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What would a college or university be without laboratories? In a laboratory, as with many other topics covered in the campus tour, environmental issues go hand in hand with health and safety issues.

In this section, you'll learn not only how to help protect the environment, but also how to protect people from chemical exposure and other dangerous situations. The primary regulatory subject areas to be covered are those that probably affect you every day:

  • Hazardous waste management, including toxic waste, mixed waste and waste determination
  • Chemical storage
  • Wastewater discharge
  • Air quality

Proceed through this section of the tour to become more informed about the environmental issues that affect a typical college laboratory.

  • Chemical Storage
    • Chemical Storage/Segregation Best Practices
    • Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)
  • Container Management/Labeling
  • Emergency Equipment
  • Eyewashes and Showers
  • Floor Drains/Sinks
  • Fume Hoods
  • Gas Cylinder Management
  • Laboratory Safety and Accidents
    • Major Safety Topics
    • Hazards of the Rainbow Demonstration
    • Lab accidents in the news

Chemical Storage

If you look around your laboratory, you're likely to find a wide variety of chemicals. The hazards posed by a chemical depend on the specific characteristics of that chemical and the quantity present.

If your laboratory stores a chemical above a specific quantity, notification and emergency planning requirements are generally required. These measures can include informing local and state emergency and environmental authorities of the names and quantities of chemical being stored, providing detailed hazard information in the form of Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), and developing emergency response plans.

Best Practices for Laboratory Chemical Storage

Even when not required by environmental regulations, the following best practices are recommended.

  • Store incompatible chemicals separately (i.e., separate acid, bases, organic solvents and oxidizers).
  • Flammable chemicals should be stored in a ventilated flammables storage cabinet.
  • Do not store chemicals in walkways or hallways or other means of egress.
  • Chemical containers should be stored in pans, or trays made of compatible material that will act as secondary containment if a container breaks or leaks.
  • Do not store open containers of chemicals in laboratory hoods.
  • Minimize the storage of chemicals on laboratory bench tops.
  • Store the minimum quantity of chemicals necessary.
  • Store acids and bases below eye level.
  • Make sure container caps are secure.
  • Make sure containers are properly labeled. Labels should include name of the chemical, hazards and precautions required. Do not reuse containers without relabeling the exterior.
  • Keep a chemical spill kit available adequate to clean up the largest anticipated spill that could occur in the lab. Train personnel on spill clean up procedures.
  • Clean up all spills quickly.
  • Maintain general housekeeping in the lab. Keep bench tops, aisles, and walkways clear.
  • Have an emergency evacuation plan. Train personnel in key elements of the plan and run periodic drills.
  • Minimize the storage of combustible material in labs.
  • Perform and document in a logbook periodic inspections of chemical storage areas for leaks, container deterioration.
  • Inspection items should include the following: external corrosion, structural failure, spills and overfills due to operator error, failure of piping system (pipes, pumps, flanges, couplings, hoses, and valves), visual inspections of new tanks or containers for loose fittings, poor welds, and improper or poorly fitted gaskets, and inspect tank foundations and storage area coatings for integrity
  • Accept chemical donations only after careful consideration of how the chemical will be used and after ascertaining that the chemical is not contaminated, out of date, etc.

EPCRA - Overview

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) was passed in 1986 to ensure that citizens (through local and state emergency/environmental authorities, typically called Local Emergency Planning Committees [LEPCs]) are made aware of the chemical hazards present in their communities and are prepared to deal with chemical emergencies.

The reporting requirements of EPCRA generally apply when you are required to maintain safety data sheets (SDSs) and you have hazardous chemicals present at any one time in amounts of 10,000 pounds or greater, or extremely hazardous substances (EHS) above 500 pounds or their threshold reporting quantity (whichever is lower). The aggregate amount of each hazardous substance and extremely hazardous substance must be included to determine if threshold quantities are exceeded.

However, EPCRA exempts substances in the same packaging/concentration as used in or purchased for home use, so, for example, some materials in the form typically purchased in a hardware store may not be reportable. Also, some other exemptions apply to certain types of research laboratories, hospitals or other research facilities.

The form the notification must take depends on what state or local authorities require. In some cases, a facility must submit an SDS; in others, a letter with a list of the chemicals used at the facility is sufficient. Many fire departments and local emergency planning committees require, in place of the SDS or list, that you submit a more detailed "Tier II" reporting form.

After inventorying chemicals campus-wide, the chemicals should be aggregated to determine if reporting thresholds have been exceeded. A facility is defined as: "all buildings, equipment, structure, and other stationary items that are located on a single site or on contiguous or adjacent sites and which are owned or operated by the same person (or by any person which controls, is controlled by, or under common control with, such person)." If facilities are non-contiguous, aggregating the chemicals must be done separately for each location.

