4.1 The Safety Office

4.2 Regulations and Enforcement

4.3 Education and WHMIS

4.4 Inventories and HMHF


5.1 Formal Interviews

5.1.1 The Safety Office

5.1.2 Scott Paterson (HMHF Manager)

5.1.3 Rick Zalagenas (Plant Operations Representative)

5.2 Informal Interviews



7.1 Goals of the Surveys

7.2 Copy of the Surveys

7.3 Method of Survey Distribution

7.4 Discussion of Survey Results

7.4.1 Undergraduate Surveys

7.4.2 Teaching Assistant Surveys



9.1 A Concrete Policy

9.2 WHMIS Requires a Tune-up

9.3 A Follow-up Watgreen Study



Appendix A: A Day in the Life of Sustainability

Appendix B: Actors and their roles

Appendix C: Raw Data

Appendix D: Presentation Script


Figure 1: Comprehensive System Study

Figure 2: Safety Office

Figure 3: Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)

Figure 4: Education System

Figure 5: Hazardous Materials Handling Facility (HMHF)

Figure 6: WHMIS Evaluation

Figure 7: Chemical Disposal by Undergraduates

Figure 8: Responsibility for Enforcement

Figure 9: Undergraduate Concern With Water Quality

Figure 10: Undergraduate Knowledge of HMHF Location


Table 1: List of Chemicals Poured Down Drain by Undergraduate Students


Presently, in the mid-1990s, resources are becoming scarce, creating a greater need to use them more efficiently. One method of achieving this goal is to adopt the principles of sustainability. We define sustainability as meeting today's needs without compromising the needs of future generations. Water is one resource that is under increasing stress and must be managed responsibly. Otherwise, we will be faced with an increasing supply of low quality drinking water. Amazingly, 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). Because water is an essential component for life, it is important to maintain a supply of clean water. Since the amount of freshwater on the Earth is finite, it is the responsibility of individuals and institutions (ie. universities) to preserve water quality.

At the University, a variety of groups interact with the water system on a daily basis. Science, ecology, and photography labs, and fine arts studios, are some groups that use water as a resource and, we suspect, as a disposal method. In these areas, chemicals are being used and disposed of in various manners, possibly including the disposal of chemicals down the drain.

Nearby communities are not immune from the effects of activities at the University. Wastewater produced by the University is cleaned at municipal sewage treatment plants and expelled into the Grand River. Kitchener-Waterloo's purified wastewater becomes the drinking water for cities such as Brantford, Ontario. Yet, chemicals in wastewater can destroy beneficial bacteria in the sewage treatment process. When this occurs, the chemicals that enter the sewage treatment plant are the same ones that come out. Therefore, Brantford residents end up drinking water tainted by the activities of industries, households and institutions, such as the University of Waterloo.


Our Goal:

To determine whether chemicals being disposed of down the drain in University Science labs, and if so, why?

Our Objectives:

1. Determine the actors involved in the use and disposal of chemicals on campus and their respective roles.

2. Conduct interviews with actors involved to obtain background information, and different perspectives on chemical disposal.

3. Observe undergraduate and graduate labs in progress to assess chemical disposal infrastructure and techniques used by students during their experiments. As well, observe the presence or absence of instructional signs explaining proper chemical disposal techniques.

4. Undertake a survey of undergraduate students taking Biology and Chemistry courses to determine their techniques for chemical disposal, their level of awareness of existing chemical disposal practices and their concern for the water system.


Throughout our research, we have assessed the different assumptions held by various actors on campus. For example, a representative of the Hazardous Materials Handling Facility (HMHF) believes that the location and purpose of the facility are well known across campus. The Safety Office presumes that people know to contact them if they have questions about proper chemical disposal. Additionally, the Office is convinced that virtually no chemicals are disposed of improperly. The Office assumes that the chemicals that are disposed of down drains have insignificant environmental effects because of the supposed large amount of University wastewater's diluting the chemicals.

As an investigative team, we held some of our own assumptions. We believed that adequate chemical disposal containers and instructional signs would be present in most labs. However, we did assume that some chemicals were still being disposed of down drains. One reason for this discrepancy, we thought, was our knowledge that many students felt that the on-campus WHMIS training course was ineffective.

The system below illustrates our project methodology. The diagram shows visually our goal and various hypotheses to explain possible outcomes. If chemicals are being poured down the drain, we want to find out whether it is a result of Health and Safety's (The Safety Office's) lack of enforcement of University regulations; inadequate instruction or communication between students and various instructors (eg. Teaching Assistants, Lab Instructors, Professors, WHMIS instructors); or a general lack of knowledge about the existence and role of the Hazardous Materials Handling Facility (HMHF) and its associated services.

In order to find the answers to our questions, we explored a variety of techniques. We investigated the existence of and the possibility of using departmental chemical inventories to determine the types of chemicals being used and the difference between the amount of chemicals purchased and the amount taken to the HMHF.

Interviews and observations allowed our group members to gain background information about the current chemical disposal system and the actors involved.

A survey of undergraduate students and Teaching Assistants helped to reveal actual practices being used in Science labs and respondents' attitudes and levels of awareness about chemical disposal and water issues.


4.1 The Safety Office

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 (including WHMIS training, and posters and pamphlets), the Safety Office raises awareness throughout the University about the institution's policies and procedures concerning chemical 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 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.

