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Originally published Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Richland national laboratory recycles chemicals

A new program from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) matches surplus chemicals with users at government and nonprofit institutions at no cost to them.

Tri-City Herald

KENNEWICK — When science students at Whitman College in Walla Walla test the properties of chemicals in a lab exercise, one of the substances they'll use is surplus potassium iodide from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

It comes from the chemical-redistribution center at the national lab in Richland, where hundreds of containers of chemicals line a long row of shelves, waiting to be matched with a new user in PNNL's ChemAgain program.

Started 15 months ago, the program recently matched its 1,000th container of surplus chemicals with users at government and nonprofit institutions, and at no cost to them.

"Always before, they would be sent to waste disposal," said Harold Tilden, PNNL senior environmental-policy adviser.

With 1,500 scientists and engineers at PNNL, many types of chemicals are ordered for research projects and some go unused. Only a partial container may have been needed or a project may have been canceled or stopped early.

New users receiving the surplus have ranged from other scientists at PNNL to several colleges in the region and to nonprofits.

One of the next recipients is expected to be Second Harvest, which distributes food to food banks and other charities. It has requested some stainless-steel cleaner that was unused when animal cages used in research were no longer needed.

Karen Smith, the chemistry-stockroom manager at Whitman College Hall of Science, heard about ChemAgain when she was attending a conference on the PNNL campus. She sent a list of chemicals the college needed and has received 17 bottles so far.

"I hope they continue," she said. "It's great for both parties."

Part of PNNL's goal is to prepare to vacate buildings in Hanford's 300 Area that will be demolished as part of cleanup of the nuclear reservation. But it also has an Environmental Protection Agency performance goal to reduce the number of chemicals purchased.

Now when a researcher prepares to order a chemical, the lab's computerized-ordering system first checks to see if there's already some leftover chemical being held at the chemical-redistribution center. Before ChemAgain, redistribution of chemicals within the lab happened mostly by chance and word-of-mouth among researchers, Tilden said.

That's made the program, which recently won an excellence award from the Eastern Washington Chapter of the Academy of Certified Hazardous Materials Managers, a money saver for the lab.

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The average chemical costs a little over $1,000 with just 10 percent of that the purchase price. Much of the cost is for the labor required to request, ship, unload, distribute and verify the chemical can be safely accepted and used in the planned laboratory and then arrange for disposal. Some of the chemicals require incineration or other treatment before disposal.

Some of the surplus chemicals are common, such as table salt and cans of spray paint. But most of it is an alphabet soup: Kinetin, tioxide, citraconic acid, cerium oxalate hydrate, dimethylamine hydrochloride.

Nonprofit and public agencies interested in obtaining chemicals may contact PNNL at pollution.prevention@pnl.gov. Only chemicals that are not past their expiration date and require no special handling, such as refrigeration, are included in the program to ensure quality.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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