NIH Environmental Excellence - Success Stories and Awards
NIH WINS EPA NPEP AWARD BY REDUCING MERCURY THROUGH SUSTAINABLE LAB DECOMMISSIONING
NIH was the first federal facility in Maryland to enroll in the National Partnership for Environmental Priorities or NPEP. NPEP is EPA’s voluntary program in which private and public organizations work with EPA to reduce the use or release of 31 priority chemicals, including mercury, beyond regulatory requirements. In becoming a partner, NIH committed to establishing an organization-wide education and awareness program to eliminate mercury use where alternatives are available, and to prevent future installation of mercury switches and other devices in all new NIH facility construction.
In addition to these commitments, NIH also saw a great need to address mercury and other legacy contaminants in facilities undergoing renovation and committed to a major initiative to reduce pollutants from renovation processes. Like many other biomedical research and educational facilities, the NIH campus has a large inventory of aging clinical and laboratory buildings where a large variety of chemicals, radioactive materials and biohazardous agents have been used and could remain as contaminants.
Improved methods of quickly identifying, removing and separating hazardous wastes from other debris generated by renovation and deconstruction activities were necessary. Unless hazardous components are identified and removed before demolition, debris from these activities may have to be managed and disposed of as hazardous waste, which is extremely expensive and uses up space in secure chemical landfills. Few landfill facilities can accept mercury debris resulting in additional emissions from transportation of the waste to distant disposal facilities.
NIH has established an improved process to characterize wastes from renovation of laboratory buildings termed decommissioning which was tested in a full scale pilot project that involved complete gutting of NIH Building 3, a historic, four story laboratory building constructed in 1938. Lessons learned from this project were disseminated in several presentations, used to refine the protocol and then applied to numerous small renovation projects and several large scale projects including the complete demolition of Building 36.
NIH’s voluntary goal of recycling one pound of mercury was met by removing and recycling more than 14,000 mercury-containing fluorescent lamps. Thirty-one pounds of mercury metal was removed from other sources and shipped to a retort facility for recycling. Additionally, through decommissioning of Buildings 3 and 36, NIH achieved the following: removal and recovery of more than 2,800 pounds of mercury-containing debris and other waste materials; removal and recovery of more than 22,000 pounds of ballast materials, some of which contained PCBs. Assessment, decontamination and selective demolition of contaminated areas of Building 36 allowed the recycling of more than 5,800 tons of debris, primarily concrete and scrap metal to be recycled as non-hazardous material. Virtually all of the remaining structure of the building was recycled. EPA estimated that these recycling activities resulted in energy savings equivalent to removing nearly 3,300 cars from the roadways for one year. Recycling and reuse of this material also saved significant landfill space.
Design requirements for new NIH facilities are in place prohibiting installation of mercury switches and other devices in new facilities. Large reductions in the total amount of mercury in use for biomedical applications at NIH facilities have been achieved through activities of the agency’s ongoing Mad as a Hatter? Campaign for a Mercury Free NIH, which seeks to improve awareness of mercury hazards and encourage the voluntary elimination of unnecessary uses of mercury in all NIH facilities nationwide.