Lab Decontamination Q&A With Industry Expert, John Wright
Several weeks ago, we hosted a webinar on how to do a lab decontamination step-by-step. Here's a transcription of all the questions asked and John's answers.
Are there any special steps if mercury has been used in a lab?
Yes, there are some special steps that you need to take. First of all, the most important thing is knowing that you have mercury. I think you should scan all sink traps for any mercury and that involves making sure that you evacuate all water from the traps. From there, take them apart and decontaminate them.
I also recommend that you use a mercury vapor analyzer and test the areas from down below. Actually get on your hands and knees and take the mercury vapor analyzer around and scan in the corners, scan equipment, scan bench tops just to make sure that you're not getting any hits from mercury in the lab.
Should five gallon chip tanks with limestone in them be cleaned?
We should definitely clean the chip tanks. The limestone is what actually is used as a neutralizer for the chemicals that are being dumped in to the sink and to your neutralization system. Remove the lid and the limestone and put it in the proper shipping container so it can be shipped out. Once again, rinse out that entire chip tank and then put the lids back on.
What lab equipment needs to be removed or disposed of during the decontamination?
It's important that if there's anything you're using that's going to be staying, you talk to the decontaminator about it so they know exactly what was used in it. They also want to know if the equipment doesn't need to be cleaned itself. If it doesn't need to be cleaned for whatever reason, then you should remove it from the lab.
Should fume hood baffles be removed for lab decontamination?
I think you should follow the rule of thumb that you should definitely remove the fume hood baffles that we talked about. Those can get contaminated just as well as your air flow comes out. The baffles should be removed and you should clean up into the vent as far as you can reach so that if there's any contaminants that can be taken care of.
What should you do if the history of the lab is unknown?
If the history of your lab is unknown the best thing to do is take some tests. I would do some samples. I would do some pH samples of the areas that you're having decontaminated. And I would maybe do some wipe samples.
I would look mainly and focus heavily on any areas that may be stained (permeated staining). I would also test areas where your bench tops are cracked or there's a gap. I would definitely do wipe samples on those and see if it comes back with any hits of anything. Hopefully, you can catch the areas that were hit. You can scan your whole lab.
How long should a lab decontamination take?
Lab decontaminations will vary in the time they take. It all depends on the amount of bio cleaning, chemical cleaning, and radiation. You should also consider how many rooms and their sizes.. How many benches are in your area that need to be decon? How many drawers do you have? What kind of decon are you doing? Making sure if there's any tape in the surfaces, you know, it’s very time consuming to remove all the tape.
How many fume hoods do you have? And how clean is your lab going to be before you start having someone in to come in and decontaminate it? Are you going to have all your chemicals out? Are you going to still have things in there that individuals who are doing the decon are going to need to remove?I've done lab decons in as little as one day and I've done lab decons of whole building and complete areas that have taken up to 2 months. It all varies.
How do you verify a lab decontamination as effective like you do with radiological decontaminations?
We'll have a chemical hygienist we have on staff. We will call them in. They will actually come in. They will take pH sample of any permeated staining. They will take wipe samples. They'll do sampling of all the areas and especially any area that was bio.
The clinical hygienist will come in and actually swab those and we can send those off to be tested and when the test comes back, it's going to tell you that something is there or the decontamination worked properly and all contaminants have been removed. That's a great question, though.
There's a lot of concern to make sure that everything has been efficiently and sufficiently removed in a lab decon. If you're going to have a lab decon, it's very important, I think, at the end to have that clinical hygienist come in and actually do the samples and the pH-ing of areas of any staining just to ensure you and it gives you a great paper trail to make anyone understand if this lab has been decontaminated properly.
What kind of chemical do you use to clean surfaces when only chemicals have been used?
We use another Zep product that's an industrial heavy soapy solution. And if it's just chemicals we'll wipe it down, we'll scrape any parts that need to be scraped, and once again after we finish that wipe down, it will dry, we will re-wipe it and then call in our clinical hygienist who will definitely take samples of the area and pH those areas to make sure that all chemical hazards have been removed appropriately.
Where can you find an industry standard decontamination questionnaire?
It actually depends on the company that you use. Many companies ask for a version of your lab history and convert it into a questionairre based on previous uses. Anytime, when you go through a walk through before a lab decontamination has started with whoever you have chosen to come in and do that, one of the most important things maybe even if they don't have a questionnaire, they're going to ask you or they should ask you, "What was used in this area? What are you aware of that was used in this area?"
It's probably pretty easy for you to respond to the stuff that's being used there now and in recent memory but some of the things you got to think about is that historical stuff that could still be there. If I'm going to have someone for me do it, I would definitely start out and ask about the questionnaire because it helps you to insure that you've got the right person to decontaminate your lab because they're interested in what was used historically so if there's an issue, they can remove that but also what's being actively used in that lab.
What if you don't have good historical data of what was used in the lab? How does that change decontamination activities?
If you don't have good historical information, trust me you're not alone. Some of the places we go have great historical information that they can pull from because maybe the professor that was there, or the lab tech that was there, or one of the technicians, may still be with that company or with that facility and they can get it from them. But in the case if you're not sure what kind of historical uses there has been, maybe we'll want to start off with taking some wipe samples and taking some pH samples and just do some scanning with the Jerome and scan in the areas concerned like the areas permeated staining which can be on the floor or the wall.
Doing a pre-scan of all of the same traps just to make sure that we're not getting any mercury hit. I mean, there's various things but the good thing about it is that when the historical value, most of the times, you can track the BL stuff, whether it was a BL1, BL2, or several lab. You can kind of track that just from information in the building and on the building.
But with the chemicals, I mean, it's kind of basic, the same kind of cleaning process. Definitely, maybe do some pre-sampling and screening and making sure that nothing out of the ordinary or something up the walls there. And set up your decontamination procedure that way.
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