4.2 Regulations and Enforcement

Under Canada'a Labour Code, and Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act, places of employment are required to follow the outlined regulations to ensure the safety of its employees. The University of Waterloo's Safety Office has created its own policy (Board of Govenor's Policy) in conjuction with Federal and Provincial legislation that pertains to the campus specifically.

The University's Policy 34 (which can be found on the UWinfo home page, Administration and Services departments, the Safety Office) outline procedures to be followed to ensure the safety of all people on campus and gives the Director of Safety the power to enforce it regulations see Figure 2 . While statements describing rules for proper chemical disposal are not explicitly made, the policy infers that chemicals should be disposed of properly in order to maintain campus safety. For example, the Safety Office's aim for zero tolerance of chemical disposal into the water system is not mentioned in the policy.

If it is discovered that chemicals are being disposed of improperly, the following steps will be taken. First, the Safety Office attempts to educate the perceived offenders about the correct method of chemical disposal. If that approach fails, the problem is discussed with faculty and departmental representatives to keep this process as bureaucratic free as possible. If the department does not solve the problem, the Safety Office will take the issue to the administration and expulsion or firing of the person(s) involved will occur.

Under the Region of Waterloo By-law 90 (sewer by-law), if the University is convicted on charges of improper disposal of chemicals beyond the acceptable limits the University can be fined up to $5 000 for their first offense and up to $10 000 for subsequent offenses. The Region of Waterlo has plans to test the University's wastewater by the end of the summer.

4.3 Education and WHMIS

(A HREF="clickwhm.html">WHMIS is a legislative program that ensures a person's right to know about hazardous materials in the workplace. 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. Under the Provincial WHMIS regulations, students are not required to take a WHMIS traing course. However, under Policy 34, students are considered to be employees of the University and therefore must take the course.The Safety Office offers WHMIS training to staff, students and faculty by means of a one hour seminar as an introduction to what they can expect to find in a lab in terms of chemical information( ie labels and material safety data sheets). A test is administered at the end of the session with the answers provided. This seminar is usually taken by the students during orientation week, then the students are given a WHMIS sticker to put on their ID card, and their transcripts are credited for the course.

Further educational instruction regarding the disposal of chemicals in the labs is to come from the Teaching Assistants and Lab Instructors see Figure 4 . Throughout the students WHMIS course, the role of their instructors is emphasized since they are the students' resourse for specific safety instruction. 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 their students.

According to University of Waterloo Policy 34, the supervisor of a lab is responsible for informing the Hazardous Materials Handling Facility (HMHF) that hazardous materials are in his/her possession and inquiring as to the best possible method of safe disposal. Since the science buildings are interconnected, the Teaching Assistant/Lab Instructor is responsible for collecting the used chemicals and taking them to the HMHF to be disposed of properly.

4.4 Inventories and HMHF

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.

We are aware that the Chemistry store and the HMHF have inventories. This is a valuable source of information as it lists what is in stock, it can determine what is needed, and can help evaluate whether chemicals have been disposed of in a proper manner. For example, if Chemistry buys 50 litres of a certain chemical, and 20 litres are used in the labs, but only 5 litres are taken to the HMHF by the T.A. then it can be presumed that the remainder has been disposed of improperly thus prompting an investigation. However, the Chemistry store's inventory is a list of what they have in stock, and the HMHF's inventory records the type and amount of chemicals that have been left behind by professors or chemicals that can be reused but is list is small. Without an accurate list, it is impossible to trace how much of a chemical is being used, and how much has been reclaimed. The Biology and Chemistry departments do not keep a record since they claim that there is too much to inventory.

The Hazardous Materials Handling Facility is located on the first floor of the Earth Sciences Building. It purpose is to reuse chemicals utilized or safely dispose of chemicals used at the University see Figure 5. According to Scott Paterson, 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 would otherwise end up in the water system. The collection service has three regular 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. The service is provided to ensure that chemicals are transported to the facility properly and safely. In the undergraduate Science labs, the Teaching Assistants (T.A.s) are responsible for collecting and delivering the chemicals to the HMHF. Even though the HMHF is part of the safety process on campus, niether its existance, purpose, nor is its phone number is mentioned in the WHMIS pamplet provided to students.


In order to gain background information for our project, members of our group interviewed a variety of key actors such as representatives from The Safety Office, Plant Operations, and the Hazardous Material Handling Facility. Through these interviews we were able to gather various perspectives on the disposal of chemicals on campus and further develop the context for our research.

5.1 Formal Interviews

5.1.1 The Safety Office

Role: The Safety Office serves as an environmental health and safety resource to the university community to assist students, faculty and staff in meeting their obligations in provision and maintenance of a healthy and safe campus. The Safety Office has jurisdiction over the following areas:

Information: The Safety Office has a of "zero tolerance" approach to improper disposal of chemicals, although they admit that a small amount of chemicals are being disposed down drains without their authorization. They claim that because of the large volume of waste water exiting the university, these chemicals are diluted to legal concentrations. They provided us with UW Health and Safety Policy 34, WHMIS legislature and Regional By-law 90.

5.1.2 Scott Paterson (HMHF Manager):

Role: Responsible for the operation of the Hazardous Materials Handling Facility. Authorizes what chemicals may be disposed of down drains.

Information: Every chemical must be brought to the HMHF where Scott Patterson decides the appropriate action to be taken. A form must be completed at each visit to outline the type and quantity of material you are dropping off. Chemistry and biology T.A.s are expected to bring down the chemicals at the end of each lab, but for other buildings, a pick-up schedule exists. On Tuesday afternoons, a pick-up is arranged from Burt Matthews Hall, Environmental Studies, and Engineering 1. If this is inconvenient, you can phone to make other arrangements. A tour of the HMHF was also given to our group which entailed surveying the safe storage facility for reused chemicals.

