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To develop best practices for laboratory safety and for chemical product and supplies management accountability, the freely-available online platform, Quartzy, was integrated within an interdisciplinary science department at a small Mid-Atlantic liberal-arts college. This was done to ensure the accuracy of purchase records, the appropriate use of storage and handling protocols, and for a continually updated chemical inventory system. Quartzy also facilitated the digital tracking and dispersal of the College’s hazardous waste inventory. Since the implementation of the Quartzy platform, the science department achieved significant cost-savings during the procurement of laboratory supplies and equipment, and it developed a sense of ownership towards the common goal of lowering the College's environmental impact as it relates to its managing of laboratory-generated hazardous wastes.
For scientific data integrity and to avoid errors in the laboratory, small colleges and universities routinely seek to develop comprehensive SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and GLPs (Good Laboratory Practices) . Typically, at such academic institutions, laboratory management is an operational challenge and the Federal, State, and Local regulations and policies that have become part of the scientific landscape , can be cumbersome. Working SOPs and GLPs can serve as valuable tools for the policy and procedural training of responsible conduct of research for undergraduate researchers at small colleges.
Quartzy is a (completely) free-of-cost, secure, lab-management platform . It contains interactive features and options that facilitates the purchase and tracking of a wide portfolio of laboratory consumables . As an emerging technology with robust support systems and centralized-group buying power, Quartzy has developed into an ideal tool that optimizes the competitive balance between basic and applied research, their associated inventory systems, and their complex chemical product governance and cautionary codes.
For academia, web-based search tools and apps that evaluate tactical vendor strategies for product discounts, are common . Also available are the enormous internet-based resources for proper chemical management and the (M)SDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) chemical manufacturer information [6–8]. Furthermore, several of the large chemical suppliers provide easily accessible online safety resources and training [9–11].
With an average annual undergraduate population of approximately 1500 students, Wesley College is a small Mid-Atlantic liberals-arts institution, based in Delaware. In its interdisciplinary science department, SOPs and GLPs were inadequate, incomplete, or non-existent. In particular, existing Excel spreadsheets with chemical inventory listings, were dated. Furthermore, (M)SDS documents were in hard-copy form and stored in folders that were kept in, at times, inaccessible cabinets. Since 2003, substantial undergraduate participation in mentored scientific research projects commenced with the procurement of federal and state grants [12–17]. As most of the College’s scientific research funding comes from sources within the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), adherence to ethical and regulatory decisions that follow the federal environmental and human health guidelines and assessments, are essential.
An impactful undergraduate research project that developed a Smart-Phone prototype-app for Delaware farmers  gave the science department the impetus to develop web-based SOPs and GLPs that limit hazardous chemical exposure, seek for better ways to schedule need-dependent purchase orders, and for the proper documentation of all inventory listings. Under the leadership of the grant-PI (principal investigator) and the chemical hygiene officer (CHO), the Wesley College science department in Cannon Hall adopted Quartzy. To ease their burden of record-keeping and to support a culture of responsibility and chemical-safety within all their undergraduate laboratories, Quartzy is being used as a vehicle of encouragement for the science departments undergraduates, faculty, and staff.
The chemical storage room is a secure long-term storage room that is inaccessible to the general student population. The area’s original organization was reshuffled to prevent fires, dangerous chemical reactions, and especially to prevent (any) formation of potential hypergolic mixtures. As shown in Fig. 1, all the chemicals are (now) segregated, organized, and stored in flammable or non-flammable cabinets according to the literature suggested chemical compatibility, hazard-class storage patterns, and material/product labeling [9–11]. Inorganic and organic compounds are stored separately, and storage containers containing hazardous materials are kept below eye-level. Corrosive bases and acids are stored in non-metal cabinets. Some flammable liquids are kept in an explosion-proof refrigerator. All cabinets have doors that securely latch and all of the shelving and cabinetry are secured to the wall. Containers are inspected on a regular basis to check for hazardous vapor release and waste accumulation is checked frequently and is documented (chemical name, accumulation start date, location, amount, and unit size) on the Waste Disposal Form (hard-copy document) and then added to Quartzy. Laboratory glassware and glass tubing are stocked and stored in a non-protruding fashion on secure shelving in a (separate) glass-storage room.