Container Management/Labeling

There are many reasons to maintain good housekeeping in a laboratory: to help protect human health, ensure safety and help prevent chemical releases into the environment. Good housekeeping includes proper container management, perhaps including maintaining an inventory of what compounds are present in the lab. Such practices may also show a positive financial return if they lead to greater utilization of chemicals already purchased, and lead to pollution prevention--by reducing the ordering of duplicate chemicals that already exist in inventory.

Good housekeeping also includes other the regulatory requirements or best practices, including:

  • Properly labeling containers so that contents and hazards are known
  • Ensuring that incompatible compounds or wastes are not stored together
  • Providing secondary containment for waste containers
  • Keeping containers closed when not in use (a container with a funnel is NOT closed!)

Container Management/Labeling Best Practices

Even when not required by environmental regulations, the following best practices are recommended.

  • Ensure containers with incompatible wastes are not stored near each other so that if the containers were to break there would not be an adverse reaction.
  • Clearly label waste containers with the words "Hazardous Waste" and name of the waste type and hazards (e.g., "corrosive, toxic").
  • Log chemicals and quantities added to waste containers as chemicals are added.
  • Train laboratory personnel on safe procedures for transferring chemicals to waste containers.
  • Maintain separate containers for broken glassware, sharps, biohazard and radioactive waste.
  • Maintain separate waste containers for compatible waste streams (acids, bases, oxidizers, organic solvents, radioactive waste).
  • Do not store waste containers where they have the potential to freeze or are exposed to high heat.
  • Keep waste containers in tubs or other secondary containment.
  • Waste containers should be in good condition, not rusted or dented.
  • Make sure waste containers are compatible with the waste type they are expected to contain.
  • Keep an adequate spill control kit nearby and know how to use it.
  • Clean up spills quickly if you are properly trained and equipped to do so.
  • Periodically inspect the waste container area and log observations and corrective actions taken.
  • When handling waste containers use mechanical aids such as drum lifts, drum hand trucks, drum dollies, etc. Do not roll drums on their side or edge.

See the sections below on RCRA for many more tips about container management, including actions that are required--or prohibited--by the RCRA regulations. You should also be aware that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has extensive regulations, entitled "Occupational Exposures to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories" or, more commonly, the "OSHA Lab Standard," that apply to container management in laboratories. 

Emergency Equipment

Having the correct emergency equipment in a laboratory is one of the first steps in ensuring the safety of lab personnel. Some of the basic equipment and/or information you should know includes: emergency contact information, fire alarm, emergency exit, and the emergency coordinator for your lab. Also, receiving training on emergency response procedures is important.

Emergency preparedness is an important component of laboratory management. Proceed with this section of the tour to learn more about emergency prevention, planning and equipment.

Emergency Equipment Best Practices

Even when not required by environmental regulations, the following best practices for laboratory emergency equipment are recommended.

  • Emergency eyewash stations & showers in areas where there is the potential to come into contact with hazardous chemicals, with unobstructed access from any point in the lab within 10 seconds, and located on the same level as the potential hazard.
  • Fire extinguishers easily accessible, and of size and type to be effective against an anticipated fire.
  • Fire Blankets.
  • Communications systems including telephones, radios, alarms.
  • Emergency personal protective equipment including SCBA's, disposable coveralls, gloves, eye protection, short-term escape respirators.
  • Spill control equipment including, spill pillows, absorbent pads, drum berms, drain plugs, hand pumps, neutralization solutions.
  • Air monitoring instrumentation, either portable or fixed systems if needed.
  • First aid kit, including burn kit.
  • Periodic inspection of equipment to ensure its effectiveness and availability.
  • Hands-on training for laboratory personnel on the use of emergency equipment.

Hazardous Waste

Managing Hazardous Waste: A Guide for Small Businesses

Facilities designated as Small Quantity Generators (SQGs) storing hazardous waste must comply with the following "Preparedness and Prevention" requirements (40 CFR 262.34(d)(4):

