University Advisory Group Recommends Moving Research Waste Storage Facility

A review of options for the location of the University of Connecticut’s research waste storage facility has recommended moving it away from the Agricultural Campus, and ranks other potential sites to consider.

The newly completed preliminary study by a multi-stakeholder advisory committee included the evaluation of four alternative sites. It identifies an undeveloped parcel on North Campus as the top-rated option based on its location outside of any public drinking water supply or source area, adjacent land use, distance from academic buildings, and other measures. The study awaits finalization by the committee in coming weeks.

The facility, known as the Main Accumulation Area (MAA), was established in 1989 in the Agricultural Campus area east of Route 195 to temporarily store waste generated by the University’s academic research and teaching laboratories. Nearly every research university in the U.S. has a similar facility, and they are commonly found at hospitals, secondary schools, and in the private sector.

UConn has been reviewing options for the past several years to move the MAA, responding to concerns from some state and local officials and area residents who have emphasized that its location in a water supply watershed area is inconsistent with the State Plan of Conservation & Development.

The advisory committee members were appointed by UConn President Susan Herbst and began meeting last June.

In addition to the other factors, their top ranking of the North Campus parcel reflected considerations of the environmental impact, traffic patterns, site security, cost, operational efficiency, and its consistency with the campus master plan. The study also included the possibility of keeping the MAA in the existing location, but that option was ranked the lowest.

“We’re very pleased with the evaluation process, and are grateful for the insight and perspectives provided by the members of our multi-stakeholder advisory group. The high degree of consensus in ranking potential sites among the varied interests represented on the group really gives us confidence that that we’re on the path to the right solution,” says Rich Miller, UConn’s director of environmental policy, who managed the study and conducted the group’s meetings as it worked with engineering consultant Fuss & O’Neill to prepare the report.

In addition to being away from water supply watershed areas and wetlands, moving the MAA to the North Campus site would be consistent with the land use and master planning objectives of the area, in which the UConn Tech Park is slated to be built.

“That location would minimize truck traffic on the main campus for transporting research wastes that will be generated at the Tech Park,” says Bill Wendt, director of UConn’s Office of Logistics Administration.

Kenneth Price, UConn’s executive director of environmental health and safety, says the North Campus site would make sense based on its location and other factors.

“We’ll soon need a larger MAA facility to accommodate increased research and the corresponding generation of regulated wastes, especially with the planned construction of the Innovation Partnership Building and the long-term development of the Tech Park,” he says.

Other sites that were reviewed, in order of the committee’s ranking behind the North Campus site, included the W Lot parking area, a spot north of the UConn Transfer Station, and the F Lot parking area. The option to keep the MAA at its current site was ranked lowest.

The University’s next step is to begin an Environmental Impact Evaluation (EIE), a comprehensive document that will more closely evaluate the North Campus option and other top choices. Public input will be solicited at several points during that process. The logistics and timeframe of the potential move, the cost and funding mechanism, and other specifics also will be considered as the reviews continue.

The EIE document is expected to be completed in late 2013, and will then be presented to the UConn Board of Trustees and state regulatory agencies.

The MAA is used as a temporary storage location for chemical, low-level radioactive, and biological/medical waste, along with a smaller amount of waste from operations such as UConn’s motor pool.

The chemical waste is securely stored in the facility for not more than 90 days before being transported off-site by an EPA-permitted company. Biological waste is removed on a weekly schedule, and radioactive waste stored there is removed every 12 to 15 months. That waste consists of minimal amounts of low-level waste and laboratory debris such as gloves and paper towels.

The University has never had a release of waste into the environment since the MAA was established in 1989. The current facility features multiple layers of containment to prevent waste materials from coming into contact with the outside environment. A new, single, consolidated, and secure building with similar containment systems would be constructed if the MAA is relocated to the North Campus parcel or another on-campus site.

Waste management at UConn and elsewhere is strictly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Connecticut Department of Public Health.