5.1.3 Rick Zalagenas (Plant Operations Representative):

Role: Plant Operations Water Control personnel.

Information: Plant Operations has no method of monitoring how much waste water exits the university, or what materials are in the water.

5.2 Informal Interviews

A series of informal interviews with science students were conducted to obtain a general impression of the occurences within a science lab. The following points are information obtained from these interviews:


During the course of our project, members of our group observed undergraduate and graduate biology and chemistry labs. Because some members of our group had never been in a science lab, observations were helpful to put the lab environment into context. We wanted to see for ourselves how a lab functioned, what signs existed to inform students how to handle chemicals properly, how many disposal containers were in each lab, and how students worked in the lab.

In total, we observed six undergraduate science labs, for approximately one hour each, plus we were given a tour of one of the graduate labs. In all labs we noticed an absence of appropriate instructional signs for proper chemical disposal. However, safety signs were often posted on bulletin boards warning of the hazards of certain chemicals. As well, signs stating, "Caution: Clean-Up Spills" and "Notice: Don't Waste Chemicals" were posted by the chemicals. But, Material Safety Data Sheets for the chemicals being used in the lab were not visibly available for consultation by students.

Chemical disposal containers were also lacking in most labs. The disposal containers we did observe were for acetone and diethyl ether. The one container in each lab was usually located at the side of the room under the fumehood, quite a distance away from where the students were working. Two of the lab courses, we were informed, do not always have the containers present. In fact, out of the nine labs for a course, only twice were containers provided.

Observing the actions of the students was also interesting, although it was hard to determine the contents of the students' beakers. Yet, for each beaker with liquid in it, not once did we see anything being disposed in the provided containers: everything was poured down the sink. However, students were seen using the acetone collection container properly to wash their instruments. It was also noted that in 50% of the labs we attended, the T.A.s and/or Lab Instructor were not constantly present in the room. Therefore, they could not correct a student who was disposing chemicals improperly.

After observing the actual functioning of a lab, even in a one time situation, we gained insight into the infrastructures in place for chemical disposal and discovered some of the weaknesses that exist in the Science labs for proper chemical disposal.


7.1 Goals of Survey

In order to evaluate Science undergraduate and Teaching Assistant (T.A.) perspectives on the educational and physical aspects of the chemical disposal system, a survey was undertaken. This survey was to achieve the following goals:

7.2 Copy of Surveys

Undergraduate Students Survey

Your program _____________________ year ______

Area of specialization_______________________________

Did you take a WHMIS training course? Yes / No

If yes, where? (Please circle)

a) on campus during frosh week

b) on campus on own time

c) at work

d) other university - please specify _______________________

Please rate the quality of you WHMIS course - 1 = poor, waste of time; 5 = excellent, very informative

1 2 3 4 5 n/a


When using chemicals in your labs, what do you do with them when you are finished?

(1 = never, 2 = rarely, 3 = sometimes, 4 = frequently, 5 = always)

poured them in the sink 1 2 3 4 5

put them in provided containers 1 2 3 4 5

put them in the garbage 1 2 3 4 5

other - please specify _________ 1 2 3 4 5

Why did you put the chemicals where you did?

a) TA/Lab Instructor s instructions

b) WHMIS training instructions

c) it was easier

d) I didn t know where else to put them

e) other - please specify ___________________________

Do you know if there are chemicals that can be poured in the sink? Yes / No

If yes, what are they?

If you have poured a chemical in the sink, could you tell us what it was?

Who do you think should be responsible for enforcing lab regulations? Feel free to circle more than one answer.

a) TA

b) Lab Instructor

c) Health and Safety

d) students

Who would you consult regarding the disposal of remaining chemicals?

( circle all that apply)

a) Nobody

b) TA

c) Lab Instructor

d) Professor

e) Health and Safety

f) Plant Operations

g) other - please specify ____________________________

Are you concerned about chemicals entering the water system from labs?

(1=not concerned, 2=rarely concerned, 3=indifferent, 4=moderately concerned, 5=very concerned)

1 2 3 4 5

Do you know where the Hazardous Materials Handling Facility is on Campus?

a) yes

b) no

c) uncertain

If yes, where is it? ____________________________________________________

Thank you for taking the time to answer this questionnaire. You have been very helpful in our research.

Survey for T.A.'s

Have you taken a WHMIS training course? Yes / No

Where did you take it?

a) on campus during frosh week

b) on campus on own time

c) at work (off Campus)

d) other university - please specify_____________________

Have you taken a training course on how to read the Safety Data Sheets? Yes / No

Do you read them to the students during their labs?

a) yes

b) no

c) sometimes

When using chemicals in a lab, what do you do with them when you are finished?

(1 = never, 2 = rarely, 3 = sometimes, 4 = frequently, 5 = always)

pour them in the sink 1 2 3 4 5

put them in provided containers 1 2 3 4 5

in the garbage 1 2 3 4 5

other - please specify_________ 1 2 3 4 5

Why did you put the chemicals where you did?

a) Lab Instructor's instructions

b) Health and Safety authorized it

c) Training Instructions

d) it was easier

e) I didn't know where else to put them

f) other - please specify________________________

Who do you think should be responsible for enforcing lab regulations? Feel free to circle more than one answer.

a) TA's

b) Lab Instructor

c) Health and Safety

d) Students

Who would you consult regarding the disposal of remaining chemicals?

