University begins to submit list of chemicals to federal government

The Department of Homeland Security has required compliance as a safety measure.

Mike Rose

The University and other institutions are on the clock to tally what dangerous chemicals they possess and report their findings to the federal government.

The Department of Homeland Security finalized a list of chemicals Nov. 20 with potential terrorist uses to serve as the guidelines for nationwide inventory checks by large chemical manufacturing and storage facilities – including universities.

The department also announced inventories must be submitted within 60 days of the list’s release date.

“With the information, DHS will be better able to determine if a facility is a security threat,” DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said.

The University promptly applied for an extension to the 60-day limit, said Andrew Phelan, assistant director of the University Department of Environmental Health and Safety.

“The University college community had a lot of concern with the timeline,” he said. “Sixty days would be a true challenge.”

Phelan said the requested extension – which would give the University an additional 60 days – seems likely to be accepted.

The list has been a point of contention since it was first released in the spring.

Originally, critics of the list said there were too many mundane chemicals – such as acetone – on the list and too many of the chemicals had to be counted at any amount, meaning universities would have to track down even the smallest tubes of certain chemicals.

“The proposed (list) would require nearly every college and university to spend hundreds to thousands of hours collecting records (for) minute amounts,” Robin Elliott, chairwoman of the Campus Safety, Health and Environmental Management Association, wrote in a May letter to the department.

On Nov. 2, the department released a revised list before its finalized list came out last week.

The revisions removed some household chemicals from the list and reduced the number of chemicals that had to be tallied at even small quantities, with weight-minimums on most chemicals determining whether an institution has to report it.

Overall, the list contains 325 chemicals, down from the original 344.

“I think that’s a great benefit to the academic community, because we might have a small container and we’d have to look very hard on campus,” Phelan said.

Included in the revisions were two exemptions also applauded by Phelan.

First, 108 chemicals classified only as “release” threats – considered harmful if leaked or spilled – will not have to be counted by the University.

Another 55 chemicals, which only need to be reported if they are being shipped, will likely be exempt in University counts since campus labs typically only receive chemicals and rarely send them out.

“That’s good and we’re still looking for more flexibility, of course,” Phelan said.

To facilitate the process, the University has turned to its Office of Measurement Services. OMS is currently finalizing a survey system that will allow various campus departments – such as chemistry, physics and the Medical School – to submit inventory lists through an online program.

OMS program director Shelly Wymer said the program will allow users to select by department, campus and building from a drop-down menu.

“They don’t have to sift through lists and lists and lists,” she said.

In addition, the program will allow users to easily eliminate nonapplicable chemicals, Wymer said.

The chemistry department, having been identified as the department with the largest quantity of chemicals, will be the first to get the ball rolling on this procedure.

Chemistry department chairman Jeff Roberts said it makes sense to start here.

“All of the professors and staff members are aware of this,” he said.

Roberts said the department already has good inventories in place, which should make the procedure easier. Roughly 30 research labs, a chemical stockroom and various teaching labs are on the agenda to be checked.

Roberts said he didn’t foresee any problems with the count, though he said small details could slow the process.

“If we can make it work here, we can make it work anyplace at the University,” he said.