Machelle Bamberger, Hazardous Waste Safety Officer

City of residence: Tangent, Oregon

Years at OSU: 2.5 years

For a research university like Oregon State, disposal of hazardous waste is a very real and extremely important issue. And while research has slowed down slightly during the pandemic, the work of the OSU Hazardous Waste Team, led by Machelle Bamberger, continues to be essential.

Bamberger, along with teammates Pete Schoonover and Pete Lepre, is on campus Monday through Friday each week, picking up hazardous waste and delivering waste containers to labs and departments still functioning on campus. The team is also on standby to respond to emergencies like low oxygen alarms and hazardous spills, as well as continuously maintaining the campus hazardous waste storage facility.

While the volume of ‘normal’ work is lower because of the campus shutdown, some of their focus has shifted to monitoring the mostly empty buildings on campus which have hazardous waste or controlled substances.

“We have added daily environmental, health, and safety building walkthroughs, focusing on 36 buildings that have laboratories or shops,” Bamberger said. “Currently we have completed 300 safety walkthroughs and checked on DEA controlled substances storage areas for researchers to ensure security. We also assist Printing and Mailing at Research Way by picking up incoming packages marked as hazardous materials and distributing to recipients on campus.”

Bamberger’s team is keeping healthy practices at the forefront of their work. They sanitize areas where they work, wear masks, keep distant from other OSU employees and try to hold meetings via Zoom to minimize contact with others.

“The Hazardous Waste Team is all about service and support to the OSU community.  We work with people, departments, units, organizations, and contractors to help them find new ways to succeed in this unusual time,” Bamberger said.

So far this academic year, the Hazardous Waste Team processed 79.4 tons of waste through the hazardous waste facility.  The waste is disposed of by best management practices and the most environmentally way possible, with only 1% going to a landfill, and 90% used for energy recovery (conversion of waste materials into useable heat, electricity, or fuel). Through their work the team has saved OSU $211,000 in disposal costs this year.

Bamberg’s team also directly addressed statewide pandemic needs by leading the effort in March to gather unused personal protective equipment from campus to donate to Oregon health care workers, at the request of Governor Kate Brown.

“Armed with a list of donor locations, we spread out across campus and collected the PPE. We brought it back to the Waste Storage Facility to sort, inventory and palletize the collected materials,” Bamberger said. They ultimately collected a dozen pallets worth of PPE, including nearly 200,000 gloves and almost 8,000 facemasks.

Bamberger advises units and individuals to contact the team as soon as possible if they need laboratory cleanouts or moves during the summer, before everyone returns to campus.

“This is a great time to create plans, evaluate and modify laboratory waste processes,” Bamberger said, “and help us spread out all the requests we typically see when September comes around.”

~ Theresa Hogue                   

Have an OSU Unsung Hero suggestion? We are looking for submissions that highlight OSU employees and students who are not typically in the spotlight but are going above and beyond during this pandemic. Send your suggestions to [email protected] and our staff may contact them to conduct remote interviews that we would feature in OSU Today and elsewhere.