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    Development of a Portable Testing Procedure for Monitoring Halogenated Solvents in Waste Fuels


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    In the past, used oil has provided a valuable energy source in its use as a fuel for industrial and commercial boilers. There has been recent concern, however, as to the health risks involved in burning recycled oil containing halogenated compounds. As reported in the 29 Nov. 1985 edition of the Federal Register, these health risks have prompted the EPA to impose new regulations involving the use and management of used oil. Specifically, levels for total halogen content have been set between 1000 and 4000 ppm. Above this concentration range, the oil is considered to be a hazardous waste. Since about 500 million gallons of used oil are burned each year, an inexpensive and reliable test method is needed for determining the halogen content of a used oil at the site of its generator.

    In response to this need, Auburn University, under sponsorship of the EPA, has been working on the development of a field test to determine halogen concentrations in waste oils. This test is an extension of the Beilstein flame emission test and will selectively test for halogenated solvents in waste oils. The test is very inexpensive, easily performed, and agrees with the standard ASTM oxygen bomb technique within a margin of 10 to 25%.

    The test is a very simple procedure requiring only hydrogen and copper wool as replenishable materials. A copper probe is first burned to remove any oxidation which may interfere with the test. The clean probe is then dipped into the oil sample and placed in the flame. Copper halides radiate light at about 436 nm; therefore, the presence of halogenated solvents is indicated by a blue-green emission. Since the intensity of the blue-green emission is a function of organic halide concentration, this concentration can be determined by measuring the flame intensity using a photocell. The organic halide content of very nonvolatile samples can be determined as low as about 70 ppm. More volatile samples require dilution with a nonvolatile oil. For most waste oils, a dilution ratio of 10:1 diluent oil to waste oil is sufficient; this results in a lower threshold detection limit of 700 ppm halide.

    The testing procedure works well for most waste oils. The reproducibility is poor for oils which contain significant amounts of water or for those that are highly volatile. With experience, the test can be used to screen even these types of oil, but the results are not very quantitative.

    This test has shown great promise for on-site determinations of organic halide concentrations due to solvent contamination in waste oils. Inconclusive tests are obtained for only a small percentage of oils, but even these samples can usually be screened qualitatively for the 1000-ppm limit. This test can be performed by waste oil users, dealers, and transporters as well as EPA enforcement personnel, thus making the new regulations more easily met. This test represents a simple, inexpensive, and reliable method of screening waste oils for organic halide contamination in the field.


    waste oil, waste oil testing, flame photometry, halide testing, Beilstein test, hazardous waste testing, used oil

    Author Information:

    Tarrer, AR
    Professor, research assistant, and research assistant, Auburn University, AL

    Perry, JG
    Professor, research assistant, and research assistant, Auburn University, AL

    Holloway, WM
    Professor, research assistant, and research assistant, Auburn University, AL

    Committee/Subcommittee: D34.02

    DOI: 10.1520/STP26440S