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Hazardous waste management inspections conducted in Sidney Frank Hall this summer uncovered violations in 10 biology and neuroscience laboratories, according to an Office of Environmental Health and Safety report, a copy of which was obtained by The Herald.

The labs were found to be in breach of container-management issues including improperly labeling waste depositories, displaying open hazardous waste containers, using inappropriate storage vessels, blocking laboratory egress and storing incompatible materials together.

The Office of Environmental Health and Safety conducts twice-yearly inspections of all research facilities, allowing labs to correct violations within a one-week time frame. But Henry Huppert, the University's environmental compliance officer, said some labs do not immediately resolve violations despite repeated citations.

"Sometimes, it doesn't get communicated down to the lab staff," Huppert said. "Some people are right on it, and some people delay."

The June report — a joint effort led by Huppert and Director of Environmental Health and Safety Stephen Morin — was released less than a year after similar inspections at the University of California, Los Angeles failed to prevent a lab accident that resulted in the death of a research assistant. The lab where the accident occurred did not undertake the recommended corrective actions.

Despite examining reports from the UCLA accident — which occurred after similar inspections — Morin said his office has not changed its inspection process. "We're still looking at that report," he said. "We convinced ourselves that we're okay with that, but it really comes down to practicing safe science."

The most frequent violations are "common things," such as mislabeling or failing to label waste containers, Huppert said. But he said he frequently sees "the same patterns" in individual labs, especially when there are new people — signifying a carelessness he said his office is working to combat.

Huppert said he and another inspector in the office conduct all the hazardous waste inspections unannounced, a practice he said he hopes will prepare labs if the Environmental Protection Agency decides to conduct its own investigations at Brown.

"It's ongoing work," he said. "It's a partnership with good researchers."

"I think we just addressed all the issues," said Professor of Biology Robert Reenan, who leads a lab that was found to have unlabeled hazardous waste containers, incompatible chemicals stored together and a blockage preventing safe egress from the lab.

Ultimately, he said he left the responsibility for fixing the violations to his lab manager. "I don't know the specifics," he said.

"We are required to remedy the violation and send a report," said Professor of Medical Science Arthur Landy, whose lab had unlabeled hazardous waste containers. But he said he did not know the "exact time frame" that labs are given to correct the violation.

The recent budget crunch has also generated questions about the future of the program's management, Morin said, which could further affect the hazardous waste standard.
"It's one of the things you worry about with the budget," he said. "We try to balance lots of things, and cost is one of them."

Though he said his office would never jeopardize waste management, Huppert would consider eliminating outsourcing — his office began delegating waste pickup to outside contractors after he came to Brown in 2000 — and transitioning to an on-call pickup system instead of a weekly schedule.

Despite the office's constant efforts, Morin said accidents still occur.

"There are small spills — incidental spills," he said. As an example, he said a mercury thermometer — which his office is trying to remove through a replacement program — broke in a lab on Monday. But he said this type of accident was "not as bad as it used to be."

"I'm proud of where we are today," Morin said, but "there are still more things we want to do."


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