Schools revisit procedures for chemicals

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Sunday, February 3, 2008
— A half pound of radioactive salt has prompted the Janesville School District to take a closer look at its procedures for disposing of chemicals.

The salt sat on a shelf in a locked room next to a Parker High School science laboratory for many years.

It was radioactive, but only barely. A Geiger counter registered a surface reading of 0.007 milirem, said Karen Schulte, student services director for the school district.

Compare that to an annual exposure of 0.6 milirem by someone wearing a luminous-dial watch or 6 milirems from a chest X-ray, according to the National Safety Council.

The salt was used many years ago, when Parker had a nuclear physics course, but no one has used the salt for many years, Schulte said.

As Craig and Parker high school teachers looked ahead to their move into new science rooms next year, they reviewed what they have on their shelves. That’s when the radioactive salt issue arose, Schulte said.

Officials found that few companies are licensed to dispose of the substance. The state once had a program that would have disposed it for free, but that program no longer exists, said Pete Geyer, manager of buildings and grounds.

Officials eventually contracted with RAM Services of Two Rivers, which took the salt away Dec. 27. Cost to the district: $1,200.

Schulte, who recently took on the duties of the district’s safety coordinator, decided to establish a chemical hygiene committee to examine and improve procedures.

Those at the meeting last week included science teachers but also the maintenance department because of cleaning and pool chemicals. Art, tech-ed and family-and-consumer education teachers were there as well, along with an environmental consultant, ECM.

The lunch program was also represented, although it is already are under strict procedures that include county health-department inspections, Schulte said.

Schulte said the result of this and future meetings will be tighter procedures and better communication.

Schulte’s first goal is to identify unneeded chemicals and get them out of the schools by the end of the school year. Teachers will be asked to take a look at all their chemicals.

“The teachers are really eager to do that,” Schulte said. “They want to get organized and get rid of what they don’t need any longer.”

Current procedures have kept everyone safe, Schulte said. Chemicals that need to be locked up are locked up.

“I think the science teachers, for example, are very knowledgeable,” Schulte said. They know exactly how to store them in their classrooms, and they know not to just dump things down the drains or get rid of things.”

Schulte said one change in procedures will be the annual chemical collection. Teachers in the past have selected chemicals they don’t need, and a disposal company would pick them up. But the pickup often has been after teachers leave for the year, and the companies sometimes found they were not licensed to pick up certain substances marked for disposal.

Schulte wants the pickup to happen when teachers are present so the two sides can communicate.

Bob Eicher, who heads the Parker science department, said the schools have always inventoried their classroom chemicals and kept them locked up.

The radioactive salt was a remnant of a government-funded program that encouraged nuclear chemistry programs at high schools when Parker first opened in the late 1960s, Eicher said.

Chemical upgrade

Director of Student Services Karen Schulte listed new goals to make schools’ chemical-handling procedures safer:

--Identify all unneeded chemicals and get them out of the buildings by May. This may be more complicated than it seems. Companies’ licenses differ, so each substance must be matched with the proper disposal service.

--Ongoing training for school staff members who handle chemicals.

--Consider a chemical hygiene officer in each high school.

--Make sure everyone’s duties in a chemical spill are clearly spelled out.

--Ongoing safety assessments. The schools already do this, but Schulte wants to make sure that every department is involved.

--A yearly sweep of affected departments.

Last updated: 5:42 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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