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Chemical Disposal and Decommissioning

Years of experiments lead to an accumulation of chemicals that require appropriate handling and disposal

Michelle Dotzert, PhD

Michelle Dotzert is the creative services manager for Lab Manager. She holds a PhD in Kinesiology (specializing in exercise biochemistry) from the University of Western Ontario. Her research examined the...

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Relocating, downsizing, or shutting down a laboratory can feel daunting. Years of experiments lead to an accumulation of chemicals that require appropriate handling and disposal, and equipment that must be decontaminated and decommissioned. Workspaces must also be decontaminated prior to being vacated. Opting for a decontamination and decommissioning service provider with the ability to design a custom plan based on your lab’s specific needs while adhering to health and safety requirements ensures a smooth transition.

Chemical disposal requires significant expertise and stringent documentation. Prior to packing and removal, a full chemical inventory must be completed, and all containers must be appropriately labeled according to safety data sheets. Proper labeling and packing are also critical for transport to a disposal facility or a new lab. It is important to know which chemicals can and cannot be shipped together and to comply with DOT and EPA regulations. Depending on the size of the lab, this may be extremely time consuming, and improperly labeled containers and unknown waste containers pose further challenges. Fortunately, numerous vendors employ well-trained staff capable of completing a full inventory, as well as chemists and technicians capable of identifying unknown waste.

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Related Article: Tips for a Successful Laboratory Clean-Out and Relocation

Decommissioning and removing equipment pose unique challenges as well. Every institution will have a series of regulations pertaining to de-energizing, decontaminating, and removing equipment from laboratories. The type of work done in the lab will also determine which decontamination protocols are necessary. For some labs, unplugging and cleaning a device may be sufficient, while for those in which radiation is present, a much more rigorous protocol is required. Several service providers are able to address decontamination, certification, and packaging, ensuring the instrument can be safely removed and transported.

For labs moving to a new facility, these service providers also offer reliable shipping and tracking to ensure sophisticated equipment arrives at its final destination in working order. Alternatively, if an instrument is no longer needed, there are options for recycling and resale. Some services will pick up equipment, return it to a facility for debranding, and manage the sale of the item. For equipment that is not destined for resale, there are multiple recycling services that will accept unwanted equipment such as autoclaves, microplate readers, mills, ovens, glassware, microtomes, cryostats, etc., keeping additional waste out of landfills. Other organizations, such as Seeding Labs (Boston, MA), accept equipment donations for distribution to low- and middle-income countries.

Finally, the lab space itself must be decontaminated. Many labs have multiple areas with specific decontamination requirements, such as fume hoods, animal facilities, and cold rooms. Services that work with certified industrial hygienists and environmental health and safety consultants are best equipped to decontaminate lab space and provide the appropriate documentation.

Moving or closing a lab does not have to be a monumental task. Many service providers have highly trained staff capable of performing chemical identification and disposal as well as equipment decontamination and removal. Working with a decommissioning service keeps lab personnel safe from hazardous chemicals and contaminants and keeps old equipment out of landfills.