In an effort to reduce the environmental burden and contribution towards global warming potential often caused by manufactured substances, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) instigated the Clean Air Act (CAA), which aims to protect both human health and the environment from the negative effects of pollution. Central to the CAA is the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP), where more environmentally friendly alternatives to substances used in tools and equipment are identified with a view to their eventual adoption.
One notable example is the gradual elimination of hydrofluorocarbons as refrigerants for laboratory-compliant refrigerators and freezers. Hydrofluorocarbons are powerful greenhouse gases, and therefore replacing them with far safer hydrocarbon-based alternatives has been a strategy of the EPA.
You are likely to have heard ‘SNAP’ mentioned at least once around the lab, and the reason is simple: laboratory scientists care about reducing their environmental impact, as long as it does not affect their ability to conduct cutting-edge research.
Producing safer alternatives
There are several goals set out by the EPA regarding the US CAA1, including:
- Identify substitutes to those that have historically used ozone-depleting substances
- Investigate the overall risk to human health and the environment of both existing and new alternative substances
- Publish lists outlining those substances that are acceptable and unacceptable substitutes
- Heavily promote the use of acceptable substitutes
- Provide information regarding the potential environmental and human health impacts of said substitutes
The EPA performs detailed cross media analyses to monitor risks to human health and the environment from the use and production of various substances across a wide range of sectors. These sectors have historically been associated with the use of ozone-depleting substances, and include fire suppression, adhesives, aerosols and refrigeration. When investigating proposed substances, the EPA will evaluate the following factors:
- Ozone depletion potential
- Global warming potential
- Occupational/consumer health and safety
- Local air quality
- Ecosystem effects
An eye on sustainability
So what does this mean for the laboratory? Many researchers and lab managers will be well aware of the benefits associated with the acquisition of sustainable tools and equipment. Laboratories often stand to benefit from financial savings when opting for more energy-efficient solutions, and the benefits of the SNAP program identifying substances that are better for human health need no further explanation.
It is recommended, therefore, that laboratories aim to acquire SNAP compliant technologies, in order to ensure they are able to continue to produce the world’s most cutting-edge scientific research in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner.
The North American Laboratory Freezer Challenge aims to promote sample integrity and energy efficiency in laboratory freezers across America, through the spirit of competition. The challenge is a great chance to strive for sustainability within the lab.
Join the competition for sustainability here: http://www.freezerchallenge.org/sign-up.html