When there’s bad stuff to be walked through, she steps in

By Katherine Wartell

Most people walk in the opposite direction of chemical spills. They prefer to step over animal carcasses or nasty things like used needles, limiting their involvement to reporting the waste to the appropriate authority. That is where Kelly Greene steps in.

Greene is the environmental manager at Kansas State University, where she has worked for seven-and-a-half years. She manages the university’s hazardous waste program, storage tanks and air permit, and teaches hazardous waste material classes.

“I can go from meetings where I’m in high heels to out in the field in steel-toed boots,” she said.

Beginning this week, Greene will oversee the removal of chemical waste from the Old Chemical Waste Landfill, located north of the Bill Snyder Family Stadium, a site used in the 60s and 70s by the university. Besides removing the waste, Greene said groundwater contamination will be treated.

Though the university has been planning this removal for some time, Greene said the every-day hazard issues that pop up keep the job interesting. “You never know what you’re going to be doing,” she said, including cleaning up spills involving broken thermometers, ammonia leaks and mishaps in campus laboratories.

Around hazardous materials, Greene and her technicians don’t wear the stereotypical spaceman image of a hazmat suit. But, she said, they do wear full-body suits, with respirators if necessary.

Last fall, Greene and a hazardous waste technician dealt with the results of an acid and a solvent that were mixed together by a student in a lab in Throckmorton Plant Sciences Center. The mixture exploded overnight.

She said the experience reminded her that she always needs to look up. “There were shards of glass in the ceiling tiles from the glass that exploded,” she said.

Another lesson she has learned over the years is to make sure medical wastes, particularly animal carcasses, are kept refrigerated during the hot summer months.

She said rat carcasses are pretty numerous, but technicians also deal with bags of vomit, blood and needles.

After the 2008 tornado, Greene said her crew combed through campus labs, searching for any chemicals that were mixed.

Another time, Greene said she responded to a call about the odor of pepper spray in a campus bathroom, though there were no reports of an attack. “That wasn’t pleasant,” she said. She placed an air scrubber in the bathroom, which filters various chemicals, and that took care of the problem.

But it’s not always nasty odors and dead animals, Greene said she has also planted several hundred trees for the job and her day-to-day tasks include sending reports to departments such as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, updating emergency contingency plans and creating spill plans.

Greene said she also reported all of the chemicals on campus to Homeland Security and has been on almost every roof on campus because of the department’s air permit.

After the success of last year, she said she is organizing another electronic waste recycling event for May, where the public will have the opportunity to dispose of their old TVs, computer monitors, faxes, printers and phones, among other e-waste.

Green, who was born in Salina, but lived in Manhattan as a child, and graduated from K-State in 1993 with a degree in geology.

She said her science degree helped her get a position as an environmental compliance inspector at Fort Riley, where a five-year contract stretched into 11 years.

She has lived in Manhattan since 1989 beginning at K-State as a hazardous waste technician.

Greene moved into town from the country a year ago with, Katy, her 2-and-a-half year old daughter and their dog. It is the first time she has lived in town for 20 years and said it took some time getting used to the lights, cars, noise, neighbors and sirens.

But, she said, “the first thing I did was order pizza delivery.”

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