Actual phone conversation with the safety office

I have the unfortunate honor of being assigned the lab job of calling the safety office to schedule chemical waste pickups.  Usually, this is straightforward.  Usually.

Note:  A radiation safety guy was standing nearby waiting for my labmate to come show him the new hot room.  He heard every word.

Me:  Hi, I’d like to schedule a chemical waste pick up.

Them:  Okay, let me get your info.

[Spell name, tell them my department, tell them what building I’m in.]

Them:  What’s the room number?

Me:  Well, we just moved.  The waste is in our old lab in the hood in room 1.  But if the guy needs to talk to someone, he should come to room 2.

Them:  Okay, what do you have?

Me:  Well, I’ve got an empty bottle of chloroform and an empty bottle of TEMED and I’m not sure if we’re supposed to just throw those away or you’re supposed to get them.  I’ve also got an empty bottle of glacial acetic acid which is absolutely covered in something disgusting so I’m sure you’ll have to take that.

Them:  TEMED, that’s T-E-M-E-D.

Me:  Yeah, it stands for tetramethylethyl-something-or-other.

Them:  Okay, is that it?

Me:  No.  Actually, um, we’ve got several bottles that I have no idea what the hell is in them.

Them:  Uhhhhh….

Me:  There’s one bottle, I think it might be TEMED, but the label is so worn, I can’t read it so I can’t say for sure that’s what it is.  There’s about 20mls of liquid in there.

Them:  TEMED waste or just TEMED?

Me:  I have no idea.

Them:  Okaaayyyy…..

Me:  Also, we have a regular lab bottle that has about 200ml of some clearish liquid with a precipitate all over the bottom and I have no idea what that is, either.

Them:  You can’t read the label?

Me:  There is no label.

Them:  No label.

Me:  That’s right.  And then there’s another lab bottle with about 50mls of some blue liquid that might be some sort of copper solution but I don’t know because there’s no label on that one, either.

Them:  And, nobody knows what these things are.

Me:  Yeah.  You know how it is if you’ve lived in a place too long and stuff just accumulates and you don’t even realize it’s there?  Well some of this stuff has been in the hood since time out of mind and anybody who ever knew what it was is probably long gone.

Them:  Oh!  So this is stuff in your new space that somebody just left there and you don’t know what it is.

Me:  Oh no.  This is stuff from our lab alright.  Only nobody knows what it is.  If I had to guess, I’d say the clear stuff is probably something really harmless like filtered media that had something start growing in it but of course I can’t say that for sure.  We just want to get rid of this stuff because it’s clearly waste and of no use to us.

Them:  Um…okay…why don’t I just tell the contractor to come get you and you can walk him through all the stuff you want him to take and see what he says.

Me:  ‘Kay, thanks, bye!

The radiation safety guy just looked amused.  Lord only knows what he’s thinking.  Probably something along the lines of, “I should probably check their radioactive waste logs very carefully.”

Today, at lab meeting, I had a little chat with the lab about how we need to label everything, even if it’s something harmless because if it’s not labeled and the chemical waste guy has to come by and pick it up, then he has to treat it as though it is the most corrosive, most toxic, most environmentally unsafe thing there is when, in fact, it’s probably PBS or something equally benign.

Also, they owe me a drink.

6 thoughts on “Actual phone conversation with the safety office

  1. Hah – great story! It’s funny because it is universally true. You should check out the latest PhD Comic about just this problem.

  2. Funny story! My favorite experience as the radiation safety rep of my lab involved me spending 20 minutes chipping 32P out of a block of ice in the freezer because the radiation safety audit suddenly required that I show the auditor every single vial. I’m sure they kept an extra-close eye on us for a while after that!

  3. We went through the EXACT same thing when our lab moved. The best part was the unlabeled bottle of clear liquid that we couldn’t even open because the lid was somehow superglued to the bottle. The EH&S guy thought we were crazy.

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