To remain profitable or within budget in today’s business environment, organizations that operate laboratories must make important decisions about how they are investing time and resources on core capabilities like research, and how to avoid being sidetracked by noncore functions like lab management. Whether a university research facility, a research and development lab for a company or a local high school chem lab, managing the laboratory chemical waste removal process is becoming a challenge in an increasingly hostile regulatory environment.
Research laboratories like all hazardous waste generators are subject to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA). RCRA established the “cradle to grave” requirements for the treatment, transportation, storage and disposal of hazardous waste in the United States. As such, laboratories like all businesses are required to track chemicals from the second they enter their sites, and with best practices inventory management, to know where they are and when they expire. Hazardous materials are used and recycled until they are put into containers waiting for pickup by the chemical waste company.
Local government agencies tasked with regulating the hazardous waste disposal laws have been actively going after universities, school districts and research and development facilities for violations of hazardous waste disposal laws. Over the last several years, West Virginia University, the Mayo Clinic and a disposal company serving public schools in Rhode Island and Massachusetts have all received fines and escalating costs related to cleanup of hazardous waste involving laboratories. Typical violations include:
Improper storage of hazardous waste.
Failure to make a hazardous waste determination.
For organizations that run laboratories, these challenges are requiring leaders to evaluate the processes that their organizations are using to run their facilities. This means reexamining methods for handling high-risk functions such as the disposal of hazardous materials. It is crucial for leaders to evaluate these three threats when determining how to handle critical hazardous waste materials:
Threats to people: Carelessness or inexperience can turn a hazardous waste storage and collection area into a danger zone. A deadly chemical reaction, a quick-spreading fire, or a treacherous spill can cause injuries to lab staff or first responders.
Threats to the bottom line: As discussed previously hazardous waste disposal requires compliance with stringent federal and state regulations. Failure to properly follow and stay up-to-date with the law could result in heavy fines in the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.
Threats to research and innovation: Organizations may currently require their scientists to manage part of the hazmat disposal process, including handling waste and consolidation processes. This can be a time waster for research staff and a major distraction from valuable research time. It’s many not be a good use of a valuable resource, and can ultimately result in a loss of crucial research.
Many labs are looking to better manage the laboratory chemical waste removal process by outsourcing hazardous waste management to hazardous waste disposal companies. Among the many benefits of outsourcing are a reduction in staffing costs, shared liability with your removal company and in many cases the development of up-to-date procedures.
When selecting a vendor, organizations need to make sure that companies are properly licensed and have the expertise and experience needed to successfully handle the cradle to grave requirements of RCRA. Many laboratories are finding that outsourcing this process can deliver sustained cost savings, increased productivity for researchers and limited exposure to fines and violations. For more information on hazardous waste management download our EBook “Handling Hazardous Waste.”