Ok to use hazardous chemical container for composting?

brianjohnSeptember 19, 2011

I have a 55 gal drum that was at one time filled with Oil of Wintergreen. I bought it from craigslist to use for composting. I didn't realize this at the time, but apparently oil of wintergreen is extremely toxic. I'm wondering now if I should try to clean it thoroughly (and how) or if I should just give up and pay the dump to take it?

Has anyone done anything like this before? I bought some Simple green and rinsed that through the container, but I'm not sure if that is enough. I have a family and want to make sure this is absolutely safe to use.

Thanks in advance for any help

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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

The person who sold it to you...shouldn't have. Containers that once held hazardous chemicals should be disposed of according to the label directions. I wonder what you are doing with the rinstate when you've washed it out?

Pay to dispose, but call to see HOW it should be disposed of.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 10:29PM
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While Oil of Wintergreen can be toxic it is used as a food flavoring and has been used as both a lubricant during massage and internally for some digestive upsets, in small quantities. Is this drum metal or plastic? Do you have a commercial drum cleaner still in business near by, or have they done as many others have and gone out of business because of the high cost of cleaning those drums?
You cannot simply put it in your trash and only licensed hazardous waste dumps are supposed to take those types of drums, and you should not simply try to wash it out yourself.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 7:39AM
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curtludwig(New England)

Yikes, oil of wintergreen is more than slightly toxic...
I don't think there is any way you're going to "make sure this is absolutely safe to use". I'd go back to the seller and see about a return. Or find somebody who needs a counterweight for a front end loader or some other industrial use.

Here is a link that might be useful: Oil of wintergreen on Wiki

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 1:16PM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

Complete Wintergreen information from Drugs.com

My grandmother used oil of wintergreen for her rheumatic pain. She died in 1950. No one knew how old she was because she could no longer remember. Could it have been that the wintergreen affecting her mind?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 3:58PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Well, at least methyl salicylate does break down quite readily.


"Environmental Fate/Exposure Summary:
Methyl salicylate is produced in significant quantities and may be released to the environment during its production, transport, disposal, and use in perfumes and sunburn lotions and in foods, beverages and pharmaceuticals. It is also a plant volatile and will be released by some plants. In soil, methyl salicylate is likely to biodegrade. In alkaline soil, chemical hydrolysis may contribute to its disappearance. It may also undergo direct photolysis on the soil surface. Methyl salicylate is expected to be fairly mobile in soil. It should partially volatilize from dry soil. If released in water, methyl salicylate should slowly volatilize (half-life 49 days in a model river), biodegrade, and be lost as a result of direct photolysis and photooxidation in surface waters. In alkaline water, hydrolysis may also be a significant fate process (estimated half-life 14 days at pH 7.5). Methyl salicylate is not likely to bioconcentrate in aquatic organisms. Methyl salicylate will react with photochemically-produced hydroxyl radicals in the atmosphere resulting in as estimated half-life of 1.4 days. It is fairly soluble in water and may be washed out by rain. Exposure to methyl salicylate will be via ingestion of foods and dermal contact with various consumer products. Occupational exposure will probably be via dermal contact and inhalation. (SRC)"


Here is a link that might be useful: The whole story

    Bookmark   September 21, 2011 at 8:01PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

At first I thought this was nothing to worry about, then I read the Wiki entry suggesting very small amounts can be toxic. However, I am also a frequent user of Toxnet and tsuga's entry above about how biodegradable it is really has me wondering if this is a problem at all. You've already cleaned the drum, so what's absorbed into the surface (if plastic that is, shouldn't be much if it's metal) is a pretty small amount. You're not eating out of the drum, you're making compost, a very biologically active system, and also a dilution effect. Which is further enhanced when the compost is spread on the garden.

I am having trouble believing this is a problem. However, if you are concerned, definitely get yourself another drum for peace of mind.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2011 at 1:14PM
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Read the links,agree with Tox. You WERE wise to pose the question, but think you're fine.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2011 at 7:49PM
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Here's my take on this issue. Oil of wintergreen is a natural plant-based substance. You may, in fact, already be composting plant material which is equally as "toxic" - leaves, mushrooms, other dead plants - and yet there is usually not any sort of concern about that. Even if the toxin were not broken down during the composting process, it doesn't seem as though it would be drawn into the plants and be in the resulting edibles, there to poison your family.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 3:40PM
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I just wanted to clarify that my position is NOT "it's natural so it must be safe." I'm pointing out that people routinely compost other toxic plant materials, without thinking about it and with no ill effects. The only thing I ever read about is black walnut, because it can supposedly stunt the growth of plants (not poison eaters of resulting edibles) when used as a soil amendment. And even that supposedly breaks down completely in about a year and results in safe compost.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 3:59PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

You're right lizzie. I think it's a natural human reaction to be suspicious of 'chemicals in a drum', which is kind of a 'known hazard' (I use quotes on purpose there), vs. the out of sight out of mind thing with other plants.

The state of the science with gardening (not to mention centuries of experience) isn't really concerned about plant toxins coming through like that.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2011 at 10:45AM
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Methyl salicylate, wintergreen, is used in many topical application products, in small quantities, as well as a flavoring in foods, in small quantities. It is the dose that makes a product toxic and as long as that dose is not exceeded you probably will not have any problem.
My primary concern is that someone sold what could be a hazardous materials container which is against the law.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2011 at 6:42AM
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"Ok to use hazardous chemical container for composting?"

Containers from all sorts of hazardous chemicals would be perfectly OK. The problem is others wouldn't.

Normal acids and caustics would just mean that you had a very clean container, once merely rinsed (carefully). Nothing at all wrong with them even if lye or concentrated sulfuric acid came in them. Many would be just fine for even storing drinking water.

But a container of, for example, exotic organic chemicals each would have to be evaluated carefully or rejected out of hand for safety. "Methyl Parathion" (indeed most pesticides) or "Tri-butyl Tin" for two of many examples, would be out for me no matter what the drum cleaning.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2011 at 10:30AM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

I got curious about the regulatory aspect here and have posed the question to the right person as it's a little out of my normal field. I suspect that RCRA, TSCA etc. has a 'bright line' in terms of what the owner of such a drum can/should do with it. I am sure, based on experience in closely related matters, that it is not a simple question. :-] I'll report back.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2011 at 3:30PM
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Thanks very much everyone for your detailed and thoughtful answers, I really appreciate it!

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 7:34PM
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