(Circle all that apply)

a) Nobody

b) Lab Instructor

c) Professor

d) Health and Safety

e) Plant Operations

f) other - please specify_________________________

Do you know where the Hazardous Materials Handling Facility is on Campus?

a) yes

b) no

c) uncertain

If yes, where is it?_____________________________________________________

What year do you teach? 1 2 3 4

How do you instruct students to dispose of used chemicals in the labs?

What are your responsibilities (regarding chemical disposal) during a lab?

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questionnaire. You have been very helpful in our research.

7.3 Method of Survey Distribution

For our research, two surveys were needed: one for the undergraduate Science students and one for the Science T.A.s. The surveys were distributed throughout the week of July 17, 1995. In total, seven Chemistry and four Biology undergraduate classes were surveyed. Three hundred surveys were distributed and 280 surveys were completed. However, 274 surveys were completed accurately. The classes ranged from first to fourth year to ensure we had an unbiased sample of undergraduate students. Understanding that there may be duplication within classes, students who had participated once in the survey were exempt from completing another survey. In keeping with the regulations of the Office of Human Research, our group sought permission from each professor to spend ten minutes distributing and collecting student surveys at the beginning of their lecture. Students and T.A.s were informed that participation in the survey was completely voluntary and since only group data was reported, individual answers would remain completely anonymous.

For the T.A.s' survey, the Lab Instructors were approached for permission to distribute surveys to T.A.s. Since it was the end of the term, some labs had finished their session and T.A.s were no longer be in the lab. Fortunately, one of the Lab Instructors volunteered to hand out the surveys to her T.A.s. The sample size for the T.A. survey was much smaller with only twelve respondents. One disadvantage of this method of distribution was that our sample only included Biology T.A.s whose perspectives might be slightly different from those of Chemistry T.A.s.

7.4 Discussion of Survey Results

View Raw Data

7.4.1 Undergraduate Student Surveys

The information gathered through the undergraduate survey suggests that:

1. The gap in the education system lies between the Teaching Assistants and the students.

2. Students do not think highly of their WHMIS training.

3. Students are concerned about chemicals in the water system.

As previously mentioned, students from all years (first through fourth) were surveyed. However, the majority of responses were from second year students due to the co-op system and courses offered during the spring term. All 274 respondents had taken a WHMIS course with the majority (227) having taken it on campus during Frosh Week. On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being poor, waste of time; 5 being exellent, very informative) the highest ranking for the WHMIS course was 3 and the majority of the rankings fell between 1 and 3. (See Figure 6) Students who had completed WHMIS at their workplace also took it during Frosh Week. Interestingly, the students who completed the course at work rated it higher than those students who had taken the course on campus. These results appear misleading because the number of students who took the course at work is much lower than those who took it during Frosh Week and some surveys did not specify whether they were rating work or school.

Figure 6: WHMIS Evaluation According to Undergraduate Students

Next, we asked students where they disposed of chemicals and the frequency of their use of this method. The choices provided on the survey included: poured [chemicals] in the sink, put them in provided containers, put them in the garbage, and other. Shockingly, for respondents who disposed of chemicals down the sink, the most popular answer (110 out of 275 answers) regarding frequency was sometimes (3) with the majority (add up) of responses ranging from rarely (2) to frequently (4). (See Figure 7) However, when chemical containers were available they were used by the students whose answers on the survey ranged from sometimes (3) to always (5). While students seemed willing to use chemical disposal containers when they are provided, there do not appear to be enough containers because chemicals are still going down the drain, according to our survey. An additional question for future surveys could be to ask respondents whether chemical disposal containers are indeed present in their labs, and if so, how many.

Figure 7: Chemical Disposal by Undergraduates

One reason that chemicals are being disposed improperly is due to the incorrect information given to students by the T.A.s and Lab Instructors. In the survey, 245 students responded that they disposed of chemicals according to T.A.s' instructions.

To gauge student knowledge regarding chemicals and their effect on the water system, they were asked if chemicals could be poured down the drain. An astonishing 63% of students surveyed answered yes and listed the chemicals they understood could be disposed of down the drain including Acetone, Sulphuric Acid, and Gram stain chemicals. We also asked students to list what they had actually poured down the drain during their labs. This list is recorded in Table 1. Not everyone responded to this question but the ones who did were very informative.

Table 1: List of Chemicals Poured Down Drains by Undergraduate Students

Concentrated Hydrochloric Acid         
Perchloric Acid Sodium Hydroxide       
Sulphuric Acid 18 M Ammonium           
Hydroxide Chloroform Mercury           
Dichloromethane Acetone Nitric Acid    
Mercury Iodide Sulphates Earth Metal   
Solutions Phosphoric Acid              

When asked who the students believed should be responsible for enforcing lab regulations, a majority (395 out of 589 answers) of students felt that the T.A.s and Lab Instructor should play a leading role. (See Figure 8) Yet, many students (128 out of 589 responses) believed that they too should share some responsibility for proper chemical disposal in the lab. The Safety Office, who is currently in charge of safety regulations, was not considered to play a major role according to students. Obviously, the Safety Office does not have a very high profile among students as a focal point for chemical disposal advice and information.

