Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S): FAQs Related to COVID-19 and the Research Ramp-down

Last updated 4/8/2020; 5:00 pm

Please also see EH&S's dedicated webpage EH&S COVID-19 Guidance for service updates, downloadable fact sheets, and additional resources.

Researchers are reminded that EH&S is considered an essential function of the University. At this time EH&S Services (WASTE MANAGEMENT, EMERGENCY RESPONSE, TRAINING, ETC.) and functions will continue, with necessary adjustments to frequency or depth of service as needed.

The Research Continuity Planner is a useful guide or tool.  It can be used to help build an organized list of the activities that take place in your lab.  After carefully thinking through the daily operations of your lab, use the tool to assign a "Criticality" ranking (High-Medium-Low) to each.  From there, identify and assign key personnel (primary and back-up) who can be assigned to manage the highly critical tasks either via an orderly shutdown process, or a maintenance plan.  Addition columns provide space for recording important information on the supplies, vendors and other associated details related to the task.

Once complete, fill in the "Lab Phone List" tab in the workbook and use the information to share the plan with your personnel.

As part of the “Ramp Down,” it is anticipated there will be a surge in production of RMW as research laboratories clear out their incubators. Containers of liquid should not be put directly into a red bag. For example, decant or aspirate all liquid from tissue culture flasks. Treat with bleach and dispose in to the sink.  The exception is plastic tubes that contain less than 50 ml of liquid. These can be tightly capped and put directly into red bags. Glass vacutainer tubes can be put directly into a sharps container. Please use your normal procedures for disposing of RMW. If you take your red bags to a designated container (dumpster) on the floor, continue to do so. If this designated dumpster in full in your area, do not leave the bags on the floor or on top of the dumpster. Find another dumpster with capacity. If you need to take a red bag to another floor use the freight elevator. Cardboard biohazard boxes may be deployed in areas where the dumpsters are full. Place your red bags into boxes if the  dumpster is full. Conserve and consolidate resources. Please work with your colleagues to ensure sharps containers are near to full when you put them out in the hallway. The lid should be closed when they are put out.

All requests for chemical disposal should be submitted, as usual, via https://research.columbia.edu/hazardous-materials-and-sustainability. Laboratories are encouraged to plan for the disposal of chemicals and chemical waste, with immediate priority to those which may become unstable (e.g., peroxide-forming, reactive, pressure build-up, etc.), malodorous, that have or will exceed their shelf/useful life or that are full/almost full. EH&S plans to have staff available all week to service these requests. Please type URGENT in the COMMENTS/SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS section of the online form for items that meet the above characteristics. If your waste request is NOT urgent, please still submit the request, as EH&S will add it to our service schedule.  If your waste disposal request is not serviced by Thursday evening, March 19, 2020, please stage the waste inside your lab in a safe place and highly visible area, as close to the entry door as possible (e.g., inside the fume hood, on a lab bench, inside a secondary containment tray(s) on the floor, etc.). Print and place a sign with the chemicals for disposal that reads EH&S - DISPOSE OF THESE CHEMICALS, so EH&S knows which chemicals to remove.  If there are any specific lab access restrictions (e.g., door code, special key, etc.), please include the information in your waste request in the COMMENTS/SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS section and note the access code or instructions on who to contact in your lab/department to help coordinate access with EH&S. Please note that it is NOT necessary that every chemical or chemical waste container in your laboratory be disposed of during the ramp down. Please contact labsafety@columbia.edu with any questions.

Storage and security requirements are unchanged during ramp-down.  As usual, radioactive materials must be secured when not in use or otherwise left unattended.  These materials must be properly stored in a locked container, cabinet, freezer or refrigerator, room or other secure location to prevent unauthorized access or removal.  All containers of radioactive material must be properly labeled with a “Caution: Radioactive Material” label.  Please contact rso-ehrs@columbia.edu for questions or support.

All requests for disposal should be submitted, as usual, via LION (https://labcliq.com/columbia_lion.cfm).  If waste material may become unstable or malodorous if not picked up immediately, please type URGENT in the “Comments” section of the waste pickup form and provide additional information.  For waste requests that are NOT urgent, please still submit the request, so EH&S can ensure we add it to our service schedule.  If your waste disposal request is not serviced by Thursday evening, please stage your waste inside your lab in a highly visible area, as close to the entry door as possible (e.g., inside the fume hood, on a lab bench, inside a secondary containment tray(s) on the floor, etc.), but in a safe place.  Print and place a sign with the waste for disposal that reads EH&S - DISPOSE OF THESE CONTAINERS, so EH&S knows which containers to remove.  If there are any specific lab access restrictions (e.g., door code, special key, etc.), please include the information in your waste request in the COMMENTS/SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS section and note the access code or instructions on who to contact in your lab/department to help coordinate access with EH&S.  It is NOT necessary that every chemical or radioactive waste container in your laboratory be disposed of during the ramp down. Contact rso-ehrs@columbia.edu with any questions.