May 9, 2018

Five things about Hazmat Services that will make you go, wow, that's cool

Get to know the team keeping our labs safe and sustainable

In our day-to-day lives on campus, it can be easy to take little things for granted. For most of us, hazardous material — something a research-oriented university like the University of Calgary deals with on a daily basis — isn’t often thought about. But the well-oiled machine that is Hazardous Materials Services does more for our health, safety and sustainability on campus than you may think.

Here are five things you didn’t know you wanted to know about Hazmat Services.

1. Last year, Hazmat safely disposed of 15,000 kilograms of solid material and 47,000 litres of liquid material from more than 1,000 labs on campus

Hazmat handles materials from every laboratory on campus, which adds up fast. The four-person team picks up, packs and organizes the disposal of a whole host of materials, including lead, batteries, chemicals, asphalt and bio-waste from labs and medical clinics. Last year alone, Hazmat dealt with:

  • 13,000 kg of solid chemical waste
  • 13,000 kg of biohazardous waste
  • 41,000 l of liquid chemical waste
  • 6,000 l of recyclable liquid waste
  • 2,000 kg of solid recycle materials

Hazmat makes pickups twice a week, touching every corner of UCalgary, including the main campus, Foothills Campus, Spyhill Campus and outliers like the Kanasakis Field Stations and the Pine Creek Laboratory at the City of Calgary Waste Water Facility. All these visits and collections contribute to 48 barrels of waste material transported from UCalgary every month.

2. Hazmat workers are trained chemical professionals

Fred Doré, manager of operations, environment, health and safety at UCalgary, says because of the intricate nature of their work, Hazmat staff are required to have a degree in chemistry to do their work safely and skilfully.

“Some people may think of them as just the waste guys, but they’re highly trained and have to be very careful in the work they do,” Doré says. “They also respond to spills on campus that can’t be handled by the lab occupants due to the nature of the material and the special equipment required.”

Not only do Hazmat employees have to be educated and extensively trained, they need to be acutely aware of complex laws and regulations from various levels of government.

“We have to be constantly innovating,” Doré says. “In the last two years especially, we’ve introduced practices that have greatly reduced our team’s risk of exposure and reduced the chances of hazardous materials causing an incident here on campus.”       

3. The Hazmat Services team educates

In addition to keeping campus safe, Hazmat staff members are also educators — especially to the faculty and staff from busy labs (the faculties of medicine, science, engineering, kinesiology and veterinary medicine, just to name a few).

“We always make sure people are handling their waste correctly,” Doré says. “If we see a process or situation that can be improved, we educate. We make sure people get the process correct before any hazardous material leaves the lab.”

But more than educating others, the Hazmat Services team is constantly learning. Doré says every day his team receives questions about hazardous materials — some predictable, some “head-scratchers” that require research and exploration.

“It sounds like a routine job, but you never know what kind of questions you’re going to get,” he says. “At least once a day I’m thinking ‘How can we handle this?’”

4. Hazmat is known for hiring UCalgary students

At this very moment, half of the Hazmat team are UCalgary graduates, which Doré says is a great opportunity for students and the team.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve hired four University of Calgary chemistry graduates,” Doré says. “We try to look at our university graduates first. It allows these students to get practical knowledge in a field where they can use their education.”

5. Hazmat Services cleans up up after vehicles on campus roads

UCalgary’s extensive road network is completely under university jurisdiction, so in the rare event of an accident on campus, Hazmat Services deals with the liquids and chemicals left behind after impact.

“If you’re in an accident on city roads, the fire department cleans up the waste that’s left behind,” Doré says. “But if there’s an accident on campus, the university’s Hazmat Services is called to help clean up.”

Accidents on campus happen only a few times a year — according to Doré, what’s more common are poorly maintained vehicles leaking questionable chemicals on the roads and in parking lots. This, he says, is also part of Hazmat’s purview.

Where to go if you have questions

As you can see, the Hazmat team performs an essential service that requires a high level of training. The team also relies on lab staff to follow established processes for waste management and provides education on those processes. If you have questions about Hazmat Services at UCalgary contact Fred Doré (fdore@ucalgary.ca).