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While assessing laboratory management practices throughout the University of Vermont campus, via routine inspections and waste disposal procedures, it has become increasingly obvious that laboratories are depending on glassware materials in large quantities. Numerous amounts of beakers, flasks, pipets, etc.... are used for various experimental analyses, tests, and procedures as needed for the research that is being done. The variability of the latter causes a wide spectrum of usage. That is to say all of the different departments and labs on campus are using glassware for different purposes. Thus, a wide range of waste must be cleansed from the glassware before reuse. What the Environmental Safety Facility is looking to do is assess any possibilities of waste source reduction revolving around glassware washing techinques. More specifically, reducing waste sources arising from the chemicals and processes being used to clean the glassware. Source reduction being any practice that reduces the amount of contaminant entering a wastestream or the environment prior to recycling, treatment, or disposal, while reducing public health and environmental hazards.

If current glassware washing methods produce some hazardous wastes, perhaps a more environmentally sound method of cleansing glassware could be found. If a new method proved to be more economically feasible and environmentally friendly, maybe an exchange of some sort could be worked out. Thus reducing or eliminating current methods that utilize or produce hazardous chemicals (e.g acid washes, benzene, residue by-products, etc).

Where did we start?

In order to know how we are going to approach reducing source contamination, it is imperative to find out what is presently being done in UVM campus laboratories concerning glassware washing.

  • 155 self designed surveys were distributed to UVM lab technicians toward the end of March and included a flexible April 16 deadline.
  • By April 30, sixty-five surveys were returned representing a 42% return.
  • All returned surveys were collected and answers to all fields were entered into a simple database.

Using the database, it was possible to analyze and group the various responses for each field. The answers to survey questions are comprised of "Yes/No", multiple choice and short answer replies. The following is a general break down of the received information.

Out of the 65 returns, 32 were from Given medical building. This represents a significant return from one source as it comprises a major portion of the sample. Other scientific buildings that are known to have numerous amounts of laboratories are misrepresented by the survey results. For example Cook, Marsh, Aiken, Terrill, and Rowell are represented by only one response each.

Given: Medical Building (32) Stafford: Microbiology and Molecular Genetics (6) Hills: Plant and Soil Science (2) Aiken: School of Natural Resources (1) Colchester Research Facility (4) Marsh Life Sciences (1)
Baird (4) Cook Physical Sciences (1) Terrill: Animal, Food & Nutritional Science (1) Rowell: Allied Health Sciences (1) North Prospect St.: VT Cancer Research (2) Given Medical Alumni (5)

What did we find out?

Significant findings from the survey:

  • The majority of the laboratories are used for research purposes
  • Laboratories reuse glassware and are responsible for cleaning it themselves.
  • Usually, less than 25 pieces of glassware are used daily.
  • Glassware is washed daily or as needed by the laboratory.
  • Laboratory by-products and residues are commonly rinsed away into the sink
  • The majority of laboratories wash glassware by hand
  • Glassware management practices are not usually specific to the research being done.
  • A majority of the laboratories would be willing to change to a more environmentally sound alternative.

In an attempt to discover significant sources of waste generated by laboratory experiments, a number of questions were asked revolving around experimental by-products and other types of materials that are routinely poured down the sink. The response to the latter was quite overwhelming as it included a wide range of laboratory materials. Constants among laboratories included buffer solutions, autoclaved media, and diluted general lab chemicals. It may be futile to attempt any measures to reduce waste from all UVM research laboratories revolving around glassware managment. However, it may be advantageous to focus on a specific aspect of glassware washing that is a significant source of hazardous waste as well as a laboratory safety concern.

Chromic Acid

It was decided that the scope of the glassware project would be narrowed to focus on informing laboratories about the dangers of using harsh acids to clean glassware. In this case, we had received a couple of survey returns from laboratories still using chromic acid and chromerge to clean glassware. Historically, chromic acid and cleaning agents using chromium are effective in that they make cleaning stubborn residue off of glassware easier. However, using chromic acid on a regulatory basis for cleaning purposes is cause for concern as it is unsafe, hazardous to the environment, and is costly to dispose of. The issue then arises, "Are these the only laboratories on campus still using chromic acid? Are there more? Are they knowledgeable of the safety and evironmental concerns using chromium compounds? What can we do to inform them?"

Chemsource Flyer

Working through Chemsource advertisements, glassware information could be relayed to laboratories on a flyer distributed throughout campus. This flyer would provide the forum for informing laboratories about chromic acid use and possible alternatives. The flyer would act as a fact sheet as well as an opportunity for labs to respond if they were interested in glassware cleaners that were more environmentally friendly. Not only would the ESF be willing to provide MICRO*, a cleaning solution, but we would also be willing to investigate alternatives suitable for specific research needs.

One of the major problems we have run into in the past and currently is locating an up to date list of personnel working in laboratories around UVM. To get around this problem we attempted to distribute flyers to laboratory rooms instead of actual personnel. To do this, a list was generated using the fume hood inspection database. Logic being that any room on campus with a fume hood is a working laboratory because fume hood inspections occur every year.

A number of responses from the Given Medical Building requested samples of MICRO cleaning solution. Ten, 8oz MICRO samples were acquired from Cole-Parmer. These samples were then distributed to the laboratories interested along with instructions and a letter requesting trial usage and to respond whether or not the product met their needs.