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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Workers wear bullet-proof vests and fireproof suits as they open out-of-date chemicals outside Parsons Hall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 at bay.

These are the safety measures it takes to rid the university of certain, highly hazardous chemicals that are out-of-date or no longer needed.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 removed.

“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 said.

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 program.

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 Kendall Hall.

Faculty and staff members are encouraged to test peroxide-forming chemicals at least annually or as suggested by the manufacturer. For testing instructions visit


To have hazardous wastes removed, contact the Office of Environmental Health and Safety at 2-4041.

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