Yale is changing the mechanism it uses to dispose of biomedical waste produced at the medical school and other research facilities. The Office of Environmental Health and Safety purchased a large autoclave which it will use to sterilize biohazardous waste itself rather than hiring outside vendors.

Autoclaving is a procedure whereby materials are heated to a standardized temperature and pressure to kill biological matter and sterilize the material. In the past, individual labs at the medical school autoclaved their waste material and placed it in labeled cardboard boxes. The waste was fomerly collected in storage sheds and picked up by an outside vendor, which disposed of the material.

With the new autoclave, researchers will place waste into large metal carts which go directly into the autoclave. After being heated, the waste is shredded and then disposed of like normal trash. Brenda Armstrong, the operations manager of environmental services at OEHS, said the new procedure will benefit both researchers and OEHS.

“It decreases longtime liability,” Armstrong said. “It saves the researchers time and money.”

The decision to change the waste disposal method was made in conjunction with the Provost’s Office. Armstrong said they spent three years determining what equipment to purchase and how to implement the change.

Janet Emanuel, Yale’s associate director of public affairs for Science and Medicine, said the change in procedure makes it easier for researchers to comply with standards already adhered to and was intended to improve the environmental aspects of waste disposal.

Armstrong has been training medical school researchers and said almost all of the medical school labs are using the new autoclave system. She said the new system will eventually be extended to Science Hill labs and outlying clinics in New Haven. Armstrong said the autoclave will ultimately be used to dispose of 70 to 80 percent of medical waste.

“Pathological waste and chemotherapy waste — mostly from the morgue — have to be separately incinerated,” Armstrong said. “Some labs are state registered [to use certain pathogens]. We require them to autoclave before putting [the waste] into the carts to make sure it’s deactivated.”

The OEHS also discontinued the use of red buckets for low-risk waste, which will now be placed in bag-lined cardboard boxes. High-risk waste will still use the red buckets. Emanuel said she expects this and the change in autoclaving procedure to be successful.

“We’re very pleased with how it’s going so far,” Emanuel said. “It makes sense, and I think it will make it a lot easier for everyone.”