Figure 8: Responsiblity of Regulation Enforcement According to Undergraduates

In the question posed to students about persons to consult regarding the disposal of remaining chemicals, the T.A.s and Lab Instructors once again figured prominently (419 out of 505 answers) in the responses. T.As and Lab Instructors appear to be important authority figures for students in Science labs. Therefore, it is essential that they be knowledgeable and communicate correct information to students about chemical disposal techniques.

As well, in the survey students showed a great deal of concern for chemicals entering the water system, with 73% of respondents either moderately or very concerned. (see Figure 9) Students' concern for the water is encouraging, yet, we are unsure about how many students know that chemicals cannot always be removed from wastewater during the sewage treatment process and may end up in their drinking water. If students were conscious of the implications of the disposal of chemicals down the drain, they might insist that chemical disposal containers be provided in all labs.

Figure 9: Undergraduate Concern with Quality of Water System

Students also showed a lack of awareness of the Hazardous Materials Handling Facility. In fact, 79% of students surveyed had no knowledge of the facility (See Figure 10). While undergraduate students are not expected to personally transport their waste chemicals to the facility, it is important for the students to understand the role it plays in the University's chemical disposal system. With this knowledge, students will undoubtedly question T.A.s who suggest that chemicals be disposed of down the drain during labs.

Figure 10: Undergraduate Knowledge of HMHF Location

7.4.2 Teaching Assistant Surveys

A total of 12 Biology T.A.s were surveyed regarding their chemical disposal habits and method of educating students in their labs. The T.A.s taught a variety of years - ranging from first to fourth. While a larger sample size would have been more representative, the responses we obtained were informative.

All of the T.A.s completed the WHMIS course on campus, and nine of the T.A.s had also completed a training course on how to read Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). These sheets, which outline the properties of different chemicals and safe disposal techniques, were only read to undergraduate students by two of the T.A.s. It is unfortunate that students are not benefitting from the wealth of knowledge that the T.A.s have been taught. In the workplace, students will be expected to know that MSDS exist and how to apply them to the chemicals they are using. University labs should serve not only to increase students' knowledge of Science but to teach students proper lab procedures and protocol as well.

The students and T.A.s surveyed showed some similarities with regard to their chemical disposal techniques. Five out of eleven respondents stated that they sometimes pour chemicals in the sink when they are finished with them, while another two T.A.s said they frequently dispose of chemicals in this manner. In terms of putting chemicals in provided containers, seven out of twelve T.A.s answered that they always dispose of chemicals in this manner. This response is to be expected since it is generally the T.A.s who are responsible for ensuring that waste chemicals are disposed of properly (including taking chemicals to the HMHF).

A Lab Instructor's instructions were identified by T.A.s as the reason that they disposed of chemicals where they did in ten out of sixteen answers. As well, Lab Instructors were cited by T.A.s as people they thought should be responsible for enforcing lab regulations in eleven responses out of thirty-one responses, closely followed by the T.A.s themselves (9 responses) and Health and Safety (8 responses).

T.A.s responded that they woud consult Lab Instructors (9 out of 23 responses) and Health and Safety (8 responses) regarding the disposal of remaining chemicals in their labs. Evidently, Lab Instructors have a close link with T.A.s, who depend on them for guidance and up-to-date information about chemical disposal. Additionally, T.A.s, unlike the undergraduates surveyed, are aware of Health and Safety's (ie. the Safety Office's) advisory role in the chemical disposal system.

Ten of the twelve T.A.s surveyed correctly identified the location of the Hazardous Materials Handling Facility. Again, this response is reassuring since T.A.s are often required to take waste chemicals to the facility to be disposed of properly.


After undertaking surveys of T.A.s and Science students, observing lab practices, and conducting interviews, we have reached the following conclusions:

According to the results of our survey, chemicals are being poured down the drain in Science labs, resulting in numerous negative effects. Chemicals that are being poured down the drain can often be recycled at the HMHF for future use, saving money. Disposing of chemicals down drains has potentially dangerous effects if several chemicals combine and react (ie. explode) in the University plumbing system. While some people believe that diluting a chemical with water as it goes down the drain is an effective solution, this practice wastes large amounts of water and does not make the chemical disappear. Chemicals cannot be removed at most sewage treatment plants and may end up in human drinking water.


According to our survey of undergraduates, the majority of students stated they are moderately concerned about chemicals entering the water system.

As a result, we would expect that students would be receptive and want to play a part in improving the chemical disposal system on campus.

It is important for students to complete an extensive and informative WHMIS course to learn proper chemical disposal skills. These skills are necessary in the workplace and must be acquired by students during their undergraduate years. If students are not taught what facilities and services exist for proper chemical disposal, chemicals will continue to be poured down the drain.

While undergraduates are not expected to personally transport chemicals to the facility for disposal, it is important for students to comprehend the facility's role in the University's chemical disposal system. Students' knowing that there is an alternative to pouring chemicals down the drain will be unwilling to practice this improper method of chemical disposal.

Students feel that Lab Instructors and T.A.s are responsible for enforcing proper chemical disposal procedures in the lab. Yet, students want to play a greater role in ensuring that chemicals are disposed of properly. Lab Instructors and T.A.s possess the knowledge and skills necessary for the proper disposal of chemicals, but they do not appear to share this information with students. This indicates the presence of an information gap between the two parties, resulting in the disposal of chemicals down the drain.

Chemicals are being poured down the drain, often because there is an absence of chemical disposal containers present in labs and a lack of instruction (ie. signs in labs and information from T.A.s). An improved infrastructure would lead to fewer chemcials being disposed of improperly at the University.


