Archive for Tuesday, August 5, 2008

EPA impact

Kansas University’s apparent inability to correct the way its labs handle and store chemicals could affect the university’s reputation, as well as its safety.

August 5, 2008


It's easy for Kansas University officials to say that they take violations of Environmental Protection Agency regulations seriously, but their actions say otherwise.

The EPA is threatening to fine KU after discovering for the second time in three years problems with the way campus labs handle and store potentially hazardous substances. Not only do problems exist now; at least some of the same problems existed in 2005, according to EPA officials.

"When you find the same things, it shows there is a pattern," said an EPA official. "It shows there really haven't been institutional things done to correct the problem."

Before KU or anyone else dismisses the EPA violations as overzealous government regulation, here's a question to consider: What would happen to Kansas State University's hopes of landing the new National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility if that university were cited for the same kind of problems found at KU?

The answer seems pretty clear. The lab that KSU and Manhattan are hoping to attract would deal with many deadly toxins. Any hint of laxity in how the university stores or disposes of materials used in its labs almost certainly would take it out of the running.

The problems KU is having with the EPA are not insignificant. They apparently haven't resulted in any serious injuries or incidents, but when university employees are unable to even identify for an EPA inspector what is in several unlabeled bottles in the lab, the possibility that something could be mishandled is very real. Inspectors also noted several sets of chemicals stored together that, if mixed, could react in a way that triggers a fire or explosion.

In addition to the safety implications of this situation, one also has to wonder whether citations and possible fines from the EPA will have - or perhaps already have had - a negative impact on KU's reputation and its ability to attract research grants in certain areas.

Despite their claims to the contrary, the fact that KU has been cited twice in three years for some of the same problems also indicates that KU leaders aren't taking this situation as seriously as they should. If they aren't sufficiently impressed with the safety and environmental issues raised by the EPA, maybe the potential effect of those findings on research funding will get their attention.


tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years, 5 months ago

"... KU has been cited twice in three years....""Now don't be sad...Two outta three ain't bad."

nobody1793 9 years, 5 months ago

Just out of curiosity, has LJW requested EPA inspection reports of K-State? The types of things cited (unlabled beakers etc.) happen on every campus, because you're dealing with inexperienced students.A biodefence lab or a company lab would be staffed by professionals who likely spend more time doing regulatory-compliance paperwork than actually doing experiments.

Alison Carter 9 years, 5 months ago

Start fining the inexperienced students then......they need to learn, learn, learn good experimenting habits...for their own sakes and ours..

walleye9898 9 years, 5 months ago

Well Lloyd you need to learn how to do a little research and use the web. Since you shot your mouth off and copped an attitude here it is to prove you wrong!KSU was inspected by EPA in 2002. They two were beat up on by EPA inspectos and "alleged" to have many of the violations that EPA inspectors "allege" KU does. KSU ended up negotiating and settling with the EPA for a $92,000 penalty. The proof/facts of the KSU consent agreement for hazardous waste may be found here: you want to learn more about how EPA has beat up on and penalized various entities and not just Colleges/Universities go here:

KULawrence 9 years, 5 months ago

Uhmm: KSU has been fined for similar violations in the recent past. What I want to know is why top-tier researchers such as found at KSU and KU choose not to follow basic safety policies.

kansaskev61 9 years, 5 months ago

The headline say's the findings could effect KU's reputation. I assume they mean their positive reputation. I didn't know KU had a positive reputation. Except of course with the drug induced, beer soaked, over sexed liberal graduates. This coming from a drug induced, beer soaked, over sexed KU grad.

LloydDobbler 9 years, 5 months ago

Yea, that's what I thought. Shooting from the hip.

LloydDobbler 9 years, 5 months ago

KU Lawrence - Where are you getting your information about KSU fines...I looked on the EPA website and found nothing. I am not saying that every university lab in the country probably has violations, but let's get our facts straight before we start shuttling fault outside of where it belongs.

LloydDobbler 9 years, 5 months ago

Walleye - So your saying that findings in 2002 (6 years ago) with no follow-up violations are equal to violations in 2005 and the same alleged violations in 2008? I am not defending KSU, I am simply indicating that there is a big difference between violations six years ago and repeated violations within three years of each other. This newspaper is pretty harsh on KU, at least on the academic side, but there does seem to be a pretty clear leadership problem (lack of) on this campus.

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