Chemical cleanup

by Robin Huiras

Although external beautification is the goal of Beautiful U Day, University officials want to clean up internally as well.
Last year internal cleanup involved removing 800 tons of old furniture and other waste; this year, the cleanup effort attacks hazardous waste in the removal of old, unused and unlabeled chemicals.
“The issue warrants attention,” said Fay Thompson, director of the Department of Environmental Health and Safety. “There tend to be a lot of unknown chemicals.”
The department is heading the event, and although the kickoff is today, the process will take the entire year.
“The goal is to change the behavior of people using chemicals, to change the thinking of administrators and in the future make sure things are labeled,” said Andy Phelan, assistant director of the department.
Wearing alien-like masks to emphasize the hazardous nature of the problem, department employees will distribute labels today to employees working in buildings where unlabeled bottles and containers are present.
After filling out a descriptive form, labeling the unknowns and reporting back to the department, the containers will be collected, analyzed and properly disposed.
Employees have from November until June to locate and report on the chemicals. Department employees will clean up the unknowns from July through September. Any unknowns discovered after June 30 will cost University departments $35 each to dispose of, Phelan said.
Last year 900 kilograms of the 180,000 kilograms of hazardous waste disposed of were not labeled. Determining and disposing of these chemicals cost the University roughly $6,000. Phelan estimates the cost to be about $30,000 for unknown chemical cleanup this year.
“This year, the University looked for a few more practical things that could be done,” said Tim Busse, communications specialist for Facilities Management. Cleaning up the accumulation of “junk” over the winter makes for a better spring, he said.
People tend to put things in the backs of shelves or closets when they are done with them, Phelan said. Although regulations toward using hazardous chemicals exist, management has no system to categorize chemicals.
“The ideal solution is that we never see an unnamed chemical again,” Phelan said.
The disposal process varies, depending on the identification of the chemical. Testing will determine the hazardous characteristics of the chemicals, Thompson said. While most are incinerated, some can be used for other purposes or redistributed if unopened.
“It is troublesome for us because we have to spend time to identify and money to dispose of the chemicals,” Phelan said.