The Impact of Laboratory Flooding
The IUPUI campus has experienced a number of significant water intrusion events, commonly known as floods, over the past several months resulting in varying impact on laboratory operations. The origin of these events range from clogged building storm drains during heavy rains, to building heating/air conditioning equipment failures, to human error. As our campus continues to grow and the infrastructure ages, additional water intrusion events should be anticipated.
Perhaps the most notable of the recent events occurred at the Science Building (SL) in December, 2016. A mechanical failure in the building heating and air conditioning system resulted in the release of an extensive amount of water in the west end of the building. Over 50 laboratories, classrooms, offices and other common areas were affected resulting in the disruption of research and educational operations and resulting in millions of dollars in physical damage to the building.
Water intrusion events on upper floors of a building can readily impact multiple floors as water cascades down through utility chases and other floor penetrations onto work islands, lab benches, storage shelves, incubators, centrifuges, refrigerators, freezers and other laboratory equipment as well as chemical fume hoods and biological safety cabinets. The path the water travels is unpredictable. As the water travels, it can pick up contaminants that may be transported to other areas of the building and ultimately into unsuspecting areas.
The campus has developed and implemented specific procedures intended to ensure the response to any water intrusion event is prompt and effective while providing for a safe work environment for both campus, contractual response personnel and building occupants. The goals for any building water intrusion event include:
- Ensuring that significant electrical hazards are identified and isolated.
- Ensuring the overall laboratory environment is safe for personnel and free of any significant chemical, biological or radiological hazards.
- In the event chemical, biological or radiological hazards are identified, ensuring the potential threat to personnel is identified, evaluated and appropriate measures to control exposures are implemented.
- Ensuring that water is removed from affected areas as quickly as possible and ensuring the areas are dried in a timely manner.
- Ensuring that appropriate measures are taken to prevent the development of mold and ensuring that affected areas are monitored for mold growth throughout the clean-up/restoration process.
- In the event mold is discovered, ensuring that effective measures are implemented to kill and eliminate active mold and mold spores.
While one can never truly anticipate a water intrusion event, Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) strongly encourages laboratories to take specific measures to ensure that the lab space is prepared for a water intrusion event. This includes:
- Utilizing hard plastic biohazard waste receptacles with tight fitting lids. Ensure all waste receptacles are emptied before they become overflowing and ensure each waste receptacle is closed at the end of the work shift.
- Recapping all chemical reagents when not in use and ensure that all receptacles containing chemical reagents (slide staining trays, Copeland jars, electrophoresis units, etc.) are covered between processes and at the end of the work shift. If normally stored in a cabinet, returning hazardous materials to the cabinet at the end of the work shift.
- Storing radiological materials and waste in a manner consistent with the University Radiation Safety Manual.
- Limiting the amount of floor storage especially for paper products and materials in boxes.
- Immediately replacing any worn or frayed electrical cord on any device or appliance.
- Considering water resistant covers for any sensitive or expensive analytical equipment that could be adversely or irreparably damaged by water.
In the event of a water intrusion event, staff from Campus Facility Services and EHS will immediately respond to the event location and begin the process of evaluating the incident, identifying and eliminating hazards and developing remediation plans. Staff will be on-site within a few minutes of an event being reported during normal working hours and within 30-60 minutes for events occurring afterhours.
In most cases, laboratory personnel will not be allowed into the affected space until the hazard assessment has been completed and any significant chemical, biological and radiological hazard eliminated. Electrocution hazards are to be anticipated and can range from 110 and 220 volt-powered equipment sitting directly in water to frayed or worn electrical cords.
EHS will work as quickly as possible to allow investigators the opportunity to evaluate the impact on research or educational activities. Responders ask for your patience as the response process unfolds. Our ultimate goal is to protect the safety of all involved while allowing for the prompt remediation and restoration of the affected space.
You will find additional information in the Indiana University Water Damage Restoration Program.