Environmental Health and Safety

Frequently Asked Questions

Asbestos | Hantavirus | Hazardous Materials | Hydrofluoric Acid
Laboratories | The Most Dangerous Chemical| MSDS | Rabies | Sharps Disposal

Asbestos

What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral. Because it is strong, won't burn, and resists corrosion, it became a popular commercial product. The most common asbestos types are chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite.
Where would I find asbestos on campus?
Asbestos was commonly used in many building materials especially between the early 1900's and into the 1970's. It can be found in thermal insulation, fireproofing, floor coverings, ceiling tiles, cement pipe, granular and corrugated paper pipe wrap, lab bench tops, lab fume hoods, and acoustical and decorative treatment for ceilings and walls.
When is asbestos a problem?
Intact and undisturbed asbestos materials do not pose a health risk. If the material is damaged or disturbed it can release fibers into the air. Elevated airborne asbestos concentration can create a potential hazard for workers and other building occupants.
How is asbestos a health threat?
The relationship between airborne asbestos fibers and the diseases such exposure can cause is not clearly understood. Once inhaled asbestos fibers may penetrate lung tissue and remain in the body. Three illness associated with asbestos exposure are asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
How do I know if a material contains asbestos?
You can not tell for certain by appearance. Contact the Office of Environmental Health and Safety for a confirmation. We have an inventory for a large part of the campus or can collect a piece of the material and submit it for analysis in a laboratory.
What do I do with asbestos containing material?
Again, it is not a health hazard if intact. Drilling, cutting, sawing, such material would create an airborne hazard and should not occur. If you identify any damaged material contact Environmental Health and Safety to have it repaired.
What does asbestos smell like?
Asbestos is odorless.
When is asbestos material removed?
Whenever asbestos containing material is damaged beyond repair or would be disturbed, it must be removed by state certified workers. Much of our removal comes prior to a remodeling project.
How is asbestos safely removed?
A containment is constructed which is kept at negative pressure relative to the adjoining areas. The material is kept wet during the removal to minimize any fibers becoming airborne. In addition air sampling is conducted inside and outside of the containment area to ensure the fibers are being controlled.
Who works with asbestos removal on campus?
The Physical Plant and Office of Environmental Health and Safety have trained, certified, and well equipped personnel to perform the removal and oversight activities respectively.
What are those pumps during removal activities?
Small pumps are used to pull air across a filter which is subsequently counted for asbestos fibers. This results in a known airborne asbestos fiber concentration given in fibers per cubic centimeter of air.

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Hantavirus

What animals have been associated with the Hantavirus infections?
Only rodents, particularly rats and mice, have been associated with spreading hantavirus infections.
What is hantavirus?
Hantavirus is a virus capable of causing an acute illness with shortness of breath and flu-like sign of approaching disease (fever, aching muscles, headache and cough) followed by rapidly developing respiratory failure.
Have there been cases in Texas?
A middle aged woman in Angelina County became ill and then died of respiratory failure in the latter part of June 1995. A serum sample tested positive for hantavirus. This case is the only Texas case that has been confirmed to date. Reports of other cases scattered throughout Texas are being investigated. Some of the patients in these cases died before biologic samples were taken or saved. Consequently, definitive diagnosis of illness in these cases may not be possible.
How do people catch hantavirus infections?
Rodents are the natural hosts for all known hantaviruses. Humans are thought to be infected from exposure to rodent droppings, urine, or saliva, either through aerosols (small particles of matter suspended in air) or direct inoculation. Rodents may be chronically infected with hantavirus and excrete the virus for months.
Can this disease be spread from person-to-person?
No, there is no evidence of person-to-person transmission for any of the known hantaviruses. There are no documented cases of hantavirus being transmitted from infected patients to health care workers.
What should a person do if they think they have hantavirus?
Anybody with acute shortness of breath should see a physician.
Is there any treatment for hantavirus infection?
Since June 4, 1993 ribavirin has been available through a new drug (IND) protocol to treat patients who have possible hantavirus infection.
If you trap a rat or mouse, how do you dispose of it?
The trap and rodent can be disposed of at the same time. However, if the trap is to be reused it should be disinfected with bleach or triphenyl-based disinfectant (such as Lysol).
If you find a dead rodent, rodent nest, rodent dropping or urine, what should you do?
Procedures:
  • Never touch the rodent, its droppings, or its urine with bare hands.
  • Try not to disturb the rodents or their wastes in a manner that creates aerosols.
  • Put on elbow length rubber or vinyl gloves. Use goggles and respirator if needed.
  • Thoroughly spray animal, droppings or nests with a mixture of 3 ounces (6 tablespoons or 1/3 cup) of bleach in 1 gallon of water.
  • If the body is badly decomposing cover with lime.
  • Use a paper plate, paper towels, or shovel to place disinfected material and disposable cleaning items into a plastic bag.
  • Seal or tie the bag and place it into another bag.
  • Place the bag in a covered trash container for regular trash disposal.
  • Disinfect non-disposable cleaning items.
  • Use disinfectant on the surface where the rodent was found.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after clean-up.
Materials List
  • Elbow length gloves
  • Respirator
  • Bleach
  • Insecticide (ant and flea)
  • Disposal towels
  • Plastic bags
  • Shovel
  • Lime
  • Protective clothing (if needed, disposable suit)
  • Goggles

