Pollution Prevention Initiatives
Chemical and Other Regulated Waste In Laboratories
Penn State is a large research university and the generation of chemical wastes in the laboratory setting is expected. There are numerous opportunities to utilize good environmental practices in laboratories to reduce or eliminate hazards, while educating our students, faculty and employees on pollution prevention initiatives that can be incorporated beyond our institution.
The University's Hazardous Waste Disposal Policy (SY20) addresses the regulatory applications of this large program and provides more detailed information on these applications. Hazardous waste generated at Penn State University is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (PaDEP) under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). This is a complex regulation intended to protect human health and the environment from the point of generation, through transportation, storage and disposal. This regulation is also directed at natural resource conservation by reducing the source of hazardous waste generated.
Researchers at Penn State have been using radioactive materials in teaching, research, and development at least since 1955, when the Breazeale Nuclear Reactor began operation. These materials are used to mark specific cells or DNA strands for biological research, determine trace constituents in environmental samples, determine biodegradation of chemical hazards, and have many other uses as well. Due to the potential hazards of dealing with these materials, regulatory controls and pollution prevention practices have been in place for many years. Radiological waste disposal is handled in accordance with our Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license. The long standing policy is to ensure that all exposures to personnel and all releases to the environment are as low as reasonably achievable.
Due to the scope of our biomedical research activities, the University generates infectious waste at numerous locations. These wastes are all handled in accordance with the University's Infectious Waste Disposal Safety Policy SY29.
This section presents some of the pollution prevention and waste minimization efforts currently underway in Penn State University teaching and research laboratories. Additional initiatives will be added as they are developed.
Hazardous Waste Disposal
Proper hazardous waste management is an integral part of protecting land, air, and water systems. Sound environmental management of hazardous materials includes proper handling and storage practices that reduce hazards to individuals and minimize waste generation.
PSU enforces existing environmental regulations, and strives to identify management strategies that emphasize sound science and engineering. EHS works in partnerships with laboratory staff to provide assistance and regulatory interpretation, while at the same time reducing pollution. Hazardous Waste Disposal Policy (SY20) is the University's Safety Policy on hazardous waste management.
Through implementation of this policy, numerous positive environmental implications are clearly evident. As emphasized by training, generators of hazardous waste are required to:
25 PA Code Chapters 260 a - 262 a and Federal Regulation 40 CFR 260-279 are the regulations that govern hazardous waste disposal practices.
- Ensure accountability of these materials through inventory control
- Ensure proper, timely disposal
- Ensure proper segregation that minimizes mixing of incompatible chemicals
- Provide secondary containment of hazardous waste
- Utilize standardized labeling
- Complete regular audits
- Incorporate waste practices into laboratory procedures.
Infectious Waste Disposal
Infectious wastes can create safety hazards through improper handling and disposal. Without specific practices aimed at controlling the use and disposition of these materials, the public can inadvertently come into contact with these wastes. In addition, occupational exposure to these materials can create a safety hazard and pollute the environment.
In 1987, Penn State established an Infectious Waste Management Program to comply with 25 PA Code Chapters 271, 273, 283 & 285 of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection regulations. This program provides for strict management and handling of infectious materials, including animal wastes and sharps. EHS provides oversight of this program.
Infectious waste disposal is covered by University Safety Policy SY29, Infectious Waste Disposal (SY29). These materials are collected in specially designated containers, sterilized, packaged, and transported by EHS, eliminating employee exposure and ensuring proper final disposition. As one of the enhancements to this program, EHS provides specially designated sharps containers for students and employees who self-administer injectible medications.
Infectious Waste at non University Park campuses is disposed of and incinerated through a vendor service.We recently rebid our vendor contract for the disposal of infectious (medical) waste at all non-University Park locations. The contract was awarded to Veolia Environmental Services, in no small part because they have chosen to dispose of the waste through Curtis Bay Energy in Baltimore, MD. It is our understanding that Curtis Bay is the only company that operates a medical waste incinerator that burns the waste to create electricity, rather than just burning it to dispose of the material and render it harmless. This is another example of where PSU EHS has employed their contract with vendors to search for more sustainable alternatives.
Chemical Inventory Management
Chemical inventory management is an integral part of the safe use of chemicals. Every time you reduce chemical use, you reduce cost, emissions, and exposure to hazards and liabilities. Beyond the tangible benefits of reduced costs and waste, there are not-so-quantifiable benefits to well-managed chemical programs; reducing accidents; maintaining a good reputation in the community; reducing the likelihood of environmental releases. These are all positive aspects of sound chemical management. The University is integrating the use of Chemtracker as the means to provide this chemical management, with EHS taking the lead role.