From the data collected through survey results and lab observations, our group has concluded that among other things, (a) there is a breach in the physical chemical disposal system in Science labs, and (b) the current WHMIS training course is inadequate. In order to rectify the situation, and ensure that less chemicals are disposed of down drains, we have developed the following recommendations that focus on two workable areas.

9.1 A Concrete Policy

Currently, there is no policy that explicitly outlines the procedures concerning proper chemical disposal in labs. Such a policy is required, and if properly implemented and enforced, should result in less chemicals being improperly disposed of.

We recommend that the University of Waterloo's Policy 34 includes a complementary section concerning the disposal of chemicals on campus. This additional section would contain the following regulations:

(a) The Senior Lab Demonstrator (Lab Instructor) is responsible for providing the appropriate disposal containers for every chemical used in his/her lab, and every chemical used in this lab shall be disposed of in the appropriate containers.

(b) The T.A. is responsible for overseeing and ensuring that all chemicals being used in the lab are disposed of in the proper manner, and that the Senior Lab Demonstrator and/or the Safety Office are notified if a person or persons is found to be disposing of a chemical in a way that contradicts this policy.

(c) An area in the lab shall be designated a "Chemical Disposal Area" where chemical disposal containers will be located and visible instructional signs will be posted.

(d) Exemptions from (a), (b) and (c) are allowable only with the written authorization of the Safety Office and/or the Hazardous Materials Handling Facility.

This specific case deals with the Faculty of Science. A general mandate for the entire University is advisable, where "supervisor" would replace "Senior Lab Demonstrator" and/or "T.A." and "lab" would be replaced by "workplace".

9.2 WHMIS Requires a Tune-up

A person without a theoretical background in atomic physics cannot be expected to build an atom bomb, so how can a student without adequate training in chemical disposal be expected to dispose of chemicals properly?

The Safety Office employs a one hour WHMIS introductory course as their tool to educate first year Science students on the proper methods of handling and disposing of hazardous chemicals. We feel Frosh Week is an inappropriate time to hold a course bearing such importance on the safety of the students, the campus, and the environment.

We recommend that the WHMIS course be revamped to include the following criteria:

(a) WHMIS training sessions will be 3 hours in duration and occur in the first lab of the first week of school for first year students. Since these lab periods are reserved for signing out lab equipment, time is available to devote to WHMIS activity.

(b) Along with the current information provided, the WHMIS course will emphasize zero tolerance on improper chemical disposal, provide the student with the skills to read and understand the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), the location of the MSDS for chemicals used in labs, and the location and role of the HMHF. The data sheets can be found at the Davis Centre Library Information Desk and on the Web at: "//www.adm.uwaterloo.ca/infohs/msds.html" by clicking on "Utah". Showing a twenty minute video produced by the Regional Municipality of Waterloo (entitled "From the River to the River") will illustrate to the students chemical disposal.

(c) A test will be conducted by the Safety Office during these sessions and a mark of at least 75% will be required in order to receive the WHMIS certification. Failure to meet this condition will result in a make-up test at another date. No one will be permitted in a lab unless they are certified under WHMIS.

(d) Offer a mandatory hour-long WHMIS refresher course to upper-year students. This course will be used to improve their knowledge and hone the students' skills on safety and proper chemical handling and disposal in the lab.

9.3 A Follow-up Watgreen Study

Science is not the only faculty with a breakdown in their system. We suggest that another WATGREEN study be undertaken to examine chemical disposal practices in other faculties and departments.

It is also recommended that a follow-up study to our project on chemical disposal in Science labs be conducted at a later date to re-evaluate the system. Suggested areas of improvement in the study are:




By Craig Hawthorne, Paula Nieman, Kathleen Ryan, Lesli Rynyk

It was a beautiful sunny day in June 2015 when Bob entered the University of Waterloo campus. Bob had not visited the campus since his graduation from UW twenty years ago. Walking along Ring Road he encountered many changes on campus. An electric bus silently whizzed by him as he passed by the Psychology building. He noticed that the luscious green lawns throughout the campus had partially reverted back to their natural landscape. Mixed vegetation and shrubbery thrived where monoculture previously existed.

As Bob approached the Environmental Studies building, he decided to stop by the ES Coffee Shop, one of his favourite campus hangouts. Inside the coffee shop he ran into his former professor James Kay. Bob asked James about the changes he had observed on campus. James explained that the impetus for the changes began with an eager ERS 285 class and their projects on sustainability. Bob remembered taking the course as an undergraduate, and recalled the long debates he had had with his group in defining sustainability. At that time, they had decided that sustainability meant that the needs of people are satisfied while maintaining the quantity and quality of resources for future generations. James explained that the 285 class had created their vision of a sustainable UW campus and had worked hard to make their vision a reality. "Let me show you what I mean," said James.

Bob followed James outside past a composting centre where students deposited their organic wastes from their lunches. "Instead of emphasizing recycling, reducing and reusing are promoted across campus," said James. "Take for instance, the Campus Re-Use Centre. Here, staff, students and faculty are able to exchange items that they no longer need."

The glare from the solar panels on the Dana Porter library caught Bob's attention. "What the heck are those?" exclaimed Bob.

"The University is finally off the grid," announced James proudly. "We rely solely on renewable energy sources. All our power is generated from solar panels, windmills and nuclear fusion. In order to minimize our consumption of energy, we have retrofitted all the buildings, making them as energy efficient as possible. Timers on lights and fume hoods, appropriate insulation and the use of natural light are a few examples."

