Rapid response from Environmental Health and Safety removes hazardous waste from labs

Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) provides biological waste and chemical waste pick up services to UT Austin laboratories.  When lab closures due to the coronavirus were announced on March 23, 2020, the EHS hazardous materials team had to move quickly to remove waste for disposal from labs that were to be closed. In addition to a large amount of waste to pick up in a short amount of time, the team of five hazardous materials experts had the challenge of maintaining social distancing.

Led by EHS Associate Director Nena Anderson, the team met those challenges by reworking its approach to waste removal. Three sets of two hazardous materials and lab safety employees worked in designated areas of campus, each individual arriving in a separate vehicle. Anderson met with staff daily to discuss which teams would address specific buildings.

“We really came together as a team,” Anderson said. “We had to discuss our approach as a team and were touching base every morning and afternoon.”

To make the removal process as easy and safe as possible, EHS reached out to their laboratory contacts and principle investigators in laboratories that produce biological waste, alerting them that their waste would need to be put in hallways so that EHS teams could do sweeps.

“In one week, we picked up over 100 biowaste boxes,” said Anderson. Picking up was done not only on main campus but also at the J.J. Pickle research campus, clinics and the Dell Pediatric Institute. Due to the success of the sweeps, the waste disposal contractor was able to haul away the boxes on March 26, 2020.

Chemical waste remained in laboratories for safety reasons. The team tracked chemical containers daily, picking up 600 to be removed by a contractor.

Anderson is quick to acknowledge the support given to her team. “Had it not been for the support from other programs within EHS, we would have been completely overwhelmed.”

The hazardous materials group continues to handle biological and chemical waste removal from laboratories that are allowed to remain in operation.

Learn more about EHS on their website.

EHS chemical waste storage at the Material Transfer Center (MTC)
Chemical waste containers are tagged and submitted for waste pickup by EHS and stored at the Material Transfer Center (MTC), shown here. They are then consolidated and transported from the MTC by the waste vendor.
April 24, 2020