Environmental Health and Safety reorganizes, wins governor’s award

The environment is at the center of many political debates, strategies and platforms.

And on a more local level, environmental concerns are always present at successful research institutions such as the University.

To help get all departments, programs and schools on the same environmental page, the Office of Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) recently was reorganized and wasted no time in making its presence felt.

The office won the 2003 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence and Pollution Prevention, in the category of environmental management systems, for work it accomplished at the School of Medicine.

The University is being recognized for the outstanding environmental program developed at the medical school. The program goes beyond compliance to implementing innovative systems in education, oversight and pollution prevention.

As part of the program, EH&S partnered with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, nine other top research institutions across the country, the Environmental Protection Agency and 10 state regulatory agencies to develop consensus best management environmental practices for research institutions.

Bruce Backus was appointed as assistant vice chancellor for environmental health and safety, where he oversees the compliance programs at both the Hilltop and Medical campuses. Linda Vishino joined the University as its environmental compliance officer, responsible for all environmental compliance systems at both campuses.

There are several reasons for the reorganization.

While safety and compliance with EPA regulations are two of the main drivers for this reorganization, there is one other reason: The University wants to become a leader in academic environmental stewardship and feels that a single program will improve all University safety and environmental efforts, according to Backus.

“We wish to partner with the excellent programs within the University, to become a good role model for environmental health and safety within our community,” Backus said.

The reorganization resulted in the combination of the Hilltop and Medical campuses’ programs into a single department, which reports directly to Michael Cannon, executive vice chancellor and general counsel.

“The organizational change enhances the University’s programs at a time of increased regulatory review of all colleges and universities by federal and state environmental agencies,” Backus said. “These agencies view compliance to be an institutional function, rather than a campus function.”

To that end, the EH&S office will step up its role on both campuses and be involved with laboratories and shops by staying up to date on regulatory responsibilities, hazardous-waste management efforts, questions about biological and chemical safety, in-door air quality, chemical exposure monitoring, radiation and general safety.

“Bruce has what it takes to take Washington University’s environmental and safety programs to the next level of sophistication: wide competencies, surefooted managerial instincts and the respect of both the key regulatory agencies and his counterparts nationwide,” Cannon said. “With Bruce at the helm, Washington University is well-positioned to be a national leader in environmental management.”

Additionally, EH&S will ensure the University is in compliance with state and federal laws on all campuses and properties by conducting annual inspections of laboratories and shops and providing regulatory compliance feedback.

“At Washington University, safety and environmental compliance are everyone’s responsibility,” Vishino said. “Our office exists to provide the leadership and resources to facilitate and coordinate these efforts.”

Many items can be hazardous if improperly disposed of in the environment, including white goods containing Freon, such as refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners; florescent light bulbs; high intensity discharge lamps and ultraviolet germicidal lamps; specialty batteries, such as lithium, nickel-cadmium, lead-acid or led acid gel-cells; computers; computer monitors; electronic equipment containing circuit boards; used oils, solvents, paints and corrosives; and heavy materials such as mercury.

Should you need to dispose of any of these materials, call EH&S at 362-6816 or go online to ehs.wustl.edu for additional information.

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