Laboratory Waste

Segregating Waste

When segregating or storing chemicals, do not use containers that may react with the chemicals or which may burn, such as cardboard or styrofoam. In general, combustible material should be stored away from chemicals due to it’s ability to react to chemicals or to promote fires. Instead, make sure that the container is made of a corrosive resistant material, such as nalgene.

Chemical Compatibility Chart (PDF).

Lab Glassware

Laboratory Glassware is any item that could puncture regular waste bags and therefore endanger waste handlers. It includes cleaned and emptied, whole or broken glassware, bottles, flasks or vials. See the Laboratory Glassware Quick Tip (PDF) for more information on disposal requirements and what can and cannot go into the lab glass boxes. All lab glass boxes must be "certified' clean by affixing and signing the lab glass label (PDF), before it can be disposed.

Please remember that any laboratory glass that cannot be sufficiently cleaned or deodorized should be disposed of as Hazardous Waste through EHS and not placed in the Laboratory Glassware boxes.

Preparing Equipment for Service or Disposal

Clinical and Laboratory equipment may potentially be contaminated with biological, chemical or radioisotopes. The equipment must be cleaned or decontaminated to protect workers servicing the equipment, the environment if disposing the equipment or the public if purchasing surplus equipment.

Examples of equipment which may need to be decontaminated or to assure the removal of hazardous materials prior to servicing or disposal include (but are not limited to):

Centrifuges Incubators Fume Hoods
Cryostats Ovens Refrigerators
Freezers Sinks Warm Rooms*
Tanks* Biological Safety Cabinets Walk-in Refrigeration Units
X-Ray Units Photo Processing Units Lab Benches (grossly contaminated)
Other storage cabinets, lockers, bins used to store hazardous materials

*potential confined space

The exact decontamination procedure will be dependent upon equipment use. Decontamination can be performed by the clinic, lab or department preparing for service or disposing of equipment. If there is ever a question of the hazard, please call the Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) Office at 212-998-1450.

Some equipment can contain materials which present or contain hazards to repair personnel and/or the environment if disposing of it. Examples include equipment that may contain ballasts (possible PCB-containing), thermometers (possible mercury-containing); oil reservoirs, lead sheeting, radioisotopes, CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and attachments such as gas cylinders.

It is the laboratory, clinic and/or department’s responsibility to assure that the equipment is cleaned or does not pose a risk. If there presents a risk that cannot or should not be removed by the laboratory, clinic or department personnel contact EH&S.

Once the equipment has been decontaminated of hazards or does not present a hazard, please fill out and attach the "Notice of Equipment Decontamination" (PDF) Label. An employee knowledgeable of the hazardous materials used in the equipment/fume hood must complete the label and attach it to the equipment or face of the fume hood prior to calling Asset Management. Then follow the steps in the Asset Management Policy and Procedures:

Equipment Used to Process or Store Biological Material

Remove biological material from the equipment. Clean the equipment with warm, soapy water and scrub as necessary. Sanitize with a 1:10 bleach solution. After 10 minutes contact time, rinse metal surfaces as bleach is corrosive. If you have questions, contact the EH&S office at 212-998-1450.

For decontamination of biological safety cabinets, call 212-998-1440.

Other Uses of Equipment and Contact and Decontamination Information

Radiation Safety

Contact the NYU Radiation Safety Officer (212-998-8480) prior to servicing or removing equipment containing sealed radiation sources (gas chromatographs, liquid scintillation counters, etc), x-ray equipment, lasers, or equipment producing non-ionizing radiation (UV radiation).

Once the equipment no longer poses any radiation hazard, please fill out and attach the “Notice of Equipment Decontamination” Label.

Chemical Safety

Contact the Department EH&S (212-998-1450) prior to servicing or removing equipment/instruments containing mercury (thermometers, blood pressure devices, etc.), gas cylinders, equipment containing capacitors, small transformers containing PCBs, fluorescent light ballasts or pressurized containers and vessels. The EH&S office can also provide information on decontamination of equipment used to store or process chemicals.

For fume hood liner, oven and older counter tops decontamination or removal, please contact the Department of EH&S (212-998-1450).

Occupational Safety

Prior to cleaning or decontaminating walk-in cold or warm rooms or any similarly non-ventilated,, confined area contact EHS because prolonged presence in these areas, particularly when using cleaning agents, may present health hazards.

Equipment Used to Process or Store Radioisotopes

For surfaces or equipment that may have been in contact with radioactive material, the following should be performed:

  • Thoroughly decontaminated all surfaces
  • Perform wipe tests and document the test in the Radiation Safety handbook for possible future inspection
  • Remove all radioactive labels and signs when wipe tests indicate that no contamination is present.

Equipment Used to Process or Store Chemicals

Safely remove, drain, or discharge chemicals from the equipment. Collect the material for reuse or for hazardous waste disposal. If applicable, use an inert gas or liquid to purge or rinse out chemical residues. In some cases, rinsate will need to be disposed of as hazardous waste if what you are decontaminating is considered a hazardous material.

Contaminated Refrigerators or Ovens

Refrigerators, ovens and other equipment with non-permeable surfaces must be decontaminated by scrubbing with warm soapy water.

Fume Hoods

When maintenance personnel must enter the inside of a fume hood, the fume hood user must remove all containers and thoroughly wash interior surfaces with warm soapy water (fume hood areas that are within arms reach). Call EH&S if a full decontamination of the fume hood is required or needed (up into the HVAC duct work).

