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Archive for Sunday, September 20, 2009

KU works to improve waste disposal methods

September 20, 2009

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Nearly one year after the Environmental Protection Agency levied fines against Kansas University, KU officials are continuing efforts to prevent hazardous waste disposal violations from recurring.

As part of an agreement with the EPA, KU had to undertake an environmental project detailing individual hazardous waste management plans for the about 300 labs across the campus, said Mike Russell, KU director of environmental health and safety.

“It’s a humongous informational effort,” Russell said, referencing data collection efforts combined with communication on the necessity to follow regulations. “It’s up to them to implement it.”

Russell said the violations can stem from simple things like not closing a hazardous waste container or making sure that a container is properly labeled — instead of simply having the word “waste” scribbled on it with a marker.

“This boils down to daily individual correct practices, correct procedures and following proper behaviors,” Russell said.

Jon Tunge, associate professor of chemistry, said the process of educating students on the proper handling and disposal of hazardous waste was ongoing.

He said it’s particularly important to maintain education as new students cycle in and out of labs on campus. “It’s just a matter of being vigilant and making sure everybody’s educated all the time,” Tunge said.

Violations discovered on a Dec. 12, 2007, inspection led to a fine of more than $80,000 for KU — about $40,000 of which was a cash penalty paid for almost immediately after the fine was announced last September.

The remainder of the penalty was set aside to pay for staff time to institute the new program designed to collect and evaluate data and provide additional training for those who handle hazardous waste.

Russell said three people in his department, including himself, have been working on the new program in addition to their regular duties. The report also examines ways hazardous chemicals might be minimized in labs, he said.

The EPA found violations that included failing to determine whether some waste produced by KU was hazardous, allowing incompatible chemicals to be stored on the same shelf and operating as a hazardous waste treatment facility without a permit.

Problems were identified across campus, including at Malott Hall, Haworth Hall and the Pharmaceutical Chemistry Lab on West Campus.

The individually tailored lab plans will also identify all hazardous waste streams coming out of labs and will ensure that the waste is being handled properly, Russell said.

In 2005, KU was also cited for failing to determine whether some university-produced waste was hazardous. In its response to the EPA, KU officials tested the waste, and everything was proven to be nonhazardous. The university was cited for the same problem in 2000 and 1994.

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