For more information, see the zoonosis page at the Texas Department of State Health Services. The questions and answers in this section were compiled from various documents that are circulated by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

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Hazardous Materials

When I list the chemical constituents of waste on the Request for Disposal form (PDF), how much detail do you need?
Please list all of the chemical constituents that you know are in the waste. Certain chemicals are regulated by the EPA to the part per million (ppm) level. For example, we are required by law to report chromium in a waste container as low as 5 ppm, and mercury as low as 0.2 ppm. If you know that the concentration of the chemical in the container is less than 1%, it is adequate to write "trace" or "trace amounts" on the RFD.
What do you do with all the waste you pick up?
The final disposal of the waste depends on its type. Non-regulated materials of low toxicity, such as toner or calcium sulfate are disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill. Halogenated hydrocarbons and poisons are incinerated. The flammable solvents that we consolidate into 55 gallon drums are reused as fuel. All items containing mercury are sent to a facility that recovers the mercury.
Why do you consolidate solvents?
It saves UT a lot of money! Pouring 55 gallons of flammable solvents into a drum costs $1400 less than packing the same containers into drums for shipment. We also co-mingle halogenated hydrocarbons, aqueous metals, and flammable acids (flammable solvents mixed with acids or greater than 50% water).
How can we make consolidation of solvents easier for you so we can save UT more money in waste disposal costs?
The easiest way to save money is to not mix halogenated hydrocarbons with flammable solvents whenever possible. If the halogenated solvent content is greater than 20%, we can not pour it into the flammable drum that will be reused for fuel, and a drum of flammable solvents costs much less to dispose of than a drum of halogenated solvents. It also helps to not mix either type of solvents with too much water or any acid. Again, containers that have organic solvents and acids or greater than 50% water cannot be sent for fuel blending, so the mixture costs more to dispose of than flammable solvents without acid or water.
Isn't it dangerous to mix containers of chemicals from different laboratories?
Of course we only mix compatible chemicals, so it's not dangerous as long as what is written on the tag is really what is in the container! Before we pour the contents of a container into the drum, we pour it into a test bucket. Occasionally a solution will cause the mixture in the test bucket to smoke, but what is written on the tag should not react with what is in the bucket. This occurs because what is written on the tag is incorrect. We would like to thank all of you who accurately list the chemical constituents on the waste tag.Not only is UT legally liable for the waste we dispose of, but accurately listing the chemicals makes our job a lot safer.
How do I get my sharps containers picked up?
Fill out a Biological Waste and Sharps Request for Disposal form (PDF) and submit it to EHS. The form can be faxed, mailed, or hand delivered. The mailing address, fax number, and physical location for EHS are written on the top of the form.
What's one of the easiest and quickest ways for me to improve my safety in the lab?
Pull down the sash on the fumehood. That pulled down sash will protect you from flying glassware, splashing chemicals, and fires.

