Lessons Learned for Water Conservation and Waste Treatment in Animal Health and Biocontainment Labs

Sean Convery, Cator, Ruma & Associates

When incorporated conscientiously into design, conservation of water and treatment of waste can contribute to the overall well-being of the community. This presentation will discuss ways to both save water and treat waste effectively in a laboratory.

Wasting domestic water unnecessarily has been a long-time problem in the laboratory industry. Domestic water has traditionally been used to provide cooling, as well as to draw a vacuum for bench top experiments, which is one of the leading causes of water waste. Often, waste from water source vacuum processes can be remedied by implementing local or central vacuum systems and central processed cooling systems to achieve similar results. In the past, large equipment like sterilizers would utilize up to 1,000,000 gallons of water per year, but water usage can now be reduced with vacuum pumps, process cooling, and water saver kits.

In addition to saving water, effective and efficient waste treatment is critical in biocontainment facilities. SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), along with risk assessment, must first determine what liquid waste can be released to the sewer. Effluent Decontamination Systems (EDS) may be deemed necessary based on the research being performed. The general concept of EDS is to capture, heat, cool, and then release the waste to the sewer. The heating process is intended to kill any live pathogens in the waste stream. Depending on the size of the system, this can be accomplished with a simple field installed tank with utilities and controls. For a large scale system, a manufacturer specializing in EDS equipment should be considered. Both methods have lessons learned that will be shared in this presentation.

For biocontainment and/or large animal diagnostics labs, the handling of solid waste is critical. Many land grant universities have the obligation to handle, study, and dispose of large farm animals and wildlife. In many instances, an incinerator can be used. However, obtaining approval from the EPA or other air quality agency can prove difficult. There are also competing theories about whether incinerators are able to fully deactivate a prion, the protein in mad cow and chronic wasting diseases. Therefore, some institutions utilize caustic tissue digesters to process animal tissue. Caustic tissue digesters break down the tissue into a sterile liquid/paste that can be dried and legally disposed of into a landfill. Many lessons learned for incinerators and digesters will be shared in the presentation.

Engineering systems and design that help reduce water usage and treat both liquid and solid waste effectively benefit owners, users, and the community.

Learning Objectives

  • Saving domestic water by using vacuum pumps and process cooling.
  • Waste water treatment in biocontainment facilities and lessons learned.
  • Tissue waste treatment in biocontainment and veterinary facilities and lessons learned utilizing incinerators.
  • Tissue waste treatment in biocontainment and veterinary facilities and lessons learned utilizing tissue digesters.


Sean T. Convery, PE is a Mechanical Principal at Cator, Ruma & Associates in Denver, CO and a founding Board Member of the Colorado Chapter of I2SL. His 21 years of mechanical design experience include energy-efficient mechanical systems for laboratories. His expertise in sustainable lab design has had him involved in over 65 lab projects. Many are Bio-Safety Level 3 (BSL-3) and veterinary medicine buildings with unique systems such as effluent decontamination and tissue digesters.


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