COVID-19 response Health and safety
Inside the School of Environmental Sustainability, Loyola is addressing its hand sanitizing needs with creativity and resourcefulness
By the end of April, Loyola University Chicago’s three Chicagoland campuses were nearly and eerily vacant. So was the Searle Biodiesel Lab, the domain of lab manager Zach Waickman (BA '08, MBA '13), tucked inside the School of Environmental Sustainability (SES). Waickman’s hefty processor was quiet, the soap production equipment untouched. Stuck at home, he was left to consider what—if anything—he could offer to aid his community during a pandemic.
Then a few notes started trickling in from curious faculty members and staffers: What about hand sanitizer? Could Loyola produce disinfectant in bulk? After all, the University will need plenty of it when wide-scale campus operations resume, and it’s not exactly cheap, or plentiful, at the moment.
Poking around the internet, Waickman read what he calls a “mildly dangerous” amount of research and news reports on the topic. He dialed up Nancy Tuchman, the dean of SES, and batted around ideas. They had the right machinery. Waickman had the time. They couldn’t find a downside in trying.
“Within a week, it had exploded,” Waickman says. “We had a working group that was meeting weekly, we submitted and received full registration with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and there was a report produced with details of how we were going to potentially pull this off.”
Waickman was to take advantage of a temporary FDA policy that allowed non-traditional manufacturers to develop sanitizer, which is proven to reduce pathogens when soap and water aren’t available. He would work alone, obviating the need for social distancing. He’d follow FDA guidance on ingredients, quality control procedures, and labeling requirements. And, if he put in enough sweat equity, he could produce 100 gallons each day, funneled into one-gallon jugs. Those jugs would cost $10 to produce; on the open market, they can run up to $30.
He could move quickly, in part, because hand sanitizer production relies on careful measuring and mixing, not a chemical reaction; that learning curve is steeper. And thanks to existing relationships with reliable vendors, Waickman could erect a supply chain for in-demand materials like ethanol and plastic bottles on the fly.
“Everything starts with sourcing,” Waickman says. “You have to source it, then you have to carefully document and vet all the raw ingredients.”