Section 3: Handling Chemicals

Many products used in boat shops are toxic, often containing caustic or corrosive elements. This section provides an overview of how to store and handle such products. For disposal information and details on managing hazardous waste, see the Waste Management and Recycling Unit.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you should be able to:

  • Prepare staff to properly handle and store solvents, chemicals, and batteries.
  • Recognize when to call on a registered hired professional (e.g., Freon recovery, hazardous wastes).

Best Management Practices

Store Materials with Care

  • Designate and maintain appropriate storage areas for materials such as antifreeze, solvents, oil, and paints.Regional Best Management Practice
  • If you have more than a couple small cans of solvents or other hazardous materials, store them in fire-safe containers that are UL-listed or Factory Mutual approved.
  • Containers must meet U.S. Department of Transportation standards for protecting against the risks to life and property inherent in the transportation of hazardous materials. Approved containers will carry specification markings (e.g., DOT 4B240ET) in an unobstructed area. Refer to 49 CFR 178 for additional packaging specifications.
  • Small quantities of solvents may be stored in the containers in which they were originally purchased.
  • Keep the storage area neat.
  • Plainly label all stored and containerized material. For hazardous waste, mark containers with the dates of accumulation (start and end) and the words “Hazardous Waste.”
  • To minimize air pollution, cap solvents and paint thinners whenever not in use. Store rags or paper saturated with solvents in tightly closed, clearly labeled containers.
  • Separate hazardous chemicals by hazardous class. For guidance consult your state and refer to the Waste Management and Recycling Unit.
  • Store containers on pallets in a protected, secure location away from drains and sources of ignition.
  • Routinely inspect the storage area for leaks.
  • Assign control over hazardous supplies to a limited number of people who have been trained to handle hazardous materials and understand the “first-in first-out” policy.
  • Routinely check the date of materials to prevent them from exceeding their expected shelf life.
  • Call your local fire official to schedule a “basic fire inspection.” The inspection will determine whether you are meeting the state fire code, including hazardous material storage requirements.


Handle Solvents Carefully

  • Handle solvents appropriately and keep records of the amount and type of solvent and paint usage. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Consider alternatives to solvent-based parts washers such as bioremediation systems that take advantage of microbes to digest petroleum.
  • If you use a solvent to clean engine parts, do so in a container or parts washer with a lid to prevent evaporation of volatile organic compounds. Keep the container lid closed when not in use. Continue to reuse the solvent until it is totally spent, then recycle it.
  • Direct solvent used to clean spray equipment into containers to prevent evaporation of volatile organic compounds. A closed gun cleaning system will reduce cleaning material costs.
  • Use only one cleaning solvent to simplify disposal.
  • Use only the minimal amount of solvent (e.g., stripper, thinner) needed for a given job.
  • For small jobs, pour the needed solvent into a small container reducing the contamination of a large amount of solvent.
  • Use citrus- or soy-based solvents and other similar products with no or low volatility.
  • Allow solids to settle out of used strippers and thinners so you can reuse solvents.
  • Hire a permitted and registered hazardous waste hauler to recycle or dispose of used solvents.
  • Record solvent and paint usage to determine the amount of hazardous waste generated on site. Depending on the level of usage, an air permit from your state agency may be required.

Some parts washing procedures ensure that solvents are properly disposed and may reuse solvent material before discarded, as shown above.


Battery Storage and Disposal

If you or boaters who use your marina remove lead acid batteries from vessels, you need to be aware of hazardous waste regulations that apply to this activity. If lead acid batteries are handled improperly, they can pose environmental risks and health hazards. Battery components are toxic and corrosive. Lead and sulfuric acid can contaminate the air, soil, and water. Check with your state for laws on disposal of lead acid batteries.

  • Implement procedures for the collection, storage and recycling of spent lead acid batteries. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Avoid long-term storage of spent lead acid batteries by sending accumulated batteries to a recycler/reclaimer within six months of receipt. Limit accumulation of large quantities of spent batteries. If necessary, ship more frequently.
  • Store spent lead acid batteries upright in a secure location, protected from freezing. Make sure the batteries are covered from rain and snow.
  • Never stack batteries directly on top of each other. Layer with wood.
  • Never drain batteries or crack the casings.
  • Place cracked or leaking batteries in a sturdy, acid-resistant, leak-proof, sealed container (e.g., a sealable five-gallon plastic pail). The container should be kept closed within the battery storage area.
  • Strap batteries to pallets or wrap batteries and pallet in plastic during transport.
  • Keep written records of weekly inspections of spent lead acid batteries.


Freon Recovery

U.S. EPA regulates how chlorofluorocarbons (trademarked as “Freon”) are handled from vehicle — including boats — air conditioners. The rules also set standards for chlorofluorocarbon recovery and disposal.

  • Use U.S. EPA certified technicians to recover and properly dispose of Freon. Regional Best Management Practice

Next: Unit Review