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Northwestern, local schools safely remove chemical products

Office of Research Safety leads cleanup effort through University’s STEM partnership

Jim Williams (left) and Hemang Rana of Clean Harbors at Chute Middle School in Evanston. Clean Harbors partnered with Northwestern's Office for Research Safety safely dispose of excess chemical products from six local schools Dec. 28-29
Jim Williams (left) and Hemang Rana of Clean Harbors at Chute Middle School in Evanston. Clean Harbors partnered with Northwestern's Office for Research Safety safely dispose of excess chemical products from six local schools Dec. 28-29
A bottle of ammonium nitrate sits among a number of other excess chemical products left over from science experiments conducted at Chute Middle School in Evanston
A bottle of ammonium nitrate sits among a number of other excess chemical products left over from science experiments conducted at Chute Middle School in Evanston
A bottle of magnesium metal on a lab table at Chute Middle School in Evanston
A bottle of magnesium metal on a lab table at Chute Middle School in Evanston

Northwestern University in a recently-formed partnership with local school districts used the recent holiday break, while students were away, to remove excess chemical products created during regular science instruction from local schools.

The Office for Research Safety (ORS) at Northwestern and its chemical products disposal partner, Clean Harbors, coordinated with Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and the Evanston Fire Department on Dec. 28-29, 2016, to safely dispose of chemical products from Evanston’s three public middle schools, two K-8 magnet schools and Evanston Township High School (ETHS).

The two-day removal project was part of the District 65/Northwestern STEM partnership, launched in fall 2016 to strengthen STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in local schools.

“The care taken to remove chemical products swiftly and efficiently was extremely helpful, especially for District 65 science teachers,” said Jennifer Lewin, District 65 STEM coordinator in Northwestern’s Science in Society education research center. Lewin is the primary liaison between District 65 and the University.

“ORS was 100 percent dedicated to this project, and its work was a huge asset to the school district,” she said. “Excess chemical products are created while completing labs in the classroom, and teachers are often faced with finding the resources to dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way. The office was helpful throughout the inventory and removal process, keeping safety at the schools its highest priority.”

Chute Middle School made the initial request for cleanup support, but ORS expanded the initiative to include ETHS, Haven Middle School, Nichols Middle School, Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School.

Waste from the K-8 and middle schools were consolidated to Chute and Haven to shorten pickup time. Kristen Perkins, in the School of Education and Social Policy’s Office of STEM Education Partnerships, is STEM coordinator for ETHS (District 202).   

“We are truly appreciative of Northwestern’s Office for Research Safety for its efforts to help our science teachers remove excess chemical products generated from classroom experiments in a safe and environmentally sound manner,” said Paul Goren, District 65 superintendent.

Northwestern’s Office for Research Safety will follow-up on the cleanup by providing training for local science teachers on laboratory safety and chemical waste disposal in the coming months. In addition, ORS is developing school protocol for chemical waste removal and donating hazardous chemical containment supplies to the schools. 

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