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EPA Recognizes the National Institutes of Health for Its Environmental Leadership

Release Date: 06/04/2007
Contact Information: Bonnie Smith, 215-814-5543 & Joan Schafer 215-814-5143

Bethesda, MD (June 4, 2007) In a ceremony held today in Bethesda, MD, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized the National Institutes of Health, the nation’s leading medical research agency, for its environmental stewardship in reducing mercury and promoting resource conservation principles that will better protect human health and the environment.

“EPA commends NIH for being the first federal facility in Maryland to enroll in the National Partnership for Environmental Priorities program,” said Maria Vickers, EPA Deputy Director for the Office of Solid Waste. “They’re not only a leader in medical research, but now a leader in demonstrating how facilities can make changes in carrying out their work in a more environmentally-protective way.”

EPA’s voluntary National Partnership for Environmental Priorities program (NPEP) challenges businesses and manufacturers to become more environmentally aware and to adopt a resource conservation ethic that results in less waste, increased recycling, and more environmentally-sound products.

In becoming a partner, NIH committed to establishing an organizational-wide education and awareness program to eliminate mercury use where alternatives are available, and to prevent future installation of mercury switches and other devices in all new NIH facility construction. In addition to these commitments, NIH's leaders chose to do more by improving the way they manage waste materials from construction and demolition projects. The research agency initiated a pilot project to deconstruct one of its buildings, ultimately avoiding a large extent of land disposal of hazardous materials by extracting and recycling the materials. It also recycled 100 percent of the remaining non-hazardous debris.

“What’s significant about NIH’s accomplishments in reducing waste is that its leaders chose to go beyond governmental compliance not because of a federal or state law, but because they saw a need and it made sense,” said Vickers.

As part of its deconstruction project, NIH achieved the following: removal and recycling of more than 14,000 mercury-containing fluorescent lamps; removal and recovery of more than 2,800 pounds of mercury-containing debris and other waste materials; removal and recovery of more than 22,000 pounds of ballast materials, some of which contained PCBs; and recycling of more than 5,800 tons of non-hazardous debris, such as concrete and scrap metal. These recycling activities resulted in energy savings equivalent to removing nearly 3,300 cars from the roadways for one year.

In addition, NIH has developed a decommissioning protocol for hazardous substance assessment and remediation that can be used during deconstruction activities and applied by other federal and state agencies, universities, and facilities across the country.

NIH, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research. Comprised of 27 institutes and centers, the NIH provides leadership and financial support to researchers in every state and throughout the world.

The NPEP is a voluntary program in which private and public organizations work with EPA to reduce the use or release of 31 priority chemicals, including mercury, beyond regulatory requirements. Reducing the use or release of these chemicals will help to better protect human health and the environment, since chemicals like mercury may end up in fish and other aquatic life and transfer up the food chain to humans.