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Sustainability within EA’s Ecotoxicology Laboratory – Practical and Behavioral Practices

EA’s Ecotoxicology Laboratory was established in 1981, and was one of the first ecotoxicology laboratories in the United States supporting entities responding to new regulatory requirements pursuant to the Clean Water Act—no other service truly captures EA’s history and sector leadership! EA’s Ecotoxicological Laboratory staff were instrumental in developing and improving many of the early tests and procedures used. Since 1981, the laboratory has continuously provided a wide variety of toxicity testing and consulting services to municipal, industrial, and federal clients nationwide. In 2012, EA’s Ecotoxicology Laboratory moved into a new 10,000-square foot facility located in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

The science of environmental toxicology has evolved over the last 30 years, and along with that evolution, EA’s Ecotoxicology Laboratory has constantly helped shape the move toward more sustainable practices and procedures. These procedures have been incorporated into our daily activities, allowing the laboratory to greatly reduce the amount of water, test material, chemicals, test organisms, and energy utilized, as well as the volume of waste material generated. While the enhancements and improvements to ecotoxicological practices were not solely the result of EA’s early leadership, a look back at the evolution of the sector provides a fitting example of sustainable practices in such laboratory operations.

Facility and Energy Management

EA’s Ecotoxicology Laboratory has implemented policies and procedures to support sustainable business practices. The effectiveness of our facility management programs stems from not only direct energy conservation by the equipment, but also through behavioral actions such as awareness through training.

  • Our laboratory footprint allows for the maximum usage of laboratory space, thus conserving energy and minimizing the need for unnecessary and duplicate equipment.
  • Shipments originated by the laboratory are scheduled through United Parcel Service’s Carbon Neutral Shipment program, which funds the purchase of certified carbon offsets.
  • Environmental testing and culturing chambers/rooms are under strict control using digital timers, ensuring that lights are only on for required testing photoperiods. Areas within the Ecotoxicology Laboratory not directly associated with testing or culturing are controlled using motion-activated sensors, allowing for lights to be off during periods of inactivity.
  • Exhaust hoods used for washing laboratory equipment are controlled by timers to eliminate overuse when accidently left on.
  • Laboratory equipment not currently in use is either unplugged or turned off.
  • The water dechlorination and conditioning system utilized in the laboratory is designed to carry out self-maintenance procedures during off-peak hours. All laboratory equipment is subject to a preventive maintenance program that emphasizes optimal operation.
  • Computers and office equipment associated with the toxicology laboratory are powered down at the end of every work day.
  • The scientists associated with the laboratory maintain active memberships in professional associations where our leadership helps shape sustainability procedures and practices. This involvement enables our laboratory to keep current with the latest developments. The high level of staff expertise reduces the need for test repeating due to improper laboratory procedures, thus further minimizing the laboratory’s impact on the environment.

Water Conservation

EA has continuously managed its water footprint by implementing innovative approaches to reduce and conserve water use in our operations.

  • In the 1980s, testing conducted in 10-gallon aquaria under flow-through procedures could consume up to 2,400 gallons of water in a single 96-hour test.
  • Our current laboratory’s fish culture facility is a 95 percent water recycle system—only evaporative loss is replaced.
  • Historical water use has dramatically changed:
    • Larval fish testing in 1-liter beakers with daily renewals only requires approximately 6 gallons of water—a savings of 2,394 gallons of water for a single test (or 40,000 percent reduction).
    • Tests that used to require 30-50 gallons of sample being shipped for testing now only requires 1-3 gallons (or approximately a 25,000 percent reduction).

Conservation of Natural Resources and Pollution Prevention

The principles of pollution prevention have been integrated into EA’s Ecotoxicology Laboratory. Example accomplishments include:

  • Chemicals
    • The reduced volume of test solution now required per test due to smaller test chamber size has greatly reduced the amount of chemicals required for the preparation of stocks and test solutions.
    • Chemicals used in washing of glassware and testing supplies are recycled during the washing process.
    • “Green” cleaning products are used in the laboratory whenever possible.
  • Test Material
    • The reduced volume of test solution now required per test greatly reduces the volume of effluent, sediment, and other test material that must be collected and transported to EA’s laboratory facility.
  • Test Organisms
    • EA’s Ecotoxicology Laboratory utilizes the minimum number of test organisms necessary per test to achieve successful performance, based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidance.
    • Many species of test organisms are cultured in EA’s Ecotoxicology Culture Facility, especially those species that are most frequently used in testing, thus greatly reducing the number of organisms that must be purchased from vendors and shipped to our laboratory.
  • Paper
    • Technical reports, which previously were paper copies, are increasingly delivered as electronic reports, greatly reducing the amount of paper consumed by the laboratory. In addition to reports, most client communications are now generated, delivered, and archived electronically.
  • Recycling
    • Old paper reports, masters, outdated communications, and other paper wastes are recycled.
    • Plastic test chambers, pipettes, and other plastic equipment are recycled. Fifty percent of the test chambers and other laboratory “glassware” utilized in the daily operation are made of recyclable plastic. This allows a 50 percent reduction in water usage for washing.
    • The reduced volume of water, chemicals, and test materials (e.g., elutriates, sediments) required per test greatly reduces the amount of waste material generated and returned to the environment.
    • With a few necessary exceptions, mercury thermometers have largely been replaced with digital thermometers.

Sustainable Practices Incorporated in Construction of the Laboratory Facility

In addition to maintaining the current sustainable practices in the Ecotoxicology Laboratory, the construction of the new facility afforded EA the opportunity to incorporate greener materials and equipment into the infrastructure of the laboratory. Examples of these improvements include:

  • Tankless Water Heaters
    • Allows for heated water to be used only when it is needed.
    • Up to 40 percent less energy consumption when compared to standard water heaters.
    • Less space allocation when compared to traditional heaters, which maximizes the usable space in the laboratory.
    • Longevity of the units is superior to that of traditional water heaters.
  • Aquatherm Piping
    • Piping and fittings are 100 percent recyclable.
    • Base materials associated with manufactured piping are tested and excluded if deemed to be harmful.
    • Piping contains no bisphenol A or dioxins that could leach into water or air.
    • Pumping energy loss is minimized due to low friction design in piping.
    • Longevity of the product is designed to be over 60 years.
    • Heat fusion connections eliminated the use of glues, epoxy, and resins normally associated with plumbing.
  • Laboratory Layout
    • Areas needing strict photoperiod control are centralized in the interior of the building to allow for the maximum utilization of ambient light in office and common areas.
  • Laboratory Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning (HVAC) Systems and Walk-In Refrigerators
    • New HVAC units and walk-in refrigerators were purchased to facilitate the use of high efficiency, energy maximizing units utilizing newer, more environmentally friendly refrigerants.
  • Laboratory Lighting
    • Decreased energy consumption through utilization of next generation lighting equipment that incorporates energy efficient technology.
    • Utilization of motion-activated sensors and digital timers that maximize energy consumption during periods of inactivity.
  • Water Dechlorinator
    • Decreased energy consumption through utilization of next generation water treatment equipment that incorporates energy efficient technology.