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Managing Academe’s Hazardous Materials

A guide to planning for this enlarging problem.

From Volume 19 Number 2 | Winter 1990–1991

Abstract: Colleges and universities generate a significant amount of hazardous waste daily. Chemistry laboratories, health centers, and motor pools contribute significantly to the problem, upwards of millions of dollars a year for large universities. Recent federal and state regulations cover many hazardous materials and are applicable to insitutions of higher learning. University planners must be aware of this growing problem. Hazardous materials are harmful to humans and the enviroment, often resulting in hazardous waste. These materials are physical hazards--high-pressure gases and radioactive substances; chemical hazards--flammable and toxic; or biological hazards--organisms that can cause human disease. Hazardous waste includes only waste chemicals, not physical and biological wastes. Hazardous substances is a broader category than hazardous waste and includes virgin materials and some radioactive and infectious materials. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 is the major piece of federal legislation dealing with hazardous waste. The Environmental Proection Agencey has promulgated rules for compliance with the act. They include daily and long-term procedures for handling and disposing of waste. The Superfund imposes "retroactive, strict, joint, and several" liability on a potentially responsible party, who is held liable for costs related to prior action not illegal at the time. Many universities are forced to contribute to cleanup costs for a commercial landfill to which they sent waste. Essentially, better planning and management generation and disposal is neceassary. The institution must educate faculty, staff, and students on the importance of waste reduction (minimization of waste production leads to less waste disposal). This agenda can be accomplished once a person or office is designated to manage hazardous materials. A strong commitment from high-level administrators is necessary.

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