2015 Safer Chemistry Champion Awards

Congratulations to the 2015 winners of the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Safer Chemistry Champion Awards

  • Tidal Vision
  • University of Washington Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety
  • Seattle Gymnastics Academy
  • Genzyme

Applications were evaluated by members of NGC's Advisory Council. 

Awards honor Washington organizations taking significant steps to:

  • Produce safer products
  • Use safer or less toxic materials, or 
  • Use cleaner manufacturing methods

2014 award winners 

Tidal Vision       

Green chemistry innovation

Tidal Vision has developed a safer method for extracting chitin from crustacean shells. Chitin and its derivative, chitosan, have antimicrobial and odor-fighting properties and a tendency to bind heavy metals. They can be used to inhibit bacterial growth in wastewater filtration systems, sponges, and textiles. Textile manufacturers commonly use silver nanoparticles—a toxic heavy metal—as an antimicrobial. Chitosan has the potential to replace nanosilver in clothing and other products, and is 100% non-toxic and biodegradable.

Traditional methods of extracting chitin use toxic chemicals like sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid. Not only does Tidal Vision's unique process eliminate the use of harsh chemicals, it creates a higher quality product and they are able to re-use up to 90% of their reaction solution. Their mobile pilot plant will travel to shellfish processors throughout Washington to process between 1 and 2 million pounds of crab shells between now and March 2016. Crab shells are an expensive waste product for processors to get rid of, whether it's ground up and used in fertilizer or disposed of at sea. A processing company in Westport, Washington reported spending $300,000 per season disposing of shells. Tidal Vision purchases that costly waste product from processors, turning it into an asset.

Tidal Vision also worked with a tannery in Buckley to develop a tanning process for salmon skin that uses only food-grade certified ingredients. Traditional aquatic leather tanning formulas use harsh chemicals such as formaldehyde and chrome-based chemicals. After tanning the salmon leather, Tidal Vision sews it into wallets or stitches it into leather sheets to sell to other designers.
Like crab shells, salmon skin is typically a low-value waste product used in fertilizer or dumped into the ocean where it can create algae blooms that lower dissolved oxygen levels. Tidal Vision turns low-value waste into high-value products without using toxic chemicals or creating hazardous waste. The company also supports the sustainable fishing industry by only purchasing salmon skins from certified sustainable Alaska fisheries.

University of Washington Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety     

Safer alternatives and education

DEOHS staff assessed their lab practices for impacts on health and sustainability by collecting and analyzing data to characterize chemical use, energy consumption, and waste generation. 

They identified two chemicals of concern and used GreenScreen™ and Ecology's Quick Chemical Assessment Tool (QCAT) to explore the hazards associated with the chemicals and to understand potential effects on worker health and the environment. The screenings also allowed them to compare possible alternative chemicals to avoid a regrettable substitution—replacing a hazardous chemical with one that has equally hazardous or unknown effects. 

DEOHS also developed the Green Labs Webinar Series to share successes, challenges, and lessons learned from the projects. The webinars give lab managers, faculty, students, and sustainability offices best practices for promoting green chemistry, conserving energy, and reducing waste. 

Staff say one of the most valuable outcomes of this project is more awareness about lab sustainability and resources. There has been increased and deliberate discussions about sustainability and how to integrate sustainability into lab practices. 

Seattle Gymnastics Academy     

Safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals

In 2014, the Washington Toxics Coalition alerted Seattle Gymnastics Academy to the issue of flame retardants in loose foam. Gyms typically have loose foam block pits to create a soft landing for gymnasts learning new skills. The Academy paid for an academic study to tests the dust in the gym and in employee's homes. The study found toxic chemicals from fire retardants in both, with higher concentrations at the gym. They also contacted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to perform wipe tests on employees' hands before and after their shifts. The tests identified higher levels of 12 different fire retardant chemicals and 3 additional fire retardant chemicals on employees' hands after their shifts.  

As a result of these studies, the Academy found a new foam supplier and became the first gym in the United States to replace all of their loose foam with flame retardant-free foam. They also replaced the carpet around the foam pits, which tends to collect dust. When NIOSH returned to repeat the wipe test on employee's hands, the presence of flame retardant chemicals had dropped by two-thirds.

This project wasn't a money-maker—in fact, it cost the Academy about $45,000. But their efforts both protect their clients and raise much-needed awareness about the presence of toxic fire retardants in products that children come into contact with.


Pollution prevention

Last year, Genzyme began an Orphan Chemical Program to send off-spec, expired, or rejected chemicals to be used by other companies or research institutions. Before the program began, this designated hazardous waste was lab-packed and incinerated. The program has resulted in a 50% decrease in lab-packed waste a 25% decrease in the company's total hazardous waste.  
In addition to reducing hazardous waste by repurposing chemicals, the program reduced Genzyme's cost to transport and dispose of unneeded chemicals by 80%. The focus on reducing environmental impact has also encouraged employees to look for other materials to repurpose as well.