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Get to Know More about Hazardous Waste on Campus

The University of Houston Department of Public Safety has a team of three individuals within the Environmental Health and Safety Department that complete hazardous waste pickups on campus. They will pick up anywhere on campus that is requested. The team’s main pickups are from the science laboratories, but on occasion they pick up hazardous waste from the Rec Center, Health Center, Architecture, Fine Arts, Energy Research Park, The Medical Center, and Plant Ops just to name a few.

Three types of hazardous wastes collected on campus are chemical, biological, and radiological/radioactive waste. Batteries, power supplies, gas cylinders, or canisters are also collected on campus. Chemical waste is probably the most diverse group to pick up as there are a wide range of chemicals from the laboratories on campus. The chemicals include corrosive materials such as acids or bases, flammable materials such as benzene, xylenes, ethers, alcohols, and heavy metals such as mercury.

The biological hazardous waste that the team picks up includes used pipette tips, agar plates, and biologically contaminated personal protective equipment or supplies (ex. Paper towels). They also pick up used needles and sharps (these should always be placed in a proper sharps container). One of the more “interesting” biological pickups are fruit flies. A number of labs in SRII use fruit flies for their research. And believe it or not, the team also picks up specimen body parts which, as you can imagine, is the least favorite item to pick up by the team.

Once picked up, the team takes all of the chemical and biological waste back to their Hazardous Waste facility for processing. The biological waste is properly boxed (if not already during pick up), stored, and labeled until the vendor comes to pick it up (about every two weeks). We attempt to properly classify and sort the chemical wastes and prepare for pick by another vendor as well.

Finally there are the radioactive materials. These pickups compromise the least of the total pickups, but are the most “delicate” as there is a lot of paper work and tracking to complete due to the sensitive nature of this waste. The team works closely with the Radiological Safety Group when dealing with these pickups. For the radiological pickups, the team is mostly just transporters. The Radiation Group takes care of most of the disposal for these materials through a vendor.

That’s a quick rundown of our hazardous waste collection here at University of Houston. While research is being done, someone behind the scenes is making sure the chemical, biological and radioactive waste is properly disposed.