How to safely dispose of pure nicotine?
March 17, 2014 7:13 PM   Subscribe

My friend decided she wanted to make her own nicotine solution for her e-cigarettes, and, long story short, ended up with a glass vial of 100% pure nicotine solution from China. How can she safely dispose of this incredibly toxic substance?

The nicotine you can legally buy in the US is way less than 100% and it's still pretty toxic. The Chinese variant - no telling, of course, that it is what it says it is - seems as if it could kill half the town. Nicotine poisoning. She doesn't want anything to do with it, but she doesn't want to just throw it in the trash, either, because what if it seeped out and touched the trash collector and then he died? She suggested putting the vial in a thermos and burying the thermos because, she says, it will no longer be toxic in 20 years. No, I said, they will have built a house or two in your backyard within the next five years, let alone 20. So, what would be the safest way to get rid of this stuff? It arrived in a glass vial in a padded mailer, so clearly the Chinese factory wasn't too worried about killing anyone en route.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Some of this depends on what state you live in, assuming you're in the US. You would want to look up hazardous/medical waste regulations, such as this one for nicotine disposal in the state of Washington.
posted by jessamyn at 7:14 PM on March 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'd call your county and ask if it could be disposed of either at the county household waste facility or the local "drug drop" spot.
posted by tilde at 7:20 PM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Call 311 or a pharmacy.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:24 PM on March 17, 2014

I'd call Sigma (medical research supplier), myself. They'll talk to you, even if you didn't buy it from them, as they'd rather not have you dump it down the drain!.
posted by Dashy at 7:27 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd call the fire department and ask how to dispose of it. Often they will either tell you or give you the appropriate phone number.

If L-Nicotine is the same stuff, the msds sounds pretty nasty. Print a copy of that and keep it near the package in case anything happens.

(It's also DOT Class 6.1: Poisonous material, so I bet you the post office would be very unhappy to find out this story.)
posted by ctmf at 7:28 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

seems as if it could kill half the town

How much are we talking about? The very conservative LD50 for humans is in the 30-60 mg range. Killing half of even small town (say 1000 people) would require something on the order of 100 lbs. of nicotine--this isn't ricin.
posted by pullayup at 8:02 PM on March 17, 2014

I think you missed three orders of magnitude there, Pullayup. That would be 30 to 60 grams, not kilograms.
posted by madmethods at 8:25 PM on March 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

You could try calling Poison Control: 1-800-222-122.
posted by alms at 8:26 PM on March 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nthing pharmacy. In CT you can go to the Regional Water Authority on certain days to drop off all manner of hazmats.
posted by drowsy at 8:46 PM on March 17, 2014

Well, what was your friend going to do with the nicotine she received, originally? Presumably she was going to dilute it with additives of some kind. All she needs to do is dilute it even more. If she was expecting, I dunno, 50mg/ml base nicotine and she got 100mg/ml base nicotine then she needs to dilute it twice as much as she was going to, with some combination of vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol (though, actually, there are calculators for this stuff). She should put a couple of pairs of rubber gloves on, some safety goggles, and try not to lick the beater once she's done.

Of course, if it's from some dodgy Chinese supplier, then what it says on the bottle is probably going to be wrong, so if it says 100mg I'd probably assume 200-300mg, if such a thing is even possible.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:16 PM on March 17, 2014

Also, the CDC says you can dispose of nicotine by absorbing it in vermiculite (do you have any handy?) or "by atomizing it in a suitable combustion chamber equipped with an appropriate effluent gas cleaning device".

A lot of e-cig forums suggest soaking it up with a massive bunch of paper towels, letting it evaporate in a well-ventilated area (so, outside, obviously), and then setting fire to it all, though...maybe don't do that. Although, if you take it to the hospital all they will do is put it in their furnace.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:23 PM on March 17, 2014

Yikes, unless you have at least some training in basic lab safety, I would advise against trying to process that any further yourself. Evaporating, absorbing into vermiculite, burning, and attempting to dilute all count as processing for my purpose here. Read the msds. This is lab grade stuff.

And if you do, and if you doooo, try it yourself, please use the ppe and precautions recommended by the msds.

But really, that's a risk/no reward situation. Ask the pros what to do.
posted by ctmf at 10:04 PM on March 17, 2014 [8 favorites]

When we bought our house we found a bunch of now-illegal pesticides in the garage. We contacted the city trash disposal service and they told us exactly how to handle it. (In fact, they sent someone to pick them up since they were pretty toxic.)

Call the city/county agency that picks up your trash. They want you to dispose of things properly and will help you figure out how to do that.
posted by 26.2 at 10:32 PM on March 17, 2014

The nicotine you can legally buy in the US is way less than 100% and it's still pretty toxic.
Pretty much totally false. I have half a liter of 100mg/ml nicotine sitting in the bottom of my fridge. The 100mg/ml is the pretty standard base strength for people who DIY their own eliquid. It is pretty dangerous, but no more so than say a bottle of muriatic acid or drain cleaner. Latex gloves, maybe eye protection, well-ventilated area... wash off well with water if you get a drop on you, etc.