Lab Cleanouts

In the event of a lab cleanout or relocation, it is important that the laboratory be left in a clean and safe condition for the next occupants or, in the case of a demolition or renovation, for the construction crews. Unwanted or abandoned chemicals must be disposed of through Environmental Health and Safety.

Steps to follow in the event of a lab cleanout:

  1. Notify Environmental Health and Safety 90 days prior to, or at earliest knowledge of, the evacuation date, to coordinate material handling and disposal of hazardous waste.
  2. Identify and label all chemical waste as described on the Chemical Waste page.
  3. Complete a Hazardous Waste Pickup Request Form (PDF) and send to Environmental Health and Safety, before vacating the lab, to schedule the waste removal.
  4. Arrange for all Gas Cylinders (PDF) to be removed prior to the occupants leaving the space. Ensure that all cylinders are labeled with their contents, concentrations, hazards, and precautions.
  5. Clean all work surfaces, fumehoods, cabinets and drawers to ensure that they are free of hazardous materials.
  6. Clean all refrigerators and freezers. Call Asset Management (212-995-4248) about the transportation of equipment if relocating.
  7. Refer to Section 7.0 'Special Removal Projects' of the Hazardous Waste Minimization and Disposal Policy (PDF) for further information, or contact Environmental Health and Safety.
  8. For a list of the most common demolition and renovation wastes and disposal procedures for each, look at the Demolition/Renovation Waste Quick Tip (PDF).

Transporting Chemicals

Transportation of Chemicals over Public Roadways

Environmental Health and Safety must be contacted if chemicals are to be transported to another facility or building on- or off-campus. Do not attempt to transport hazardous materials over public roadways. The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires certain licenses and endorsements to legally transport hazardous materials via the public roadway. Contact Environmental Health and Safety 90 days prior to, or at earliest knowledge of, the lab relocation if chemicals need to be moved to a new location over public roadways. Environmental Health and Safety will schedule NYU's Hazardous Materials Contractor to transport the chemicals.

Transportation of Chemicals Within a Building

The following criteria must be followed when transporting any chemicals within a building:

  1. All chemical containers must be securely capped or sealed and properly labeled.
  2. Chemical should be transported in closed containers, impervious to and non-reactive with the chemicals contained. Chemicals should never be transported in open containers.
  3. Personnel who transport chemicals must have had Lab Safety and Hazardous Waste training, be familiar with the hazards of the chemicals, and the procedures to follow in the event of a spill.
  4. Personnel who transport chemicals must wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
  5. Chemicals must be transported on tray carts or carts with sides.
  6. If chemicals are being transported in glass containers, care must be taken to insure against breakage. Carrying glass bottles without packing material, rubber buckets or other protective means is unacceptable.
  7. Chemicals are not to be transported through student classroom areas or through academic facilities during peak class changes.
  8. Refer to Section 8.0 - 'On-Site Transportation' in the Hazardous Waste Minimization and Disposal Policy (PDF) for more information.

Broken Thermometers

Mercury thermometers pose the greatest risk for a mercury exposure on campus due to the potential for breaking. For information regarding spills, collection and labeling see the Mercury Thermometers Quick Tip (PDF).

For more detailed information see the Mercury Safety Policy (PDF). See Section 3.4 for information on the collection of mercury-containing thermometers and Section 4.2 for mercury thermometer spills.

Ethidium Bromide

Ethidium Bromide is a highly toxic chemical and potent mutagen frequently used to identify DNA. For detailed information on ethidium bromide handling, see the Ethidium Bromide Safety Policy (PDF).

Gas Cylinders

Gas Cylinders require special handling, storage and disposal procedures since they are pressurized vessels and can contain potentially toxic gases. See the Gas Cylinders Quick Tips (PDF) for information on the hazards of gas cylinders and the requirements for storage and handling. For further information view the Safe Storage, Handling, Use and Disposal of Compressed Gas Cylinders Policy (PDF).

NOTE: Gas cylinders should be purchased in returnable cylinders so that they can be returned to the vendor when empty or no longer needed. Disposal of cylinders that are non-returnable is difficult and costly, due to pressurized nature of the container. Information on vendor contacts can be obtained through Environmental Health and Safety or NYU's Purchasing Department (x81030).

Empty Containers

Empty containers that once held hazardous waste are not regulated as hazardous waste if they meet the definition of "empty" as defined in 40CFR 261.7. A container is "empty" if all waste has been removed to the extent possible by common practices (e.g., by pouring, pumping, or aspiration) and less than one inch of residue or 3% by weight of the total capacity of the container remains on the bottom of container.

Containers that held acutely hazardous waste (PDF) are considered empty only after being triple rinsed with a solvent capable of removing the acutely hazardous waste residue. The solvent rinsate then must be managed as acutely hazardous waste. Due to the complexity of triple rinsing and collection of all the rinsate, Environmental Health and Safety recommends that containers that one contained accutely hazardous waste be disposed of as hazardous waste.


Unknown chemicals or waste presents a problem both in safe handling and in the disposal of the material. It is extremely important to notify Environmental Health and Safety as soon as any unknown chemicals are discovered.

Every effort must be made to identify the unknown. Where the unknown is the result of experimental work, and the exact composition cannot be determined, the Principal Investigator (or Department) must provide Environmental Health and Safety with the following information:

  • Name of PI, primary research goal, materials used in research, and the building name, floor and room where the research was conducted;
  • The reagents and protocols used which produced the hazardous waste;
  • Any special hazards of the research compound(s) (e.g., air reactive, water reactive, temperature sensitive, carcinogenic, etc.); and
  • Any special handling instructions (e.g., shock sensitive, keep refrigerated, etc.)