disposable liquid-proof gloves and eye protection. . By no means should the vacuum cleaner be used to pick up or remove mercury. Instead, use a damp cloth to carefully remove the substance. The cloth together with the mercury should be placed in a sealed bag and taken to a hazardous waste collection center. Old, non-functional thermometers should also be discarded in this manner.

Liquid mercury evaporates at room temperature and gives off harmful, invisible, odorless vapors. Mercury is a fast-moving liquid and spreads quickly, so promptly containing and controlling both the liquid and its vapors are very important.

Many old glass thermometers contain mercury, a silver-colored liquid.  Glass thermometers are extremely fragile and can be easily broken, allowing the mercury to escape.  Accidental mercury releases in the home present some of the greatest poisoning risks to children (See Question #11 for directions on how to clean up a spill of mercury).  Unfortunately, mercury doesn't disappear when it is dumped down the drain or thrown in the trash - mercury finds its way into the environment where it can ultimately affect lakes, rivers and creeks.  The mercury in one old-fashioned thermometer can contaminate nearly 4 tons of fish.

You can help prevent mercury pollution and protect your family by eliminating mercury-containing thermometers from your home.  Take your mercury thermometer to a thermometer exchange event, or to a Household Hazardous Waste facility. 

For information on exchange events, see the Save the Bay website, http://www.savesfbay.org
Please call Alameda County HHW at (800) 606-6606 or visit their website at http://www.stopwaste.org/home/index.asp?page=293 for dates and hours of operation.  For locations within Berkeley that accepts mercury containg devices such as thermometers, please visit TMD's Household Hazardous Waste webpage.

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11.  How do I clean up spilled mercury?

Small spills involving less than a dime-sized puddle of mercury metal can be scooped up using a small, disposable dustpan or sucked up using a syringe or an eyedropper, but this method doesn't deal with the vapor problem. The most effective way to clean up mercury spills is to first spread sand, clay or sawdust in a circle around the spill to stop the mercury from spreading. Keep uninvolved people and pets away until the spill is completely cleaned up. Safety equipment, if available, should include disposable liquid-proof gloves and eye protection. . By no means should the vacuum cleaner be used to pick up or remove mercury. Instead, use a damp cloth to carefully remove the substance. The cloth together with the mercury should be placed in a sealed bag and taken to a hazardous waste collection center. Old, non-functional thermometers should also be discarded in this manner.

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12.  How do I report an odor or exterior emission?  

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) is the lead agency to investigate and control odors in the city. It is important to report foul odors immediately to BAAQMD to begin an investigation and trace odors. It is this process that determines sources and starts corrective actions. Inspectors interview the observer, track the odor source and provide advice to modify operations as needed. They may also issue violation notices if appropriate, and will coordinate with enforcement agencies to enforce odor control requirements.

Visit the BAAQMD website for more information: http://www.baaqmd.gov/Divisions/Compliance-and-Enforcement/Air-Pollution-Complaints.aspx.

For wood smoke complaints concerning your immediate neighbors, please visit TMD's Wood Smoke webpage.

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13. How do I report a smoking vehicle?

The Bay Area Quality Management District (BAAQMD) allows the public to report any excessive exhaust smoke from cars, trucks, and buses through their Smoking Assistance Vehicle Assistance Program.  Emission of exessive visible exhaust for more than ten seconds is against the law and may be cited by law enforcement. After receiving a complaint, BAAQMD will send a letter to the owner explaining the air quality consequences from a smoking vehicle, warning about the possibility of being cited, and encouraging owners to have their vehicle checked and repaired.

To report a smoking vehicle, please call 1-800-EXHAUST (1-800-394-2878), email exhaust@baaqmd.gov, or fill out an online form on the BAAQMD website. You will need the license plate number, time, and location of your smoking vehicle sighting. To report a bus, you’ll also need to record the name of the bus company and the bus number.   

For more information, please visit BAQQMD Smoking Vehicle Complaints page. 

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14. How can I get more information on a facility in my neighborhood?

Toxics Management Division (TMD) maintains documents related to Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).  EPCRA provides the public with important information on chemicals that can be hazardous in their communities. Members of the public may submit a request form to review documents related to any facility regulated under TMD. For more information regarding EPCRA and how review these files, please visit our Community Right-to-Know page.

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15. How do I dispose of treated wood waste? 

Treated wood wastes (TTW) are treated with preserving chemicals which are hazardous to human health and the environment. Arsenic, chromium, copper, creosote, and pentachlorophenol are among the chemicals commonly used to treat wood. These chemicals are known to be carcinogenic or toxic. All treated wood waste must be properly disposed.

City of Berkeley Transfer Station (1201 Second Street) accepts treated wood. Please visit http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/transferstation/ for more information.

AJ Hauling is a local vendor within Berkeley that picks up treated wood. Please call (888) 907-4285 for fees and restrictions.  


A list of alternative vendors outside of Berkeley can also be found on www.stopwaste.org. For additional information regarding treated wood waste, please review the Department of Toxics Substance Control's TTW Generators Fact Sheet.  

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