Nov. 9, 2001
Volume XXXIV, No. 45


Of Note


Institutional safety office helps keeps UTHSC clean, safe

Photo of Ungaretta in hazard suit Dressed in a protective suit, Fred Ungaretta stands in front of a chemical fume hood where he neutralizes hazardous chemicals.

The Sept. 11 attacks on America prompted heightened safety awareness across the country. At the Health Science Center, Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa, president, initiated some of the university's own security measures to ensure the safety of all university employees. These included new mail room procedures and new employee I.D. badge requirements. Another way the university is ensuring a safe campus environment is through its hazardous waste disposal program.

Chemicals are commonly required in education, research and patient care. Without these diagnostic and analytical tools, UTHSC researchers would not be able to perform some of the groundbreaking scientific work they do. But what happens to those chemicals when a research project is completed?

Through its proactive environmental management program, the UTHSC's institutional safety office is taking extraordinary precautions to ensure that all hazardous waste materials are removed from UTHSC facilities in a safe and timely manner.

Periodically, Fred Ungaretta, a chemist from National Environmental Management Specialists Inc. of Virginia Beach, Va., visits the UTHSC to handle this waste. National Environmental Management Specialists Inc. is part of the Environmental Systems Co. (ENSCO), a contractor with the UT System.

"Fred is one of just a few people who specializes in this field. He is a national expert in the safe management of laboratory chemical wastes," said Mike Gilmer, environmental protection manager in the institutional safety office.

The institutional safety office staff removes spent chemicals from facilities across campus on a nearly daily basis. When Ungaretta arrives, he spends several hours dressed in a protective suit neutralizing chemicals. This process renders the chemicals safe for transport to a licensed off-site treatment and disposal facility.

Gilmer encourages faculty, staff and students to report unneeded or outdated chemicals to the institutional safety office immediately. All environmental management services are provided to the Health Science Center community at no additional cost.

"Some chemical wastes exceeding the manufacturer's storage requirements have resulted in dangerous spontaneous reactions at other universities," Gilmer said. "That is why it is so important for everyone to be aware of and to report outdated chemicals so that we can remove them before they become dangerous."

Gilmer noted that some chemicals, such as benzoyl peroxide, acetyl peroxide, diethyl ether, diisopropyl ether, picric acid and perchloric acid, can be more dangerous than others. He added that people also should be aware of expiration dates on some more common substances, such as hydraulic pump oils, drain cleaners and paint strippers, that might be stored in offices rather than in labs.

"All labs are equipped with material safety data sheets (MSDS) and with safety equipment," Gilmer said. The MSDS provide detailed information about chemicals available in labs as well as instructions on how to handle those chemicals. Protective clothing such as lab coats, goggles and gloves, and equipment such as respirators and chemical fume hoods, also are provided in some labs. Offices where chemicals are used also should have MSDS and protective clothing available.

Gilmer said there are several things that UTHSC employees can do to support the university's pollution prevention plan.

"In the category of source reduction, we encourage lab users to use the smallest quantities of chemicals possible, substitute less toxic or non-hazardous chemicals for toxic counterparts, and in general minimize the amount and toxicity of waste materials produced," Gilmer said. "Additionally, people should not dispose of chemicals as hazardous waste when they can be recycled or reused. If you have no further need for a particular hazardous material, determine whether your colleagues can use it. Avoid stockpiling and duplicating chemicals. Check your inventories to avoid ordering chemicals that are already in stock. And keep inventories up to date."

Gilmer noted that university personnel who generate hazardous waste require initial and periodic training appropriate to their level of responsibility. The institutional safety office will provide training upon request to areas with unusual hazardous waste management requirements.

"Our goal is to keep the Health Science Center community safe while promoting our education, research and patient care goals," Gilmer said.

For more information, to report outdated chemical waste or to request safety training, contact institutional safety at ext. 7-2955.