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Biology department scientists
Photo courtesy of the UNC-Chapel Hill Multimedia Library.

Most of us have heard of hydrogen peroxide and probably purchased it occasionally at the local pharmacy. This commonly sold over-the-counter product is typically a 3% aqueous solution of hydrogen peroxide and is often used to disinfect a small wound, cut, or scrape. What most people do not know is vaporized hydrogen peroxide (VHP) can be used as a sterilizing agent in everything from biological safety cabinets to large multi-room labs on campus.

VHP decontamination technology has been available since 1991 and can be used to inactivate the most resilient microorganisms. Since its introduction, VHP has been gaining popularity and is now challenging formaldehyde as the sterilizing agent of choice. Formaldehyde has numerous hazards associated with its use and VHP is an environmentally friendly alternative with residue-free byproducts of water vapor and oxygen.

The VHP decontamination cycle has four general phases. First is dehumidification, when the relative humidity is reduced to a predetermined level at which the VHP will be most effective. Next is the conditioning phase, during which the generator increases the VHP level to the desired concentration. This level of VHP is maintained by the generator during the decontamination or “dwell” phase. Following the optimum dwell time for decontamination is the aeration phase, when the VHP is flushed from the enclosure or room until it is safe to open or enter. The times for each phase are highly variable depending on what is being decontaminated. The concentration of VHP during the decontamination phase can exceed 1,000 parts per million (ppm), and dwell times are typically around 80 minutes. The entire decontamination cycle can take as long as 12 hours.

Decontamination of high-containment labs is typically contracted to specialized vendors with the equipment and expertise to handle a variety of environments and microorganisms. This can be a big expense for labs and the University. The EHS Biosafety team has several Clarus C VHP machines and has been trained to effectively and safely operate these machines. Since 2009, EHS has provided decontamination services to campus high-containment labs, including decontaminating biosafety cabinets for annual certification, room decon for equipment removal and maintenance, and whole room or suite decon for facilities maintenance and updating.

The Biosafety team collaborates closely with the labs and facilities on campus to ensure the decontamination process runs safely and successfully.

EHS conducts approximately 225 deemed export reviews per year to ensure compliance with federal exporting rules or regulations. This important work supports the University so that it can attract the best and brightest researchers from all over the world.

When international graduate students, researchers, and professors come to UNC to conduct research, certain technologies, software, computing code, pathogens and toxins are regulated as exports. When the research technologies that are regulated are made available to a foreign researcher, it is considered a “deemed” export to that researcher’s home country. In certain cases, an export license is required for a foreign national to conduct research while at UNC, depending on what country they are from and what the research entails.

Sponsored research projects are reviewed for the potential of deemed export. A questionnaire is completed and summited to EHS for review. The questionnaire answers important questions about the research, the equipment and technology that will be used, the role that the foreign national researcher will have while conducting the research, and whether there are publication restrictions. By answering these questions, EHS can determine if an export license is required for the foreign national to conduct research at UNC. Most research at UNC is exempt from requiring an export license due to it being openly available and accessible to the public through unrestricted publishing of the research. EHS has been tasked with reviewing the questionnaire and ensuring that all research will be published and publicly available.

Performance measurement is a critical part of the EHS management system. Education, customer service and internal processes are the three most essential components of our work. The chart below indicates the performance in these areas over a five-year period with Level Four representing optimum performance. The adjacent tab shows the specific performance activities and the level of that performance for 2016.

Components, Years and Level Completed
Education Customer Service Internal Processes
2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
4 4 4 4 4 4 3 4 4 2 4 4 3 3 1


  • Trained 9002 healthcare workers, facilities services employees, researchers, and childcare providers in bloodborne pathogens annual requirement either online or in person. (Level Four)
  • Conducted 382 online training in DLAM Orientation, DLAM BSL-2, and Zoonotic/Lab Animal Allergy for DLAM employees. (Level Three)
  • Trained 718 researchers and other campus personnel in proper requirement for shipping with dry ice. (Level Three)
  • Trained 550 campus researchers, staff and administrators about federal and international shipping, importing and exporting regulations through online and in-class sessions. (Level Three)
  • Trained 1124 researchers in basic principles of conducting research at BSL-2, such as proper technique and waste handling and trained 281 researchers in enhanced BSL-2 procedures. (Level Two)
  • Trained 324 researchers, maintenance and emergency personnel in specialized biological safety, meeting regulatory requirements of the CDC and NIH for biological agent management in laboratory environment. (Level Two)
  • Trained 54 Facilities Services employees on how to respond to potentially infectious sewage spills. (Level Two)
  • Trained 227 researchers and staff members on proper use of campus autoclaves through online training. (Level One)
  • Trained 275 researchers on policies about Dual Use Research of Concern through online training. (Level One)
  • Trained 147 researchers in identifying and registering projects meeting NIH Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant DNA Molecules. (Level One)

Customer Service

  • Investigated 8 incidents of laboratory spills, accidents, and procedural problems involving potentially infectious materials with no laboratory acquired infections resulting from incidents. (Level Three)
  • Conducted 5 Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee inspections in accordance with their guidelines and regulations. (Level Three)
  • Submitted 28 registration updates to CDC in reference to laboratory operation changes. (Level Three)
  • Certified 461 campus biological safety cabinets ensuring safety of product, personnel, and environmental protection. (Level Two)
  • Reviewed 107 I-123 visa applications. (Level Two)
  • Reviewed and approved 435 Laboratory Safety Plans’ Schedule F (Biological Hazards). (Level Two)
  • Reviewed and approved 127 Laboratory Safety Plans’ Schedule I (Shipping Hazards). (Level One)
  • Reviewed and approved 244 Laboratory Safety Plans’ Schedule H. (Level One)
  • Reviewed and approved 294 Laboratory Safety Plans’ Schedule G. (Level One)

Internal Processes

  • Updated Schedule F to include Dual Use questions. (Level One)
  • Incorporated the data for 461 campus biological safety cabinets into HASMIS. (Level One)
  • Established a standardized SOP, lab signage and conceptus procedures for labs working with Zika virus. (Level One)
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