The Fig. 2 conceptual framework (flowchart) outlines the processing logic for the ordering, delivery, and inventory methodology that is used in the Wesley College implementation of the Quartzy.com system. The Quartzy.com platform allows for a transfer of an existing inventory-listing, automatically records new entries, and maintains history from acquisition to disposal. Coupled with a quick-search-by-name access, Quartzy permits the hyperlinking of (M)SDS sheets attached to corresponding chemicals, and the use of tag-identifications for specific equipment and locations. Quartzy enables customization of the department’s approval process and provides a rapid and easy means for the opening of, reporting on, and the closing of purchase orders. It also provides an interface to include inputs for work tasks and frequencies, and allows for the tracking of hazardous waste streams for the multiple laboratory locations.
At Wesley College, with the increasingly volatile academic budgeting processes, the willingness for technological advances, and direct and sustained undergraduate research involvement typically influence laboratory spending on glassware, general laboratory supplies, physical and life science reagents and kits, instruments, and equipment. Figs. 3 and and44 are clear representations of examples of savings that the College has achieved when using the Quartzy system. Purchase orders on Quartzy.com are managed online and its Order Requests Module provides for a seamless self-ordering mechanism. Through its Effortless Quote System, the platform provides access to different worldwide suppliers, educates the customer on associated costs, allows for specific queries, and records and tracks all inventory inputs, adjustments, and transactions. For the routine chemical products, laboratory supplies, and equipment listings, Quartzy allows for clarity in the identification of labels with details that fully describe the item and any special requirements (date of acquisition, concentration, hazardous material type, packaging requirements, etc.). For its customers, existing system-wide partnerships, allow for the leveraging of the collective buying power to seek for lower prices. In addition to further control costs and for improved resource utilization, grade-purity that determine high quality chemicals and package-size labeling, allows for a real-time comparison and with many suppliers, shipping is free (and with free returns).
At small colleges, when chemical monitoring and reporting compliance needs are coupled with the federally mandated safety treatment and disposal requirements, they often cause undue burdens on science department budgets. At Wesley College, an outside contractor completes an annual hauling-away of the science department’s hazardous wastes. Such an expense can be reduced when accurate chemical waste-production records are maintained. Quartzy enables the College to review chemical inventories and only buy chemicals in quantities needed. Additionally, as shown in Fig. 5, the Quartzy display shows customized location-based hazardous waste-tracking reports from individual laboratories. The hazardous chemical wastes are inventoried, stored in secondary containment in each laboratory, segregated by general waste type, and are specifically arranged to prevent interactions. Waste containers are inspected on a regular basis and depending on the Quartzy-listed content volume (in the various laboratories) a routine hazardous waste collection is arranged.
System implementation facilitated stronger teamwork and an improved collaborative culture between the department faculty, the laboratory manager (CHO), and all the undergraduate laboratory-assistants. Quartzy.com has now brought us real-time data visibility. It has increased standardization and time efficiencies to the procurement cycle and to the time consuming monotonous laboratory preparation procedures. Errors that were magnified and propagated through various sample preparation processes are also significantly reduced. Besides the incorporation of an improved safety and documentation consciousness, we have witnessed greater productivity and efficiencies to monitor chemicals and their associated contaminants, thus reducing our environmental footprint. Consequently, there was a savings balance of $22,028 (August 2015 to August 2017) on a total billing invoice amount of $52,312.
The authors acknowledge the initial project efforts of Katrina Mitchell. Grant support is from the State of Delaware, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (P20GM103446) from the National Institutes of Health (INBRE program), and a National Science Foundation (NSF) EPSCoR grant IIA-1301765. Lily Neff acknowledges tuition scholarship support from Wesley’s Cannon Scholar Program (NSF S-STEM 1355554) and from the NASA Delaware Space Grant program (NNX15AI19H).
CONFLICT OF INTEREST STATEMENT
The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest. Above all, they have no financial interest in Quartzy.com or any of its partners and associates.