The two men walked casually to the Campus Centre to eat lunch together and continue their conversation. Bob immediately noticed the abundance of recycling bins throughout the food court. "Since when did garbage cans become extinct?" Bob asked jokingly.

James snickered, "This is part of our plan to reduce waste. We have eliminated disposable dishes and single-serving packages. We provide food in bulk and buy locally as much as possible. Did you notice the gardens near South Campus Hall?"

"Oh, where the parking lot was?" Bob inquired.

"Our organic vegetable gardens are maintained by students as part of their mandatory community service credit. The food is used by Food Services in order to ensure high nutritional content in cafeteria meals," explained James. "This initiative has saved the University a great deal of money and improved the health of the university population."

Bob commented,"I noticed a strange weed growing behind the rhubarb. What is it?"

"A group of biologists engineered a tetrahydracannabinol-free strain of hemp. We use the hemp as a paper source, textile, and food."

"No wonder everyone on campus seems so relaxed," chuckled Bob.

"Actually," replied James, "stress-free people are indicative of the new attitude at the University. The administration has become less bureaucratic and has made a conscious effort to meet the needs of students more effectively. As a result, everyone is a lot happier."

After they finished their lunches, James and Bob walked towards the new Environmental Science and Engineering building, which had been completed the year before. "I want to show you the campus' pride and joy," smiled James as he escorted Bob into the water treatment facility. "Instead of relying on the City of Waterloo to clean our water, we decided to take responsibility for our actions. We have eliminated pesticide use on campus and the unsafe disposal of chemicals down drains. Since we have 'closed the loop,' we have noticed a change in attitudes on campus. People have realized that what we do to our water we do to ourselves."

"The University seems like a perfectly sustainable system," marvelled Bob.

"Although we have made a lot of progress in a short period of time, we have not yet attained complete sustainability," acknowledged James.

"How will you know when the campus is sustainable?" asked Bob.

"To start, we will no longer produce garbage-after composting, reducing, reusing and recycling, nothing will be wasted. Our energy consumption will equal our energy generation. Transportation employed around campus will not affect air quality, reflecting the increase in bicyclists, pedestrians, and public transit users. The effort expended in cleaning our waste water will reduce each year because less pollutants will enter the water system." James emphasized,"sustainability is a dynamic process. There is always room for change and improvement."

Bob, impressed by his tour and by what James had said, thanked James and headed home. On his way home, he reflected on the radical changes that he had seen. Although there were many physical changes, he was particularly impressed by the new attitude, self-sufficiency, and ingenuity of the University. He realized that if the University of Waterloo could become sustainable, then so could other communities.



(Kevin Stewart, Director; Angelo Graham and Ian Fraser, Safety Co-ordinators; )

The Safety Office is reponsible for encouraging the safe disposal of chemicals on campus through educational seminars (WHMIS). The point of view of the Safety Office is that the disposal of chemicals on campus down drains has decreasd significantly in recent years because of a reduction in the amount of chemicals purchased and the construction of a Hazardous Materials Handling Facility. They do not believe that a significant problem exists.

Ms. Cook has reason to believe, because of previous ERS 285 reports, that chemicals continue to be improperly and unlawfully disposed of on campus.

The department is responsible for the maintenance of the physical water system on campus. We are unsure of their position on chemical disposal at this time.

These groups are authority figures who are responsible for imparting their theoretical knowledge to their students as well as instilling responsible lab habits. Through our survey, we hope to determine their perspectives.

Even though the students may often be the perpetrators of improper chemical disposal, they can be considered innocently ignorant. Often, students do not possess sufficient awareness about the hazards of this subject and do not realize the consequences of their actions.

(Scott Patterson, Manager)

Located in the Earth Sciences building at the University, the facility recycles chemicals and provides a safe, temporary storage area for used chemicals.

Because of an annual increase in the amount of chemicals being brought to the facility in its three years of operation, Mr. Patterson believes that the HMHF is well-known across campus.



Cumulative Data

Biology Data

Biochemistry Data

Engineering Data

Chemistry Data

Science Data

Other Faculties Data

Applied Health Sciences Data

Teaching Assistant Data


ERS 285 PRESENTATION: July 25, 1995

Slide of water


Water is an essential component to all life. In fact, only 3% of all the water in the world is freshwater and only 1% is available for our use. Many Canadian cities and towns get their drinking water from lakes and rivers. In Waterloo, 80% of the area's drinking water comes from groundwater reservoirs.

Yet, chemicals pose a threat to the quality of our drinking water. They enter municipal sewage treatment plants from households, industries and institutions. Chemicals can upset the sewage treatment process by destroying the beneficial bacteria that break down sewage. When this happens, the chemicals that enter the sewage treatment plant are the same ones that come out.


A crime was committed at 9:30 this morning in a science lab at the Unversity of Waterloo. The crime? Improper disposal of chemicals. The perpetrator? That's what we're here to find out. Three witnesses have been called in to assist in the investigation. The witnesses will remain anonymous for their protection. The witnesses include a representative from the Safety Office, an undergraduate Science student and a Science Teaching Assistant.

What is the Safety Office's policy on chemical disposal?


The University's Policy 34 is a set of guidelines designed to ensure the safety of all people in labs on campus. As a result, the Safety Office aims for a zero tolerance of chemical disposal down drains.

Overheads: disposal techniques and list of chemicals disposed of down sink


Fact: a majority of undergraduates "sometimes" or "frequently" dispose of chemicals down the drain. Note the list of chemicals that undergrads have admitted pouring down the drain in their labs.

