Environmental Health & Safety Compliance Blog

Proactive Chemical Management

Posted by Rebecca McDaniel on Dec 8, 2009 10:27:00 AM

By Greg Rosinski, Chemist II

Walking through the laboratories of colleges and universities will result in seeing a lot of unused chemicals that are prior circa 1980. Typically the chemicals are pushed to the back of the chemical storage cabinet until the professor retires. In order to decrease the potential exposure these chemicals could create it is important for the Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) department to monitor the amount of these chemicals remaining. Recently, a local university had a professor retire from a career of over 50 years of teaching in the same lab. This professor had a refrigerator full of temperature sensitive chemicals that he kept adding to over the years without properly disposing of them. Murphy’s Law played out in this circumstance when a storm happened on the weekend causing a power outage. The school’s generators also were struck causing the refrigerator to shut off, and increase in temperatures beyond the allowable range for the chemicals. The chemicals reacted causing the containers to fail, and spill throughout the refrigerator. On Monday when the professor went to open the refrigerator to start his lab the fumes were nauseating, and forced the EH&S department to call Triumvirate Environmental Inc. to properly dispose of the chemicals. The EH&S then had to make a phone call to have the refrigerator properly decontaminated. The cost to the university in bills and the inconvenience of shutting down the lab has made the EH&S director proactive in disposing of unused chemicals. The result of proper management of aged chemicals has reduced their average spending on disposal, and the occurrence of spills or other incidents. Properly managing chemicals involves spending time in labs, and looking outside of the normal areas. This will help to identify chemicals that are no longer in use. The cost of spills costs more than proactively managing a hazardous waste program. A good place to start looking for temperature sensitive chemicals (not an all inclusive list) is the Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT’s list can be found in 49 CFR 173.224 for self reactive materials, and 49 CFR 173.225 for organic peroxides. These two types of chemicals are known to become unstable with age.

Tags: Environmental Health and Safety, EHS, DOT, Department of Transportation, Chemicals, 49 CFR, Chemical Management