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Hydrofluoric Acid

What is one of the worst chemicals you could ever come in contact with?
Hydrofluoric acid (HF), and the reasons are many. HF is a highly corrosive acid which can cause severe burns of the eyes and skin, but the hazard doesn't stop there. HF will continue to penetrate the skin causing destruction of deep tissue layers and bone. Another severe characteristic of HF is that after dissociation, the fluoride ions form soluble and insoluble fluorinated salts. The soluble salts are extremely toxic because they interfere with enzyme mechanisms of cells. If proper medical treatment is not performed promptly, death is a real possibility. Think seriously about whether you really need to work with HF. If you can work without it, dispose of it promptly through our office. If you have some HF in your lab that no one even uses, get rid of it. HF should only be present in labs where there is a true valid need, and the individuals using it are trained and knowledgeable about the hazards. For more information about HF contact EHS at 471-3511.

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Laboratories

What is the definition of a chemical or biological laboratory?
The following criteria must be met for a room to be identified as a lab:
  • Room is directly used for teaching or research, or room directly supports same (including, but not limited to: supporting chemical storerooms, autoclave rooms, shops, darkrooms), and
  • At some point the room would likely contain chemicals (solid, liquid, or gas with volume of 4L or more) or biological materials.
What is the definition of non-lab rooms?
  • Areas that are not directly used for or in support of research or teaching (including, but not limited to: restrooms, offices, breakrooms),
  • Rooms that contain only commercially available industrial chemical products such as WD-40, spray paint, copier toner, gasoline — regardless of quantity — unless these products are used for teaching or research, and
  • Rooms that have less than 4L of chemicals and no biological materials.

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MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets)

What are MSDS?
MSDS are Material Safety Data Sheets. MSDS provide information about the hazards of a chemical. MSDS are available from the chemical manufacturer, EHS, or online. For more information, see our MSDS page.

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Rabies

What animals are at risk of having rabies?
Any mammal can be infected with rabies. Certain wild animals such as bats, foxes, raccoons, coyotes, and skunks are high risk animals for rabies; opossums, cage raised rabbits, squirrels, and rats are low risk for rabies.
How can a person contract rabies?
The well known mode of transmission of rabies to a person is through a bite, but a dead animal can also transmit rabies by it's saliva coming into contact with a person's skin through an open wound, cut, or rash or by coming in contact with the mucus membranes.
What should you do if you come across a live high risk animal?
The Austin Animal Control recommends: live bats, raccoons, and other animals that are high risk for rabies should be captured by Animal Control personnel. Domestic animals such as dogs and cats that are being aggressive and acting unusual should also be handled by the Austin Animal Control. Austin Animal Control personnel can be reached during normal working hours at 472-7387 and in case of an emergency they can be reached after hours by calling 911. They provide a 24 hour service. If Austin Animal Control personnel are called out to capture or pick up an animal they do require a UTPD escort.
What should one do with a dead high or low risk animal (except for mice or rats)?
One should use elbow length rubber gloves and a shovel to place the animal into a plastic bag and dispose of into the dumpster. If unsure whether the animal is truly dead it should be poked with a stick or similar object before handling. Spray the dead animal with insecticide to kill any ants or fleas around the carcass.
For more information, see the zoonosis page at the Texas Department of State Health Services. The questions and answers in this section were compiled from various documents that are circulated by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

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Sharps Disposal

Where do I put my glass Pasteur pipettes, now that I have a cardboard "glass only" waste box?
As long as they are not contaminated with anything potentially infectious, put them into the cardboard "glass only" waste box. These boxes are available through Custodial Services at 471-5072.
In the past, when plastic buckets were used instead of the cardboard boxes, there were problems with custodians being stuck by Pasteur pipettes. Instead of carrying the bucket, custodians would sometimes take the plastic bag out of the bucket and carry it to the dumpster. As Pasteur pipettes are very sharp, they would easily pierce through the plastic bag and pose a hazard to the custodians. That hazard is no longer present with the new cardboard boxes; the box is carried directly to the dumpster. Remember though, if Pasteur pipettes are contaminated with something potentially infectious they must still go into red sharps containers provided by EHS.

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