HAZARDOUS wastes threaten UST’s foremost landmark—the 81-year-old Main Building. But UST’s laboratory division and University officials say that the structure is safe.

Andrea Vargas, a faculty member from the Faculty of Pharmacy, has raised concerns over the way chemicals used in student experiments are disposed of.

“Earthquake-proof the Main Building may be, it remains susceptible to the corrosive effects of chemicals,” she told the Varsitarian. “Organic wastes and acid solutions used during experiments are just thrown in the sink and containers of solvents are not properly placed in fume hoods.”

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) Administrative Order 92-29 series of 2004, which prescribes rules on hazardous waste management, defines corrosive wastes as those capable of corroding metals, such as containers, tanks, barrels, and drums.

It sets legal and technical requirements for hazardous waste management in all government and private institutions, including schools.

But according to Dr. Ross Vasquez, newly appointed administrator of the Laboratory Equipment and Supplies Office (LESO), UST laboratories follow a disposal guide for dangerous wastes.

“UST recognizes the importance of protecting the environment as well as protecting the health and safety of its stakeholders. It is the policy of the University to reduce the use of toxic materials and to lessen the amount of wastes generated,” he said.

Based on UST’s disposal guide, hazardous wastes have four categories:

• Chemicals – which are corrosive, flammable, reactive, and toxic;

• Radioactives – products of nuclear reactions;

• Biohazards – infectious agents presenting a risk of death, injury or illness; and

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• Sharp objects – which include needles, broken glass, and razor blades.

The hazardous waste disposal program was drafted almost two decades ago under Assoc. Prof. Rodolfo Rabor, former LESO administrator. The guidelines were developed in compliance with all regulations governing the handling and disposal of harmful excess.

“The hazardous wastes disposal program is managed in accordance with regulations of the DENR. Also, LESO has specific guidelines for recycling and waste minimization techniques that must be followed regarding packaging, labeling, and disposal,” Vasquez said.

Toxic materials will only be disposed of if they can no longer be recycled, he added.

Draining the danger

Every student taking up a laboratory course in chemistry is informed of the safety code and the proper procedures before an experiment, Vasquez said.

“Chemistry laboratory workbooks provided by the Departments of Chemistry, Medical Technology, Pharmacy, and Biochemistry contain primers on safety procedures such as limiting work to authorized experiments, wearing laboratory coats and safety eyeglasses, proper waste disposal, and notification of instructors in case of accidents,” he said.

Vasquez noted that chemicals and equipment normally used in chemistry experiments are considered non-hazardous.

“Usually, the chemicals used in experiments are non-toxic, and the wastes generated by these chemicals pose no real danger to the students,” he said. “Those which are non-hazardous can be diluted with water and disposed of in the sewer system. These are not dangerous to health, and will not destroy the Main Building.”

Solutions containing only water miscible liquid materials and chemicals with basic pH between six and nine—similar to distilled water’s pH level of 7.0—can be disposed of through the sewer system, Vasquez said.

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Some chemicals considered to be non-hazardous are acetates, iodides, and citric acids of calcium, potassium, and sodium; sugar and sugar alcohols; starch; oxides of magnesium, aluminum, iron, and silicon; and silicates of calcium, potassium, sodium, and magnesium.

Chemicals which cannot be diluted with water are to be recycled or disposed of by laboratory technicians.

“There are chemicals which cannot be drained in the sewer system of the University because its may corrode the building, destroy the pipes, or leak into the water system” Vasquez said. “We try to minimize the use of chemicals with such effects.”

LESO also conducts chemical treatment or neutralization if wastes are corrosive, to lessen danger or reduce their amount. Examples are acids or bases.

The real deal: “Cumulative” effect

But Vasquez said the “cumulative” effect of corrosive chemicals could indeed affect the structural stability of the Main Building.

“As of now, there is no problem with the Main Building because chemical handling and disposal are controlled in the college and institutional levels. The waste disposal policy is still effective. But what we should be really wary of is the (chemicals’) cumulative effects,” he said.

Another problem that may soon arise amid the University’s ballooning student population is the increasing amount of waste.

“UST has not yet hired an accredited waste recycler or treater because it is expensive and there is no need for it yet. But if the need arises, we have the list of agencies to contact,” Vasquez told the Varsitarian.

The problematic water supply is also seen as another threat to the Main Building’s piping and sewer system.

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“There are times when there are water shortages, or worse, no water at all. It is in such instances that we fear students simply get rid of chemicals in the sewer system without diluting,” Vasquez said.

The latest annual building inspection of the local government and in-house engineers certifies that UST’s buildings are structurally safe and sound. This includes the Main Building.

If it is true that the Main Building is slowly being corroded, it cannot be attributed to lab chemicals alone, Vasquez said.

“The Main Building’s old age, and the students’ and apparatuses’ weight should also be considered. This is why an annual inspection should be conducted to save the Main Building from future damage,” he said. “The main reason why the University is working for the Main Building’s restoration and preservation is to conserve its cultural importance and rich heritage.”

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