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Vol. LIX, No. 17
August 24, 2007
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The Greening of Bldg. 36
NIH Earns EPA Award for Environmental Leadership

  The Environmental Protection Agency, in concert with its National Partnership for Envi-ronmental Priorities, recently presented NIH an achievement award and commendation. At the ceremony were (from l) Noah Borenstein, EPA; Capt. Ed Rau, special assistant, Division of Environmental Protection, ORF; Maria Parisi Vickers, deputy director, EPA Office of Solid Waste; Kenny Floyd, director, Division of Environmental Protection, ORF; Sharon Perez-Suarez, EPA; Christina Guitar, EPA.   
  The Environmental Protection Agency, in concert with its National Partnership for Envi-ronmental Priorities, recently presented NIH an achievement award and commendation. At the ceremony were (from l) Noah Borenstein, EPA; Capt. Ed Rau, special assistant, Division of Environmental Protection, ORF; Maria Parisi Vickers, deputy director, EPA Office of Solid Waste; Kenny Floyd, director, Division of Environmental Protection, ORF; Sharon Perez-Suarez, EPA; Christina Guitar, EPA.  

The Environmental Protection Agency recently recognized NIH for its commitment to recycling, reducing mercury and remediating hazardous substances prior to demolition. The achievement award was presented at the Federal Environmental Symposium held at the Natcher and Lister Hill conference centers. Accepting on behalf of NIH was Kenny Floyd, director of the Division of Environmental Protection.

EPA also commended NIH for being the first federal facility in Maryland to join its National Partnership for Environmental Priorities program. NPEP is a voluntary program striving to reduce the use or release of 31 chemicals, including mercury, beyond regulatory requirements.

"Eliminating the unnecessary use of mercury in our facilities is the gram of prevention worth a metric ton of cure for hazardous debris," said Capt. Ed Rau, special assistant, Division of Environmental Protection, ORF. Also known as the "The Mad Hatter" (last seen giving out mercury-free thermometers on Earth Day), Rau heads the Mercury-Free Program at NIH.

The original Mad Hatter, a character in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, may have suffered neurological damage caused by inhaling mercury fumes. Mercury was once used in the hat-making process. "Mercury is now the primary contaminant of concern as we decommission and renovate our old lab buildings," said Rau. "Other hazardous substances like lead and asbestos are much easier to locate and remove. They tend to be found in fixed locations; mercury moves."

Mercury, a liquid metal, is a toxic, persistent pollutant that evaporates, passes from the atmosphere into the watershed and then accumulates in the food chain as big fish eat little fish. Mercury has traditionally been used to make thermometers, switches and light bulbs. The nervous system is sensitive to mercury and exposure can damage the brain and kidneys. Pregnant women can pass the mercury in their own bodies to their unborn babies; prenatal exposure may put the fetus at risk.

This means demolition isn't what it used to be-no more one-shot implosions. As part of the pilot deconstruction project of Bldg. 36, NIH achieved these green goals:

  • Removed and recycled more than 14,000 mercury-containing fluorescent lamps
  • Removed and recovered more than 2,800 pounds of mercury-containing debris and other waste
  • Removed and recovered 22,000 pounds of ballast materials, some of which contained PCBs
  • Recycled more than 5,800 tons of non-hazardous debris, such as concrete and scrap metal
  • Recycled 100 percent of remaining non-hazardous debris.

"Building demolition debris containing as little as 200 micrograms of mercury per liter of extract must be disposed of as hazardous waste, which is very problematic and costly," said Rau. "A few dollars spent now to replace thermometers and other devices with mercury-free alternatives will save millions of dollars in spill clean-ups and future decontamination costs when these facilities are decommissioned."

As we build anew, we are now required to implement more stringent levels of sustainability under the federal certification system. These guidelines give NIH "green credits" for how we took down the old building, as well as for the design and construction standards of the new. The deconstruction of Bldg. 36 thus leaves its successor a green legacy. Glad, Hatter? NIH Record Icon

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