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NIH Environmental Management System

Take Action to Protect the Future


​To protect human health and the environment, NIH works to assure compliance with statutes and regulations governing chemical substances under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). NIH minimizes potential release of TSCA-regulated substances such as mercury, lead-based paint, asbestos, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and works to remove TSCA-regulated materials from campus via the NIH decommissioning program.

Elemental mercury poured from a sink p-trap, all contained in a secondary containment bin.

NIH is committed to providing its scientists, doctors​, nurses and support staff state-of-the-art laboratories and clinical facilities to meet contemporary challenges in health and medicine and foster an environment conducive for scientific discovery.  When upgrading facilities, NIH must ensure that existing buildings and renovated spaces remain free of contaminants such as unhealthy building materials, hazardous chemicals, radioisotopes, and pathogens.

A view inside a containment for a decommissioning project showing plastic sheeting covering surfaces that will be preserved.

Decommissioning is the process by which NIH properly vacates, surveys, and decontaminates facilities targeted for closure or renovation. It is an evolving process that begins with user information and requirements.  

Basic to the process is an understanding of all hazardous materials used and stored in each location, as well as preexisting building components that can become hazardous should they be disturbed during the process.  NIH implements a rigorous and thorough decommissioning process to protect the environment and public health throughout these efforts.

Click here for info on the Revised ANSI/ASSE Z9.11 2016 Laboratory Decommissioning Standard.

Goals of Decommissioning Elemental mercury removed from a decommissioning site contained in a glass vial.

Reduce potential for:

  • Personnel exposure to hazardous substances

  • Environmental releases and/or pollution

  • Short and long term liability to NIH

  • Project delays

  • Regulatory non-compliance

Does my location or project require decommissioning?

Facilities owned and operated by NIH can be very old. Materials used during the lifespan of many older buildings have been determined to be hazardous and environmentally inappropriate for disposal using standard solid waste collection practices. The only way to be certain as to the long term liability to NIH concerning potentially hazardous materials is to complete the decommissioning program (some projects may not include all phases depending on each unique situation). Current draft policy requires that all locations owned/operated by NIH must undergo decommissioning.

A worker in full hazmat (eye protection, respiratory protection, tyvek coveralls, gloves) scrapes PCB/Asbestos caulk from brick.

Successful decommissioning activities at NIH: 

  • Building 3

    • Building 10 (various projects)

    • Building 18 Complex

    • Building 29

    • Building 29B

    • Building 34

    • Gerontology Research Center (Baltimore)

    • Building 127 / 128 (Poolesville)

    • C. S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development (Wayne State University, Detroit)

    Facility Environmental Decommissioning plays a role in regards to the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). It is critical that all projects receive review to determine impacts in regards to the NEPA standard.

    When should I contact DEP for a decommissioning assessment?

    Information regarding the materials used, research, or maintenance activities within an NIH-owned or operated facility is often held by the active or current users. It is vital that the decommissioning team have an opportunity to interview the active users while their knowledge is fresh and current. Notification to the Decommissioning Program early in the space change, move or termination of operations processes is the only means to ensure that essential resources are enacted. Contact to initiate the process.

    Who is responsible to pay for costs associated with decommissioning?

    Depending on the age of the facility and length of time since renovation of the space the overall cost associated with decommissioning can be relatively low (survey only, no hazards found) compared to the renovation project budget (costs associated with construction and commissioning). Decommissioning can be extensive at times requiring a substantial budget for larger projects (floor level or entire building). Obligation to the facility users vary by situation, but typically the costs are shared between ORF and ICs depending upon the origin of the materials (research-related or facility-intrinsic). The contamination introduced through research specific activities are often a liability to the research entity or IC.

    How do ensure my location or project is decommissioned?

    For more information, contact the Decommissioning Program within the Division of Environmental Protection:


    Contact NEMS

    We look forward to hearing from you. Reach out to us in an email.