Safety First: Getting Rid of Unwanted Chemicals
By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
July 11, 2007
Workers wear bullet-proof vests and fireproof suits as they open out-of-date
chemicals outside Parsons Hall
The scene looked like it was straight out of a movie: two men clad in flame-retardant
jumpsuits, wearing helmets with plastic shields that covered their faces.
Nearby, a safe-like metal box capable of withstanding a hand grenade explosion.
Yellow crime tape strung around Parsons Hall courtyard, keeping the curious
These are the safety measures it takes to rid the university of certain,
highly hazardous chemicals that are out-of-date or no longer needed. On June
21, nearly 50 containers—some peroxide-forming, others temperature
sensitive or posing explosion hazards--were stabilized and then packaged
for disposal. Another 21 reagents capable of forming peroxides were also
“This is something we generally do annually,” said Marty McCrone,
hazardous waste coordinator with UNH’s Office of Environmental Health
and Safety. “This is a great location; any time you move hazardous
material you want to be able to control foot traffic. And with the students
gone, this is a good time of year to do it.”
While the chemicals were being removed, McCrone was onsite along with colleague
Jeff Anderson and Durham Fire inspector Brendan O’Sullivan. Technicians
Jeff Melito and Ram Chhetri of Clean Harbors Environmental Services stabilized
the materials prior to their removal. Clean Harbors is a hazardous and non-hazardous
waste disposal company.
Box used to move chemicals from labs
The chemicals were transported from the laboratories out to the courtyard
in what’s called a day box, which is a designed so the bottom will
blow out if any of the containers break.
Before the men began, a grounding rod with a line hooked to the containment
box was planted in the ground a few feet away. Melito was grounded through
a wrist strap that plugged into the box.
“Static is one of our biggest enemies,” Melito said.
Grounding rod connected to remote container box
The safe-style box had a device similar to an air compression gun inside
that remotely opened each container. Chhetri operated the equipment from
the service van. After a chemical was opened, Melito stood to the side of
the box when he opened the door.
“I look at Ram while I’m opening it. If there’s no fire
inside, he gives me the thumbs up. We only stop if there’s a fire,” Melito
The chemicals had been part of the inventories of the animal and nutritional
science, biochemistry and molecular biology, civil engineering, zoology,
chemical engineering, natural resources, chemistry, microbiology and plant
biology departments as well as the University Instrumentation Center, the
Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space and the materials science
Chemicals stored in Parson Hall
“We recently conducted a thorough review of the university’s
chemical inventory and found several hazardous, peroxide-forming chemicals,” says
David Gillum, assistant director of Environmental Health and Safety. “Several
of these chemicals were removed and hopefully will be replaced with either
smaller volumes of the same material or replaced with less hazardous alternatives.”
During the last year, as part of its inventory reduction, the university
also removed 900 chemicals through their normal hazardous waste process from
Faculty and staff members are encouraged to test peroxide-forming chemicals
at least annually or as suggested by the manufacturer. For testing instructions
To have hazardous wastes removed, contact the Office of Environmental Health
and Safety at 2-4041.