Karen Smith, chemistry-stockroom manager, has written a new page in cost-savings and recycling at Whitman by using surplus chemicals from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) whenever possible in lab exercises.

Seventeen pounds of chemicals — about a 5-year supply of sodium bicarbonate and a 2-year supply of Drierite for Whitman’s chemistry stockroom — normally would have cost the college up to $1,000.

But these 17 pounds, in 17 bottles, were free. Shipping, too. Smith learned about PNNL’s ChemAgain program when she was attending a conference on the PNNL campus. She sent a list of chemicals the college needed and has received 17 bottles so far. “I hope they continue,” she is quoted as saying. “It’s good for both parties.”

Smith said Whitman’s chemistry storeroom — which currently has 2,676 bottles of chemicals ranging in size from 1 gram to 5 gallons — spends about $30,000 annually for chemicals, and prices are soaring — such as a 31 percent increase for acetone, a cleaning solvent. And the college is at the mercy of the market for such things as copper and nickel, which are now selling for $300 for 5 pounds. She said these days it’s impossible to find a “good deal” when buying chemicals, which made the donated items that much sweeter.

She said the donated chemicals — which come from PNNL’s chemical-redistribution center in Richland — were mainly sodium bicarbonate, used to neutralize acids and Drierite, which pulls water out of the air — a chemical students use a lot of.

Before sending the donated products to Whitman, PNNL’s primary investigator certifies what is in the bottle and runs it through a Geiger counter to check for radiation, she said.

Smith said Whitman has received donations of chemicals before, such as from the local wastewater treatment plant, but not on this scale.

She sent a master list to PNNL of every chemical the college uses, and it’s her understanding the donations will continue as they have those chemicals are available.

Smith said PNNL — whose reported scientific mission focuses on such issues as national energy and environmental challenges — is closing labs in the Hanford area and thus surplus chemicals were available. But in addition, labs in other locations will periodically change projects, and also chemicals, and so should have surplus chemicals available from those situations, too.

CONTACT: Virginia Grantier, Writer, Office of Communications, (509) 527-4917
grantivc@whitman.edu