Some vapers vape rather strong liquid, like 24mg/ml or more (maybe up to 36mg/ml), a few of the cig-alikes you can find in gas stations are 40+ mg/ml.... So you don't really have like a brick of uranium OMG toxic waste on your hands. You have something that could be diluted down 4x to10x and be a perfectly fine vape.

If you don't want it, pour it down the drain and flush with plenty of water. Really, you can think about it about the same as throwing away a big bunch of tobacco leaves.

You could also dilute it down with water and use it as a pesticide for your plants. Nicotine is sold in farm supply stores for pesticide use.

Really, find another vaper in your area that mixes their own eliquid, I'm sure they'd gladly take it off you hands.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:23 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Call the local college's chemical safety guys. They will have all the information on disposal of interesting chemicals or will be able to direct you to people who do.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:29 AM on March 18, 2014

If she legal purchased it, then why can't she legally re-sell it.
posted by Flood at 4:48 AM on March 18, 2014

I have half a liter of 100mg/ml nicotine sitting in the bottom of my fridge.

If this is actually pure nicotine, then it is 1010 mg/mL, ten times as what's in the bottom of your fridge. Dermal exposure to nicotine can kill, so don't mess around with this stuff. Keep the vial in an unbreakable airtight container before you do anything else. Don't flush concentrated hazardous pharmaceutical waste down the drain. That is dangerous and very uncool.

Call your local waste disposal agency.

If she legal purchased it, then why can't she legally re-sell it.

It's possible her purchase wasn't legal.
posted by grouse at 4:58 AM on March 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

If this is actually pure nicotine, then it is 1010 mg/mL ... oops, I read that 100% as 100mg/ml. So yeah, double check that concentration, maybe she accidentally did get 100%, then go ahead and call the hazardous waste disposal people.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:39 AM on March 18, 2014

I am in the field of "dealing with what people buried in a Thermos out back and hoped wouldn't be an issue," so I have some strong opinions here.

The best first step here call your local solid waste disposal agency and ask them what to do. Follow their instructions. If they don't or can't answer, call the local Fire Department and/or police department.

If they don't or can't answer, call someone like Clean Harbors who deals with this kind of thing professionally. They will charge you, but they will safely dispose of the nicotine.

Dilution, flushing, burial -- all of these options have the potential to expose your friend or others. If you're not properly trained (and if she ordered nicotine in a glass vial from China, I have to assume she isn't), you don't want to fuck around with this stuff.
posted by pie ninja at 5:42 AM on March 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

It would be helpful if we would know the total quantity of nicotine. You say it is in a glass vial so if it is in an ampoule I would bet it is less than 5g, but if it is just in a glass jar then it could easily be over 100g of nicotine. If it is toward the lower side of the quantity then I think that investigating the alternative uses would be prefereble to trying to just get rid of it. Someone above mentioned using it diluted as an insecticide, which makes good sense to me as it is currently available in the US as one.
posted by koolkat at 6:57 AM on March 18, 2014

The police department in my town has a no-questions-asked collection bin for pharmaceuticals, sharps, batteries, and other toxic materials. You could also ask at your local pharmacy; if they can't dispose of it themselves they can almost certainly point you to someone who can.
posted by ook at 7:14 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Even a faction of a gram of nicotine can be very bad for you. It's a (limited) skin permeator, even incidental contact should be avoided. Don't open it, or keep it near food.

What you want to look for is drug disposal. Here's a US national page for info. However, note that this IS NOT A SAFE FLUSHABLE.

In the US, your best option is probably "National Drug Take-back day", on April 26. They don't have info up yet, but check back after April 1. You can call the FDA at the number on the bottom of this page for more information.

As pie ninja says, your local municipality/state may have resources too. I'd call their hazardous material/household waste people first. Ask about drug or pharmaceutical collections. They have to deal with random assorted drugs from cleaning out medical cabinets on a regular basis.

Poison control, the Fire department (not the police), and private hazardous waste disposal companies in rough order of preference are who I would look at next.
posted by bonehead at 7:16 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

The police department in my town has a no-questions-asked collection bin...

And as a counter-anecdote: in my town in Rhode Island, I found that no one would take some leftover narcotic medication. Instead, I was told to mix them with household waste (e.g., used kitty litter, coffee grounds, and the like) and put them in the trash. The pharmacist said that they didn't have a secure way to store them or a way to dispose of them, and the cops said to call a pharmacy.

Of course, now the RI state dump now has instructions for unwanted medical items, so maybe you can get some ideas from this list and map them to your area:
posted by wenestvedt at 9:30 AM on March 18, 2014

Could you call the chemistry department of your local university or college?
posted by jrochest at 12:40 PM on March 18, 2014

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