Closing Up the Biology Lab
By Crystal Jeter
Carolina Biological Supply Company
At year’s end, you have a lot to do in a short amount of time. We hope this checklist will help as you close down your biology laboratory and get it in shape for the start of the next school year.
Live and preserved organisms
- Make arrangements for continued care or proper disposal of any living organisms. (See the article “It’s Summer Break, but My Classroom Is Alive!”)
- Unused, vacuum-packed preserved specimens still in their original sealed packages may remain usable for a year. Unused specimens in pails or jars of holding solution last for years, as long as they remain covered by the solution. (Do not top off the solution with water; if you need additional solution, call Carolina at 800.334.5551.) Do not place any preserved specimens in a refrigerator or freezer. Dispose of all used specimens according to your school or district guidelines.
Equipment and furniture
- Disinfect any contaminated reusable equipment. Either autoclave the items or soak them in a solution of 1 part household bleach to 9 parts water for 24 hours, then wash and store the equipment. Likewise, use either an autoclave or a bleach solution soak to disinfect any microbiological waste before disposing of it. Disinfected liquid waste can be washed down the drain and flushed with additional water. Disinfected disposables such as petri dishes, media containers, and spreaders may be placed in a sealed plastic bag in the regular trash.
- Discard any cracked, chipped, or defective glassware in a dedicated broken-glass trash container. Contact the administration to determine if your school or district has a specific handling protocol for glass collection; otherwise, the broken glass can be placed inside a plastic container with lid and discarded in the regular trash.
- Examine all equipment such as microscopes and balances to make sure that everything is in working order. Label any defective or damaged equipment and report it to the administration for repair.
- Arrange for disposal of any sharps waste that has accumulated since the last collection. (Throughout the year, do not allow sharps containers to get more than 3/4 full.) Follow your school’s protocol for collection of sharps waste.
- Empty all refrigerators and freezers. Defrost them and then wipe them down thoroughly with a disinfectant.
- Ensure that all glassware and equipment are clean and returned to their appropriate locations.
- Conduct an equipment inventory to get an accurate list of what is available for the next school year. This will help as you begin planning next year’s lessons and as you make your list of supplies that need to be purchased.
- Wipe down all work surfaces with a disinfectant.
- Check the appearance, labels, and dates on all chemicals. In accordance with federal and local regulations and your school’s guidelines, dispose of any chemicals that are past their expiration date or that are discolored. Make sure that all chemicals, even those to be discarded, are properly labeled. (See the article “Chemistry Laboratory Closeout” for more details.)
- Consider replacing potentially hazardous chemicals with greener chemical options. Visit the green chemistry section of Carolinachemistry.com for a table of suggested green alternatives to specific hazardous chemicals. Click here to view a chart that lists some chemicals that are hazardous and require extra caution but whose educational value may outweigh their downside. On the other hand, this chart lists chemicals whose hazardous nature likely outweighs their educational benefit. Seriously consider disposing of any of these chemicals that you may have (unless a chemical is one that you must use regularly for a particular procedure).
- Return all chemicals to their appropriate, labeled locations. Group them according to chemical compatibility. Flammables, acids, and corrosives should all be stored in the appropriate chemical cabinets.
- Check the fume hood, cabinets, drawers, and corners for any surprises that may have been left by students.
- Label and dispose of all hazardous chemical waste according to federal and local regulations.
- Make sure that gas is turned off, both at the main valve and at student lab stations.
- Conduct a chemical inventory to get an accurate list of what is available for the next school year. This will help as you begin planning next year’s lessons and as you make your list of supplies that need to be purchased.
- Check the condition of all safety apparatus (showers, eyewash, fire extinguisher, goggles, aprons) and notify the administration of any issues or needs. Ensure that chemical spill kits are fully outfitted for the following year; reorder any needed replacement components.
We hope these suggestions help you manage your biology lab safely and efficiently!