The Penn State program:
- Allows the user to view chemicals present in the laboratory before re-ordering, preventing overstocking
- Promotes the sharing and reuse of chemicals
- Provides a chemical database to conduct quick searches during an emergency
- Provides location and quantitites of chemicals to meet regulatory reporting requirements
Despite careful training on the importance of purchasing only those chemicals necessary for any given research, excess chemicals are often an end result of many scientific experiments. Disposal of these excess chemicals results in increased volumes for disposal and increased costs. Chemical redistribution can provide a means of using some of these excess materials.
In light of this, EHS has established a program that allows all chemical users within the Penn State University system to obtain, free of charge, chemicals that are unused, but no longer wanted by the original user. This program is limited to uncontaminated chemicals in their original container, with a good shelf life.
EHS acts as the facilitator for this program and maintains an active listing of chemicals available for redistribution. These chemicals are used for PSU research purposes, by or under the direction of qualified personnel familiar with the properties and hazards. Through this process, approximately 1,000 pounds of chemicals have been diverted from hazardous waste disposal, reducing both waste and purchasing osts.
Hazardous Materials Shipping
Communicating the hazard associated with a material can mean the difference between life and death, or environmental contamination and responsible hazard management. The Penn State Hazardous Material Shipping Policy (SY34) assures that packages containing hazardous materials are assembled and properly labeled in accordance with the regulations to prevent environmental releases and assure the safe shipment of these materials. EHS has implemented a program that provides faculty, staff and students with the guidance to ensure that shipments of dangerous goods are safely processed while meeting federal and international regulations.
Microscale Chemistry in Undergraduate Teaching Laboratories
Microscale laboratory experiments utilize very small amounts of chemicals, reducing the quantities of hazardous materials used and hazardous waste generated. This technique was developed in the 1980's at Bowdoin College and Colorado State University.
In 1992, Penn State University's Department of Chemistry adopted the microscale approach to organic chemistry in undergraduate teaching laboratories. Approximately 4,000 students each year utilize microscale techniques in general chemistry and organic chemistry classes. Upon graduation, these students carry forward their microscale knowledge to other endeavors.
The benefits of microscale use in the laboratory are:
- Reduced volumes of hazardous waste generated
- Reduced volumes and costs of chemical reagents purchased, used, and stored. Cost savings of approximately $10,000 per year in chemical purchasing costs.
- Reduced hazards to laboratory personnel
- Less expensive equipment
- Reduced heating/cooling and set up time for experiments
- Reduced volumes of waste generated; the quantities of chemicals used are typically less than 1/10th the amount used in traditional experiments and create similar reductions in the quantity of hazardous waste generated.
Chlorinated Solvent Segregation
Segregation of solvent wastes is important to ensure that quantities of chlorinated solvents are minimized through appropriate laboratory management. These types of solvents pose a more significant environmental risk, as they do not degrade as readily in the environment as non-chlorinated solvents. As a result, their disposal poses long-term environmental implications. Additionally, disposal costs are higher than for non-chlorinated solvents.
At Penn State, laboratory personnel are required to store chlorinated solvent-containing wastes separately from non-halogenated solvent waste so that the quantities for disposal are minimized. These solvents can then be eliminated from the waste stream and used for fuel blending.
PSU generates approximately twenty-five drums of chlorinated solvent waste annually and 100 drums of non-chlorinated solvents. By segregating these wastes, the volume of chlorinated waste generated is reduced by a factor of five. Additionally, because the cost for disposal of chlorinated waste is approximately six times the cost of non-chlorinated waste, segregation results in a considerable cost savings to the University.
Recycling of Oils
During vehicle and equipment maintenance and repair, significant quantities of waste oil are generated. Recycling of this oil, which enables it to be reused as a fuel, eliminates this material from being handled as a waste.
Penn State has established a program for the recycling of waste oil. EHS partners with other units to coordinate this program as a component of the hazardous waste management program. Facilities that generate waste oil segregate these materials from other potentially hazardous materials. This involves specially-designated "waste oil" collection containers, which range in size from several gallons to aboveground storage tanks. EHS collects the smaller containers and consolidates non-motor oils and motor oils separately for recycling by our waste vendors. Motor oil from larger containers is collected from facilities directly by our vendors. The program provides thousands of gallons of oil for recycling each year.
All used oil recycling activities are conducted in accordance with federal regulation 40 CFR 279 and Pa DEP 25 Pa Code Chapter 298.
