Campus Consortium for Environmental Excellence

Background Information

Project XL
Final Rule

2001 Progress
2002 Progress

Final Project Agreement
Final Agreement
XL Stakeholders
Leighton Letter
Regulatory Relief
XL Rule

Legal Aspects
RCRA and Labs
LSEM RCRA interp
Minimizing Costs
Current Reg Arena
UConn RCRA Workshop
Yale RCRA Inspection
Development of a Laboratory EMP
Glassware Waste Project
Waste Min Project
Contacts and Info
LabWAM Priorities and Accomplishments
Background Information

Fixing RCRA (Powerpoint)
Chemical Safety Levels
Kids in Labs (Powerpoint)

Region 1
Region 2

Region 3
The R&D NESHAP Development Process
Clean Air Act

Pilot Schools' Draft EMP's

EPA Midterm Report

Boston College
BC Plan
BC Standards
UMASS Boston
Environmental Management Standard
University of Vermont
Lab Workers' FAQ's
The Rule, UVM docs
Baseline Report
Informatics Green Bridge Websites LabXL Home

Labs and Environmental Regulations

What is the Problem?

Laboratories are workplaces where small amounts of chemicals are used in non-routine ways. Because of these characteristics, laboratories have unusual problems in assessing and controlling their impacts on the environment. These problems are compounded by the fact that federal, state and local regulations treat laboratories as though they were industrial facilities, subject to the same pollution control strategies and regulations as large scale users of hazardous chemicals.

In 1990, OSHA recognized the unusual nature of the laboratory workplace by promulgating the OSHA lab standard. Unfortunately, EPA regulations have not made this distinction between laboratories and other workplaces. There are several efforts proceeding across the U.S. to develop more reasonable alternatives to the environmental regulations which are currently being applied to laboratories. In general, these efforts focus on developing performance-oriented regulations, similar to the OSHA standard. Performance standards are regulations which specify the goals which management systems have to reach, rather than the method of reaching them.

Performance-based standards would allow laboratories to reach defined regulatory goals by using methods that are more appropriate for their facilities. These standards, which may take a year or so to develop, could eventually replace many of the prescriptive command-and-control regulatory interpretations that many in the lab community find excessive.

Performance-based standards have proven to be very efficient in allocating compliance resources to maximize the benefit to the environment. They appear to suit laboratories especially well because of the variety and variability of laboratory activities.

Specific Issues

A variety of issues are involved in defining the optimum regulatory strategy for laboratories. These include:

Assessing the Environmental Impact of Labs:
It is not clear how much impact laboratories have on the general environment. Because of the small amounts of hazardous materials used and the control strategies used by laboratories, this impact is likely to be small. For example, it has been estimated that laboratories account for about 0.1% of the hazardous  waste generated in the United States.

Minimizing the Impact of Regulations on Lab Operations:
Because of the regularly changing nature of lab work, prescriptive regulations often produce inordinate burdens on laboratory operations.

Enforcement Issues:
Regulators need to have a mechanism to assure that laboratory operations are not impacting on human health or the environment. There are a wide variety of regulations that apply to laboratories in an uncoordinated way. A regulatory scheme for labs should include guidance for how to enforce the regulations in the highly  decentralized environments laboratories present.

A workshop organized by the University of Connecticut described these problems well in the context of enforcement actions. The Division of Chemical Health and Safety of the American Chemical Society hosted a workshop which explored related issues in more detail.

Some academic institutions have put together strong hazardous waste minimization programs. The waste minimization annual report from the University of Wyoming is a good example of a successful program and includes interesting waste generation numbers and trends.

Some Regulatory Alternatives

Work on developing a regulatory scheme for laboratories has been proceeding through various avenues. Some of the issues that have been discussed include:

Future Directions for Lab Regulatory Reform

Hazardous waste management is not the only area in which the current regulatory approach to laboratories imposes an significant burden. Managing air pollution from laboratories, reporting on hazardous waste minimization efforts, and planning for hazardous material emergencies are all regulatory arenas in which the industrial model is ill-suited for application for laboratories. These areas will likely need to be addressed in the future.