LSU Chemistry Helping Fill the Need for Critical Supplies Across the University Community and Louisiana

LSU chemistry faculty and staff producing hand sanitizer in labLSU Chemistry graduate student Anthony Mai, EHS safety manager Dr. Jason LeJeune (PhD '10), and Professor David Spivak producing hand sanitizer for the campus community.Photo Credit: Vickie Thornton, LSU

In response to a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies due to the novel coronavirus, Louisiana State University's Department of Chemistry is helping fill the needs of frontline workers around the state and university community.

In collaboration with the LSU Office of Environmental Health and Safety, the chemistry department is producing hand sanitizer for the university community. Dr. Jason LeJeune, LSU’s Environmental Health and Safety manager and 2010 PhD alumnus, reached out to LSU Chemistry Chair John Pojman and Professor David Spivak to determine the feasibility of producing hand sanitizer utilizing campus resources.

The formula for making hand sanitizer is publicly available on the World Health Organization (WHO) website. However, the high-grade ingredients are not readily available to consumers, and safeguards must be employed in storing and handling the chemicals.

“Producing hand sanitizer, using WHO guidelines, requires personnel with the proper chemical and safety experience. With proper laboratory training and safety oversight, over 100 gallons can be produced daily with only two to three people. The high flammability of the alcohol used, and the quantity needed for meaningful production would not be possible without proper training and facilities.” said Dr. LeJeune.

With labs shut down until further notice amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chemistry Department provided the guidance, laboratory space, and some of the chemicals meant for teaching and research to aid frontline workers instead. LSU Chemistry’s Chair and Professor John Pojman, Professor David Spivak, and graduate student Anthony Mai assisted with formulation and mixing. Mrs. Vickie Thornton, LSU Chemistry’s operations manager, assisted in inventory and space allocation. The LSU collaborative effort produced 300 gallons of hand rub sanitizer.

Dr. Pojman with graduate studentLSU Ph.D. student Anthony Mai (left) and LSU Chemistry Chair John Pojman helped the Louisiana Secretary of State formulate thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer (March 2020).
Photo Credit: John Pojman, LSU

“This project shows the capacity of the LSU community to come together and provide resources and solutions to the problems facing the state,” stated Dr. LeJeune.

The sanitizer is free to campus personnel and requests should go through the LSU Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Individuals seeking additional assistance may also contact Dr. Jason LeJeune with the Office of Environmental Health and Safety.

In March, Anthony Mai and Professor John Pojman helped Louisiana Secretary of State formulate thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center’s soap plant warehouse. The state-wide effort produced 64,000 bottles of hand rub sanitizer for distribution throughout the state to combat the coronavirus.

"With our small/specific skill set, it was for sure fulfilling to somehow help in these unprecedented times,” stated Anthony Mai. “Also, it was cool to see the different departments and agencies operating, not only it showed how much a need there was for sanitizer, but also to show that we were united/coming together on making the handrubs.”

In addition to the production of hand sanitizer, the department, spearheaded by Attres Tagge and Vickie Thornton and assisted by Heidi Olivier-Texada, collected 30,400 nitrile gloves, 1,200 disposable aprons, 600 disposable shoe covers, 50 disposable lab coats, 100 disposable lab pants and other PPE from various departmental laboratories to donate to local hospitals.

“Thanks go out to the members of my department and their incredible generosity and kindness,” said Attres Tagge.

Vickie Thornton and Attres Tagge at loading dock with donated itemsVickie Thornton (left) and Attres Tagge collected essential PPE from various laboratories to donate to local hospitals (March 2020).
Photo Credit: Gretchen Schneider, LSU

Faculty whose labs contributed to the PPE donation include:

The department has been instrumental in using chemistry and donating critical PPE to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus and protect the frontline workers around the state and university community.

“A crisis, such as this pandemic, reveals the strengths of an organization,” said LSU Chemistry Chair John Pojman. “I am proud of the talented faculty, staff and students who have used their unique skills to work hard and help the citizens of our state."

Contributed by Gretchen Schneider (4/2020)