  • At all times at least one employee with responsibility for coordinating emergency response measures must be either at the facility or on call and able to reach the facility in a short time (40 CFR 262.34(d)(5)(i)). This employee is the "emergency coordinator."
  • The following information must be posted next to telephones (40 CFR 262.34(d)(5)(ii)):
  • The name and telephone number of the emergency coordinator
  • Locations of fire extinguishers, spill control material, and the fire alarm
  • The telephone number of the fire department, unless the facility has a direct alarm
  • All employees must be thoroughly familiar with proper waste handling procedures and emergency response procedures that are relevant to their responsibilities (40 CFR 262.34(d)(5)(iii)).
  • The facility must have the following equipment, unless this equipment would not be needed to control the hazards posed by the waste at the facility (40 CFR 265.32):
  • An internal communication or alarm system (voice or signal)
  • Telephones or a hand-held, two way radio at locations where hazardous waste is used or stored
  • Appropriate fire control equipment, spill control equipment, and decontamination equipment
  • An adequate volume of water for fire fighting
  • All equipment listed above must be tested and maintained as necessary to ensure that it will function properly in time of emergency (40 CFR 265.33).
  • Personnel handling hazardous waste must have immediate access to an internal alarm or emergency communication device (40 CFR 265.34(a)). An employee working alone on the premises must have immediate access to a means of summoning external emergency assistance (40 CFR 265.34(b)).
  • Aisle space must be maintained to allow the unobstructed movement of personnel, fire protection equipment, spill control equipment, and decontamination equipment to any area of facility operation in an emergency, unless aisle space is not needed for any of these purposes (40 CFR 265.35).
  • To the extent warranted by type of hazardous waste handled at the laboratory and the potential need for emergency services, the laboratory must attempt to familiarize police, fire departments, and emergency response teams with facility operations and the wastes handled at the facility, and must attempt to familiarize local hospitals with the properties of the waste and the injuries and illnesses that could result from fire, explosion or waste discharge at the facility (40 CFR 265.37).
  • The emergency coordinator or a person designated by the emergency coordinator must:
  • In the event of a fire, call the fire department or attempt to extinguish the fire using a fire extinguisher (40 CFR 262.34(d)(5)(iv)(A)).
  • In the event of a spill, contain the flow of hazardous waste to the extent possible and clean up the waste and any contaminated materials or soil as soon as possible (40 CFR 262.34(d)(5)(iv)(B)).
  • In the event of a fire, an explosion, a spill that has reached surface water, or any other release that could threaten the health of people outside the facility, immediately notify the National Response Center (NRC) at 800-424-8802. The following information must be provided: the name, address, and identification number of the generator; the type of incident and the date and time of the incident; the type and quantity of hazardous waste involved; a description of any injuries; the quantity of materials recovered and the disposition of the materials. (40 CFR 262.34(d)(5)(iv)(C))

 In addition, hazardous waste generators who experience a release of a "hazardous substance" under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) or an "extremely hazardous substance" under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), including hazardous waste streams that meet these definitions, must report such releases. Reportable quantities for hazardous substances are given in 40 CFR 302. Reportable quantities for extremely hazardous substances are given in 40 CFR Part 355, Parts A and B. Facilities must notify State Emergency Response Committees (SERC) and Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) immediately of releases that go beyond the facility boundaries and provide subsequent written notification and/or follow up to the releases. For CERCLA and EPCRA releases that stay within the facility boundaries, then only the NRC must be notified (see previous paragraph).

Contingency Plans for Large Quantity Generators

In addition to complying with the requirements for SQG facilities described above, LQG facilities storing any quantity of hazardous waste must meet the following requirements for contingency plans:

  • The facility must develop a contingency plan that is designed to minimize hazards to people and the environment from fires, explosions, and releases of hazardous waste or constituents of hazardous waste (40 CFR 262.34(a)(4), 265.51(a)).
  • The plan must be implemented whenever there is a fire, explosion or release of hazardous waste or hazardous waste consitituents which could threaten human health or the environment. (40 CFR 264.51(b))
  • The hazardous waste contingency plan must include the following elements (40 CFR 265.52):
  • Actions facility must take to respond to fires, explosions, or any unplanned sudden or non-sudden release of hazardous waste or hazardous waste constituents to air, soil, or surface water.
  • If a Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures Plan or another contingency plan has been prepared by the facility, then that plan only need be amended to incorporate the hazardous waste management provisions of this part.
  • A description of the arrangements agreed to by local police departments, fire departments, hospitals, contractors, and state and local emergency response teams to coordinate emergency services.
  • Current names, addresses and phone numbers (home and office) of all persons qualified to act as emergency coordinator; primary and alternate emergency coordinators must be identified whenever more than one person is listed; others must be listed in order of which they will assume responsibility.
  • An up-to-date list of all emergency equipment at the facility and decontamination equipment (where this is required), including the location and a physical description of each item and an outline of its capabilities.
  • An evacuation plan for facility personnel where there is a possibility that evacuation could be necessary, including signals to be used to begin evacuation, evacuation routes, and alternate evacuation routes.
  • Copies of the contingency plan and all revisions to the plan must be kept at the facility. In addition, copies of the contingency plan must be submitted to all local police, fire departments, hospitals, and emergency response teams that may be called upon to provide emergency services (40 CFR 265.53).
  • The plan must be reviewed and immediately amended if necessary whenever (40 CFR 265.54):
  • The facility permit is revised
  • The plan fails in an emergency
  • The facility changes in a way that materially increases the potential for fires, explosions, or releases of hazardous wastes or hazardous waste constituents, or changes the response necessary in an emergency
  • The list of emergency coordinators or the list of emergency equipment changes
  • At all times, there must be at least one employee either at the facility or on call (i.e., able to reach the facility in a short time) who has responsibility for coordinating all emergency response measures. This employee is the emergency coordinator. The emergency coordinator must be thoroughly familiar with all aspects of the facility's contingency plan, all operations and activities at the facility, the location and characteristics of waste stored or handled, the location of all records at the facility, and the facility layout. In addition, this person must have the authority to commit the resources needed to carry out the contingency plan. (40 CFR 265.55)
  • Procedures for alarm activation; released material characterization; assessment of the hazards of the material to either human health or the environment; if necessary, reporting to state or local agencies and the National Response Center; released material containment; monitoring leaks, pressure buildup, etc.; recovered waste management; and cleaning of emergency equipment prior to reuse. (40 CFR 265.56)
  • The facility must ensure that implementation of the contingency plan is fully noted in the operating log. (40 CFR 265.56)

The complete text of the regulations can be found in 40 CFR 262 and 265.

Eyewashes and Showers

When are eyewashes required?

Eyewash facilities are required in workplaces where corrosive chemicals are used (29 CFR 1910.151(c)), as well as in HIV and HBV research laboratories and production facilities (1910.1030(e)(3)(i)), and where there is any possibility that an employee's eyes may be splashed with solutions containing 0.1 percent or greater formaldehyde (1910.1048(i)(3)). They may also be found in research and production laboratories, in medical facilities and other workplaces with materials that may cause injury to or infection of the eyes.

Eyewash stations are critical emergency safety equipment intended to mitigate eye injuries when control methods do not prevent exposure to a physical or chemical irritant or a biological agent. The ANSI standard for eyewashes specifies that eyewashes must be capable of delivering tepid flushing fluid to the eyes not less than 1.5 liters per minute (0.4 gpm) for 15 minutes after a single movement and subsequent hands-free operation.

Health Effects from Contaminated Water in Eyewashes:  OSHA has updated a resource to help employers understand how important it is to flush emergency eyewashes to prevent organisms from growing in the stagnant water. Eyewash stations are critical emergency safety equipment intended to lessen the severity of eye injuries from workplace exposure to irritants or biological agents. Whether the eyewash station is permanently connected to a source of potable water (i.e., plumbed) or has self-contained flushing fluid, improper maintenance may present health hazards that can worsen or cause additional damage to a worker's eye. The "Health Effects from Contaminated Water in Eyewash Stations Infosheet provides information about the organisms that can grow in stagnant water, how to prevent them from growing, and how to recognize infection signs and symptoms.  (Source:  Occupational Safety and Health Administration)

Floor Drains/Sinks

Look around your laboratory and you're likely to see many sinks and drains. In most cases, sinks and drains are connected to an on-site treatment system or a public treatment plant. To prevent dangerous chemical reactions (e.g., generation of toxic gases), damage to the plumbing system, or interference with the operation of the treatment plant or system, discharges to a sink or drain must be strictly controlled.

Proceed with this section of the tour to learn about the requirements associated with sinks and drains.

Floor Drains/Sinks Best Practices

Even when not required by environmental regulations, the following best practices are recommended.

  • Train laboratory personnel in waste management practices. Be sure they know what can and cannot be disposed of down the drain.
  • Periodic inspections should be performed to ensure proper disposal procedures are being performed.
  • Substitute the use of biodegradable cleaners for chromic-sulfuric acid when washing laboratory glassware.
  • Use microchemistry techniques where possible.
  • Plan experiments to minimize waste generation.
  • Clean up any spill promptly.
  • Keep rags, mops, absorbents, and other cleanup supplies readily accessible to all work areas.
  • Keep a spill control kit and drain plugs nearby.
  • Check with the local POTW or on-site wastewater treatment plant regarding what can be safely disposed of down sinks and drains.
  • Close off or guard laboratory hood cup sinks from spill within the hood.
  • Eliminate floor drains in new construction and cover existing drains.

