Orange materials flag changes to hazardous waste labeling and storage

Front side of orange hazardous waste tag

The front side of the new orange hazardous waste container label. Side 2 contains two more questions. Submitted image.

Lab managers and researchers returned this month to some refined procedures -- flagged with a new orange color scheme -- for labeling and storing the hazardous wastes produced in their labs. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's first significant changes to hazardous waste regulations in about 30 years took effect June 1 in Iowa, and a team from ISU's environmental health and safety (EHS) department spent the summer updating signage, instructions and container labels for 1,800 campus labs.

Orange or green?

If the hazardous waste signage in your lab is neon green, call 294-5359 to request new (orange) materials.

Hazardous waste includes the spent chemicals, solvents, acids and bases used in lab experiments, shops and studios. The EPA deems they are hazardous if they are flammable, corrosive, toxic or reactive.

A campus Q&A page provides helpful information about the changes.

The intent behind the changes is better protection of both human health and the environment, said Clay Miller, environmental programs manager for EHS. The key changes require:

  • Additional information on the container labels in labs. Miller's staff created a two-sided orange label (pictured above) to accompany every container of hazardous waste -- including waste that's in the original container.
  • Lab users to decide if a material is hazardous. Under the old system, EHS staff made this decision after the material left a lab and arrived in EHS's holding facility.

If you think that second change is significant, you're not alone. Miller said the consensus among research stakeholders who met last March was that lab employees would know which waste products are hazardous and that it is wise to assign that decision to them.

Miller added that lab workers should know enough about the materials they're working with to know their hazards; OSHA (the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration) demands as much.

"This is about better communication and about keeping people safe in our labs," Miller said. His team will manage and transport materials as they have in the past.

Hazardous waste orange lab poster

A new lab poster summarizes hazardous waste storage and labeling requirements. Submitted image.

Orange poster

Miller's team also developed a small poster (8.5 by 11 inches, pictured right) for display in every lab that generates hazardous waste. In easy-to-understand language, it contains reminders on properly labeling and storing hazardous waste. It also includes a phone number and QR (camera-ready quick read) code for requesting pickup service from EHS.

Spill kits

A third key change to the hazardous waste regulations at the local level requires a spill kit in every lab that generates hazardous waste. Previously these were encouraged -- and Miller noted that a majority of Iowa State labs have them. He encourages lab managers to check each kit to confirm:

  • It's stocked with the materials necessary to deal with spills specific to that lab
  • It contains appropriate volumes of cleanup supplies relative to the lab's size

Iowa, Alaska out ahead

Because they don't have state environmental protection offices, the states of Iowa and Alaska must use the federal EPA rules. All other states have a choice (and a longer timeline) to either adopt the federal rules or develop more stringent ones of their own.

Miller said EHS is collaborating with Ames Laboratory and the ISU Research Park to educate its lab users about the revised process. As private companies emerge from the park's incubator facilities, Miller said he can help them implement their own hazardous waste program.

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