How do you make sure the policy is followed on campus?


Our Office holds Workplace Hazardous Materials Information Systems (otherwise known as WHMIS) training sessions for Teaching Assistants and students. We inspect Science labs annually and we provide facilities and services to ensure proper chemical disposal.


What facilities and services are you referring to?


The Hazardous Materials Handling Facility (or HMHF) recycles chemicals and provides a safe, temporary storage facility for used chemicals. A pick-up service collects chemicals weekly from 3 locations on campus: Burt Matthews Hall, Environmental Studies 1 and the Engineering 1 building.


Is there any time when you might authorize a chemical to be poured down the drain?


Only very dilute or small quantities of chemicals can be permitted by our Office to be disposed of down the drain. We know that some chemicals are poured down the drain, but we assume that there is so much wastewater leaving the University that the effect of the chemicals is insignificant.


Fact: Plant Operations has no method of monitoring how much wastewater leaves the University (hold up glass of chemicals).

Thank you. (Approach Science student)


Am I going to be tested on this?


No...we're going to give you the answers!

When did you take your WHMIS course?


I took it on campus during Frosh Week.

Overhead of WHMIS effectiveness chart


What did you think of the course?


Well, it was during Frosh Week, so I really don't remember much. And, it was also a few years ago.

Overhead of disposal techniques chart


Have you ever poured a chemical down the drain during one of your labs?




Why did you do that?


Well, I didn't want to pour it down the drain but I didn't know where else to put it. My T.A. said it was fine- I'm just doing what I was told to do.


In that case, who do you think is responsible for enforcing lab regulations?

Overhead of enforcement of regulations


Overall, I think the T.A.s and Lab Instructors should be in charge. But I feel students should share some of the responsibility as well. If I knew what to do with the chemicals, I wouldn't put them into the water system- I sure don't want to drink that stuff! (Point to glass of chemicals)


Slide of Hazardous Materials Handling Facility


Are you aware of the existence of a Hazardous Materials Handling Facility on campus?


Well, I'm kind of in the dark right now...


So, you don't know where the facility is located on campus?


No, I'm really in the dark right now!

Turn on light

In response to your question, no, I don't know where the HMHF is!

Overhead of HMHF pie chart


Fact: only 18 of 274 undergraduates surveyed knew the exact location of the HMHF.

As a student, are you concerned about the improper disposal of chemicals?

Overhead of student concern for water system


Yes, I am definitely concerned. The information about chemical disposal is not readily available to students. If I knew about the Hazardous Materials Handling Facility, I would use it.

Inspector approaches Teaching Assistant


Do you know where the Hazardous Materials Handling Facility is on campus?


Yes, it's in the Earth Sciences building, Room 150, right by the Chemistry Stores.


In that case, how do you dispose of chemicals used in the labs for which you are responsible?


I usually put the chemicals in the proper containers and take them to the HMHF, but sometimes I pour chemicals down the sink.


What have you been taught about proper chemical disposal?

Overhead of Material Safety Data Sheet


The Safety Office led a training session on lab safety for teaching assistants where we learned how to read Material Safety Data Sheets. (Hold up a MSDS)

I read the Data Sheet for each chemical we use in the lab and follow its instructions regarding disposal. Plus, I talk to the Lab Instructor if I have any questions.


Do you read the Data Sheets to the students?



Overhead of regulation and enforcement chart


As we just heard from the student, undergraduates are concerned about the chemicals they are using and proper disposal techniques. They feel that you, along with Lab Instructors, are responsible for enforcing lab regulations. Yet, students also want to play a more important role in ensuring that chemicals are disposed of properly.

How can students be sure that they are doing the right thing if you don't read them the instruction on the Data Sheets?


Well, we advise students to be cautious when handling specific chemicals.

Show slides of labs


Now, let's look at the scene of the crime. Note the lack of instructional signs in the labs. While most labs had no disposal containers, some had only one or two containers specifically for that purpose, and without signs. As you can see, this sink is stained with chemicals that were poured down the drain.

After observing the crime scene and talking to witnesses, I have reached several conclusions.

Overhead of Conclusions

#1: The existence and role of Hazardous Materials Handling Facility is not well-known among undergraduate students.

#2: The Safety Office's aim of "zero tolerance" for improper chemical disposal is not enforced by T.A.s and Lab Instructors. You may recall the lengthy list of chemicals students said they had poured down the drain.

#3: Students view the WHMIS training course as ineffective.

#4: Information about proper chemical disposal is not shared completely between T.A.s and students.

Overhead of Recommendations

As a result, I have developed a set of recommendations to see that this crime is prevented.

#1: Include Materials Safety Data Sheets in student lab manuals and teach students how to understand them during WHMIS training sessions.

#2: Have the Safety Office play a more visible role in proper chemical disposal by ensuring that adequate instructional signs and collection containers are present in every lab.

#3: Revamp the WHMIS training program. Offer a 3-hour course during the first lab session, and hold make-up sessions for students that miss it. Emphasize proper chemical disposal techniques at the University. Test the students' knowledge at the end of the training with a quiz- without giving them the answers. Do not allow students into their labs until they have passed the test.

#4: Offer mandatory WHMIS refresher courses to upper-year students. The hour-long course would be an opportunity for students to review their skills and knowledge.

#5: Undertake another Watgreen study. Examine other faculties and departments to find out how chemicals are disposed of in other locations. Determine areas that need improvement.