The process of photographic fixing generates solutions that contain silver at hazardous concentrations. Because of these concentrations, the solutions must be treated as hazardous waste. The recovery of silver from the photographic solutions eliminates the environmental hazard of their disposal and affiliated cost.
The recovery of "spent" silver is being performed in many locations at Penn State under the oversight of EHS. Silver recovery is accomplished through two different procedures - the first is in-situ silver reclamation, where the silver is reclaimed on-site. In other facilities, a second procedure is used whereby the solutions are collected by EHS for reclamation by our vendor.
The reduction of this hazardous substance in the waste stream has been possible with the increased use of digital photography.
Disposal Hierarchy for Chemical Waste
Hazardous wastes that are generated can be dealt with in a variety of manners, each with different long-term environmental implications. Recycling and reuse of materials is a first choice, as this involves no disposal. Alternatively, landfilling is a last choice for disposition of hazardous wastes.
Penn State's Hazardous Waste Management Program requires our hazardous waste vendors to utilize a hierarchy for the disposal of hazardous materials that considers these implications. This hierarchy is:
This hierarchy selects the most environmentally benign disposal option, thus protecting the University's long-term environmental and financial interests.
Radioactive material is a unique hazard because it naturally becomes less hazardous with time. For materials with a short half-life, the waste can be stored until it is no longer radioactive. It can then be disposed of as normal laboratory waste. This is allowed by federal regulation 10 CFR 20.2001.
Penn State has had a very active decay-in-storage program since 1986. Decay-in-storage is far less expensive and uses far fewer resources than shipping waste across the country for treatment. During the past decade, the University saw an annual cost avoidance of approximately $30,000 through the use of this program.
Radioactive waste is collected from laboratories by EHS, stored in our facility until it is no longer radioactive, and then disposed by the most appropriate method. Although the decay-in-storage program is more labor intensive than simply shipping it for disposal, the cost savings and the pollution avoided by having decay-in-storage make this a very effective program.
Mixed Radioactive and Hazardous Waste Minimization and Segregation
Waste that is both radioactive and hazardous must be handled under regulations applicable to both the hazardous constituent and the radioactive component. This is required by federal regulation 10 CFR 20.2007. Dual regulation makes disposal of this material extremely difficult and expensive. Segregation of mixed radioactive and hazardous waste from waste that is either hazardous or radioactive, but not both, significantly reduces the quantity of waste that requires special disposal, with ancillary cost savings. This process diverts unnecessary waste from regulated facilities.
Laboratory personnel at Penn State who use radioisotopes still occasionally need to use hazardous chemicals in this research and have been required to place mixed radioactive and hazardous chemical waste into containers separate from their normal waste stream. This reduces the volume of the mixed radioactive/hazardous waste. This program, under EHS, is closely monitored to ensure proper use and disposal.
Waste Segregation by Radionuclide
The segregation of radionuclide-specific waste allows flexibility in the proper disposal of these materials. Those wastes with short half-lives can be disposed of in less costly and resource-intensive manners than those with long half-lives.
Historically at Penn State, all radioactive material was treated as one waste stream. In the mid-1980's, EHS implemented a program that required laboratory personnel to segregate their waste by different radionuclides, allowing some short-lived radionuclides to be stored until they are no longer radioactive (see Radiological Decay-in-Storage above). This allows for a reduction in the quantity of material that needs to be disposed off-site, with ancillary cost savings and environmental benefits.
Approval for Use of Radionuclides
Rules and procedures associated with the use of all radionuclides at Penn State provides strict usage and storage practices related to these materials at the "front" end of the use cycle where efforts can most readily be seen. These rules are aimed at reducing hazards to people and the environment.
All users of radioactive material must be trained by EHS staff before they are allowed to work with the material. This ensures that students and staff are aware of the hazards, ways to minimize hazards and ways to minimize waste generation at the earliest possible stage. Also, all procedures involving radionuclides are reviewed by EHS and the University Isotope Committee to ensure that the material will be used safely and properly, and that the waste types and quantities are considered. Laboratory supervisors are required to revise their procedures if the expected waste is particularly hazardous or high in volume.
As part of the prior review of procedures, the intrinsic hazard of the particular radionuclide is analyzed to determine if other less hazardous methods could be used.
Use of Non-Toxic Liquid Scintillation Fluids
The primary method of quantitatively analyzing very small amounts of radioactive material is through use of a liquid scintillation counter (LSC). Historically, the standard liquid used in LSCs in research institutions was toxic and flammable. In the mid-1980's, Penn State researchers were required to begin using a new class of LSC fluids that were both less toxic and less flammable. Additionally, these liquids have higher vapor pressures that reduce airborne pollutants and worker exposures.