We define sustainability as meeting the today's needs without compromising the needs of future generations. Only 3% of the world's water is freshwater, however 2% is locked in the polar ice caps, leaving only 1% readily available for our use (Lamb, 1990, pp.1-2). Since the amount of freshwater on the Earth is finite, it is the responsibility of individuals and institutions (ie. universities) to preserve water quality. Because water is an essential component for life, it is important to maintain a supply of clean water. The University of Waterloo is closely linked to the surrounding community of Kitchener-Waterloo since the actions of people on campus have an effect on environment and the ecosystem throughout the Region of Waterloo. For example, the disposal of chemicals down drains in science labs ultimately compromises the Region's water quality.
In our project we are examining the disposal of chemicals by science students and Teaching Assistants (T.A.s) in the University of Waterloo's science labs. By undertaking a survey of undergraduate and graduate science students and T.A.s, we aim to determine the level of awareness of proper chemical disposal as well as current chemical disposal techniques used by the respondents in their labs.
Throughout our research, we have determined that several assumptions are held by various actors on campus. For example, representatives of the Hazardous Materials Handling Facility (HMHF) believe that the location and purpose of their facility are well known across campus. The Safety Office presumes that people know to contact them if they are unsure about chemical disposal. Additionally, the Office is convinced that virtually no chemicals are disposed of improperly, and the chemicals that are disposed of down drains have insignificant environmental effects because of a supposed large dilution factor.
Since awareness is a product of education, we are examining the educational programs through the key actors involved: the Safety Office, the Hazardous Materials Handling Facility, Science Lab Instructors and Teaching Assistants, and Science students. The system below illustrates the design of our project.
and Chemical Disposal Systems
In 1994, the University of Waterloo's Department of Health and Safety separated in to two distinct entities: the Safety Office and Health Services. The Safety Office is reponsible for ensuring that the University abides by the provincial Health and Safety Acts. Using educational programs, the Safety Office raises awareness throughout the University about the institution's policies and procedures concerning chemical disposal.
From our group's perspective, a great deal of assumptions exist regarding the level of awareness about proper chemical disposal (including policies, procedures, facilities, contact people). Although education and enforcement systems are currently in place, the structures do not appear to be sound. For example, the Safety Office has a policy of zero tolerance for improper chemical disposal. Yet, in some cases, the Safety Office may give permission to specific labs to pour chemicals down the drain if they are using large quantities of water. This attitude assumes that dilution is the solution to pollution.
The enforcement of the University's regulations is carried out in a series of steps that climbs a chain of authority. The University's Policy 34 is structured like a guideline since it outlines what should be done on campus in terms of health and safety procedures but does not mention the policy of zero tolerance at all.
Information regarding the systems and their structures was obtained through personal interviews with Safety Office personnel (regarding policies, procedures, and enforcement), and the Hazardous Materials Handling Facility, as well as surveys for those using the system to determine where flaws are located.
The educational system incorporates the awareness of hazardous chemicals and proper methods of chemical disposal in conjunction with Part IV of the Canada Labour Code, University of Waterloo Policy 34, Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) and the Region of Waterloo's by-law 90. By-law 90 (sewer by-law) states that a person convicted on charges of improper disposal of chemicals beyond the acceptable limits can be fined up to $5 000 for their first offense and up to $10 000 for subsequent offenses.
The University of Waterloo uses WHMIS as its primary method of educating staff and faculty on the safe and proper methods of handling and disposing of hazardous materials. The Safety Office offers WHMIS training to staff, students and faculty by means of a seminar followed by a test, in accordance with WHMIS regulations.
One of the requirements to become a Teaching Assistant (T.A.) is attendance at a WHMIS seminar conducted by the Safety Office. In this seminar, the prospective T.A. is taught how to read Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), the proper method for handling and disposing of hazardous materials, and lab safety protocol. The training received through this course enables the T.A. to share information with lab students.
One of the new additions to WHMIS through the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) in Section 36(1), where it states that an employer (including staff and faculty at the University) must maintain an inventory of all hazardous materials that are present in the workplace.
According to University of Waterloo Policy 34, the supervisor of a lab is responsible for informing the Hazardous Materials Handling Facility
that hazardous materials are in his/her possession and inquiring as to the best possible method of safe disposal.
The Safety Office is the focal point of education regarding chemical disposal, but educational efforts must be concerted. The co-operation of lab instructors, and T.A.s is necessary to raise awareness of proper chemical disposal techniques.
The Hazardous Materials Handling Facility is located on campus to safely dispose of or reuse chemicals utilized at the University. According to Scott Patterson, the contact person at the HMHF, the facility is well known across the university. Through their collection service and treatment of chemicals, the HMHF aids in reducing the amount of chemicals that end up in the water system. The collection service has three pick-up sites: B. Matthews Hall, Engineering 1, and Environmental Studies 1 on Tuesday afternoons. A special pick-up may be arranged by calling the HMHF. Through our research, our group discovered that the location of the facility is not common knowledge. In the undergraduate Science labs, the Teaching Assistants (T.A.s) are responsible for collecting and delivering the chemicals to the HMHF.
Under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act , all departments must keep an inventory of chemicals they purchase. Thus far, we are aware that the chemistry department and the HMHF have up to date inventories. The HMHF inventory records type and amount of chemicals that have been left behind by professors or chemicals that can be reused. Each bottle is sold for only two dollars.
A series of formal and informal interviews and lab observation will be conducted to gather information about current chemical disposal techniques and university policies and procedures in this area.
Discussions with key actors such as representatives from UW's Safety Office, Hazardous Materials Handling Facility, and Plant Operations have occurred and will continue to occur.
Informal testimonials from students enrolled in laboratory courses about disposal techniques in their labs have supplemented our information base.
Observation of several undergraduate and graduate Chemistry and Biology labs will also occur during the week of July 10-14th. Our group will observe how chemicals are being disposed of and what information is available on proper chemical disposal in the labs (eg. signs, collection buckets, and T.A. instruction).
Thus far, interviews we have conducted have provided us with background information about current educational, chemical disposal and laboratory systems that exist on campus. During our interviews we have gained insight into different actors' perceptions of the effectiveness of these systems.
Through observation of labs in session, we will compare the theoretical systems to the existing systems. We will assess the presence of the educational structure within the lab (ie. information posters, T.A. instruction, collection receptacles) and its consequences.
In order to assess the level of awareness among Science students and Teaching Assistants of proper chemical disposal techniques, we will undertake two surveys. The first survey will be distributed to a representative sample of undergraduate and graduate Science students who are currently enrolled in laboratory courses. The second survey will be handed out to a sample of T.A.s in Science course labs.
By undertaking the two surveys we aim to discover:
1. the students' and T.A.s' level of awareness about proper chemical disposal (knowledge of resources available including disposal facilities, contact people and literature);
2. find out how students and T.A.s are currently disposing of chemicals in their labs.
Ultimately, we hope to determine whether the current educational system regarding chemical disposal is effective on campus, particularly in Science labs. Through our survey, we plan to discover the strengths and weaknesses in the system and make recommendations where needed.
Surveys were distributed to 300 undergraduate Science students during their course lectures, the week of July 17-21, 1995.