expands system to track radioactive materials
Lori Wright, Media Relations
As the United States enters a summer of heightened concern regarding
terrorist attacks, UNH announces it has expanded its comprehensive
online system that tracks hazardous materials to include radioactive
materials, such as substances that could be used to manufacture
a dirty bomb.
Chemical Environmental Management System (UNHCEMS) was developed
by the UNH Research
Computing Center (RCC) in consultation with the UNH
Office of Environmental Health and Safety. The Web-based system
allows public and private research institutions to manage hazardous
chemicals and radioactive materials stored at multiple locations
on their campuses.
Radioactive materials are common in medicine and research, according
to Brad Manning, director of UNH Environmental Health and Safety.
UNHCEMS already tracks thousands of chemical and radioactive materials,
and UNH is working to expand the system to track biological agents,
such as anthrax and the plague.
“From the standpoint of Homeland Security and the U.S. Patriot
Act, this system dramatically increases the ability of universities
to track specific radioactive materials. For example, if we need
to determine if we have a particular hazard on campus, we can query
the system and find out within a minute if that substance is on
campus and exactly where it is located,” Manning says.
The system also tracks radioactive decay for materials. Radioactive
materials decay, or disintegrate, at different rates. By calculating
the radioactive decay of all radioactive materials stored on campuses,
UNHCEMS can accurately determine the level of radioactivity of the
“Most universities do not maintain comprehensive, online inventories
of their hazardous materials. Most universities simply don’t
have that information available or up-to-date. My counterparts at
other universities have had to hire people to go out and look in
every laboratory – hundreds of laboratories – to find
these hazards,” Manning says. “Unlike many universities,
we know what our risk factors are.”
A case study of UNHCEMS published by the Environmental Protection
Agency was included in the EPA’s best management practices
catalog for colleges and universities regarding homeland security.
UNHCEMS was developed as part of a settlement agreement with the
agency following an EPA inspection at UNH five years ago. At the
time, UNH was found to have violated the Resource Conservation and
Recovery Act regarding waste disposal in laboratories.
“This online chemical management system holds great potential
to help universities and colleges improve tracking and management
of chemicals and wastes,” says Robert W. Varney, regional
administrator of EPA’s New England Office. “We’ve
found in our inspections that many colleges are wasting significant
amounts of chemicals because they do not have systems in place for
accurately recording the identity, quantity and location of materials.
This system holds great promise to reverse this problem, resulting
in campuses that are safer and better for the environment.”
Brown University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst
are using UNHCEMS, and numerous universities and hospitals have
expressed interest in the system, according to Manning. In addition,
a government delegation from Macedonia recently visited UNH and
was presented the system as an option for part of its national emergency
response system. Universities and other organizations can easily
access the system via the Web.