Managing Hazardous Waste

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Cyanide Waste Produced in Jewelry Manufacturing Fact Sheet

January 2002*

What is this Waste?

Cyanide, in the form of sodium and potassium cyanide, is used in the jewelry manufacturing industry for electroplating, “cyanide bombing,” and metal stripping. These processes generate the following types of hazardous wastes:

  • spent1 process baths containing cyanide, a high concentration of dissolved metals, and inorganic or organic “brightening” agents;
  • spent rinse waters containing cyanide and dissolved metals; and
  • sludge and residues from process baths that contain metals and cyanide.

The metals contained in these wastes can include gold, silver, platinum, rhodium, cadmium, copper, nickel, zinc, chrome, and other metals.

Why is this Waste Hazardous?

Cyanide is a highly toxic substance that will cause death if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. In addition, other chemicals used in plating, bombing, and stripping operations, including dissolved metals, are generally harmful to human health and the environment.

Why Must this Waste be Managed Safely?

Because this waste is hazardous to human health and the environment, it is important to manage it safely, even if the waste contains precious metals. Current laws and regulations specify how hazardous waste must be managed in order to protect public health and safety, and the environment2. These laws and regulations also specify how to recover precious metals from hazardous waste that contains precious metals. Jewelry manufacturers can protect public health and safety, and avoid costly fines and penalties, by managing their hazardous waste in compliance with these laws and regulations.

How Should I Manage this Waste?

If your business generates a hazardous waste, it is your responsibility to ensure that waste is properly managed. Please see the DTSC fact sheet on “Hazardous Waste Generator Requirements For Jewelry Mart Operators.”

It is unlawful to dump any hazardous waste into the trash or onto the land, or to pour hazardous waste down the sink, into a storm drain, or down the toilet. Your local Certified Unified Program Agency (CUPA) cannot authorize you to treat3 any hazardous waste that contains cyanide. If you want to treat: the hazardous cyanide waste that you generate, you must obtain a permit or grant of authorization from DTSC. Contact DTSC at (800) 728-6942 for assistance. Please see the DTSC fact sheet on “The Standardized Permit for Building Owners of Jewelry Marts” for information about hazardous waste treatment permits. You must also get a discharge permit from your local wastewater treatment facility if you want to discharge your treated waste to the sewer.

If you do not have a permit or grant of authorization to treat your hazardous cyanide waste onsite¥, you must send the waste offsite4 to a facility that has been permitted to treat hazardous cyanide waste. It is unlawful to use the United States Postal Service, any common parcel carrier, or anyone who is not a DTSC registered transporter to transport your hazardous waste offsite. For information about transport requirements, please see the DTSC fact sheet on “Hazardous Waste Generator Requirements for Jewelry Mart Operators.”

Never allow hazardous waste that contains cyanide to mix with any acid or acidic hazardous waste. If cyanide containing waste is allowed to mix with acid or acid containing waste, hydrogen cyanide gas will form. A few breaths of hydrogen cyanide gas can kill a person in minutes. A dust mask will not protect against hydrogen cyanide gas. Because cyanide containing and acidic hazardous wastes create poison gas when they are mixed, they are incompatible wastes. All incompatible hazardous wastes must be separated by a wall, or other suitable barrier, that can keep them from mixing in the event of a spill5.

Can I Reduce or Eliminate my Cyanide Use and Cyanide Waste?

Yes. Electrostripping and magnetic tumbling are two cost effective processes that are much safer than cyanide bombing, and reduce the loss of precious metals. While there will be an initial cost for electrostripping or magnetic tumbling equipment, you may offset that cost by holding onto precious metals that would otherwise be lost in your cyanide stripping and bombing operations.

Consider using deoxidizing casting alloys, which may eliminate the need to use cyanide bombing or stripping (please see the DTSC fact sheet on “Jewelry Manufacturing Industry Pollution Prevention Recommendations“). Deoxidizing casting alloys cost almost the same as non-deoxidizing alloys, and do not require the purchase of any additional equipment or chemicals.

Cyanide waste is expensive to manage. By eliminating or reducing your use of cyanide, you may reduce your costs and legal responsibility associated with the management and disposal of cyanide waste. The DTSC Office of Pollution Prevention and Technology Development (OPPTD) can help you reduce or eliminate the use of cyanide in your operations. You can contact OPPTD at (800) 700-5854. For more information, see the DTSC fact sheet on “Jewelry Manufacturing Industry Pollution Prevention Recommendations.”

More Information & Contacts

For more information, please visit our Web sites at:

You can email us at, or call us at: (916) 322-3670.

All other questions should be directed to our Regulatory Assistance Officers using the information below. If calling from outside California, please call the “Outside CA” telephone number provided:

Toll-Free in CA: 800-728-6942 or 800 72-TOXIC
Outside CA: 916-324-2439

For assistance or additional information, please contact the DTSC Office nearest you. For a list of all offices, go to our Office Address and Phone Numbers web page.


1Spent: Something becomes “spent” when it is used up, or when it is no longer useful for its intended purpose. For example, dirty solvent that can no longer be used for cleaning is called “spent” solvent.

2Health & Safety Code,div.20, ch.6.5,and Cal.Code Regulations, tit. 22, div. 4.5.

3“Treatment” is any method, technique, or process which is designed to change the physical, chemical, or biological character or composition of any hazardous waste or any material contained therein, or removes or reduces its harmful properties or characteristics for any purpose, including, but not limited to, energy recovery, material recovery, or reduction in volume. (Health & Safety Code, § 25123.5 and Cal. Code Regulations, tit. 22, § 66260.10.)

4The term “onsite facility” is summarized for purposes of this fact sheet to mean a hazardous waste facility at which hazardous waste is generated, and which is owned by, leased to, or under the control of the generator of the waste. (Health and Safety Code, § 25117.12 and Cal. Code Regulations, tit.22, § 66260.10.)

5An “offsite facility” means a hazardous waste facility that is not an onsite facility. (Health & Safety Code, § 25117.11 and Cal. Code Regulations, tit. 22, § 66260.10.)


This fact sheet does not replace or supersede relevant statutes and regulations. The information contained in this fact sheet is based upon the statutes and regulations in effect as of the date of the fact sheet. Interested parties should keep apprised of subsequent changes to relevant statutes and regulations.