NPDES Details

Wastewater discharges that eventually end up discharged to surface waters will likely require a permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) section of the Clean Water Act. Since it is much more likely that laboratory sinks and drains discharge to a POTW or institution operated wastewater treatment plant, this section focuses on these requirements.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the discharge of water from facilities through provisions of the Clean Water Act. Activities performed in laboratory facilities potentially subject to the Clean Water Act primarily relate to the discharge of pollutants to a sewer system or local publicly owned treatment works (POTW). Very few laboratories discharge wastewater to directly to surface waters or septic systems because such practices are prohibited by local laws and regulations.

National Pretreatment Standards have been established by the EPA that prohibit the discharge of certain listed pollutants to a sewer system or POTW. The standards are listed under 40 CFR 403.5 and include the following specific pollutants:

  • Flammable or explosive pollutants with a flash point of < 140° F.
  • Discharges with a pH of < 5.0, unless specifically permitted by the POTW. (Many local POTWs also prohibit discharges with a pH of > 12.0)
  • Pollutants that may obstruct flow, such as solids or highly viscous fluids.
  • Pollutants capable of releasing harmful gases, such as cyanide or chlorine, which could harm employees at the POTW.
  • Pollutants that could impose a high biological oxygen demand (BOD) that might interfere with the operation of the POTW.
  • Petroleum and non-biodegradable oils.
  • Wastewater hot enough to inhibit biological activity at the POTW, typically > 104° F.

In addition to the requirements noted above, many states, local POTWs and on-site treatment works set their own limits for what may be disposed of down a laboratory sink or drain. Limits are typically set for certain metals, BOD, pH, and organic pollutants. Diluting solutions with additional water to meet the limits is strictly prohibited. Local POTWs and agencies often require facilities that send wastewater for treatment to apply for and adhere to specific permit conditions. Check with you institution's EH&S department or local regulatory agencies regarding the specific local/state requirements for your lab.

The full text of the National Pretreatment Standards can be found under 40 CFR Part 403.

Fume Hoods

Did you ever wonder whether that fume hood you look at every day was really necessary? You would probably rather not find out. The hoods are intended to capture and remove vapors and other airborne hazards to make your work environment a safer place to be. Air quality and emissions are generally regulated by the Clean Air Act (CAA), although most research and teaching activities in laboratory hoods will be exempt from permitting and reporting requirements in the CAA.

As always there are states that have more stringent guidelines associated with permitting and reporting requirements associated with fume hoods. In general, it's also not a bad idea to check with your EH&S department if you have questions about the fume hoods since there are some states and local regulatory agencies that may have more stringent requirements than the federal requirements. In addition, some schools have prepared an estimated emissions inventory to assess what air quality regulations may apply.

Continue on through this section of the tour to learn more about environmental laws/regulations and best practices associated with fume hoods.

Chemical Fume Hoods - OSHA Requirements

OSHA's Laboratory Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1450e)(3)(iii), requires that fume hoods be maintained and function properly when used.

1910.1450(e)(3)(iii):  A requirement that fume hoods and other protective equipment are functioning properly and specific measures that shall be taken to ensure proper and adequate performance of such equipment;

For more details, check out this Quick Fact Sheet on Chemical Fume Hoods.

Fume Hoods Best Practices

Even when not required by environmental regulations, the following best practices are recommended to minimize the emission of hazardous air pollutants from laboratory hoods.

  • Identify opportunities to eliminate or reduce emissions.
  • Use microchemistry techniques.
  • Do not store chemicals in laboratory hoods.
  • Make sure containers that hold volatile chemicals are securely capped.
  • Maintain pollution control equipment and keep maintenance records.
  • Maintain laboratory ventilation systems and keep maintenance records.

Air Details

Air quality is regulated by the federal government under the Clean Air Act and the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. Laboratory hoods are intended to hold or capture airborne hazards and remove them from the work area of the lab to protect lab personnel. The hazardous components may pass through some type of filtering system but are frequently discharged to the outside air. In many cases, the air emissions of relatively small amounts of chemicals are subject to few environmental regulations.

In 1990, the Clean Air Act (CAA) was amended to add a section (Section 112) to specifically address hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). Approximately 190 HAPS are listed in the section and many common lab chemicals such as formaldehyde, methylene chloride and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are included in the list. At the federal level, air emission limits for most HAPs are high enough (10 tons per year for individual HAPs and 25 tons per year for a combination of HAPs from all sources at a lab combined) that most research activities performed in laboratory hoods are not regulated under the CAA at the federal level.

However, many states and local governments also regulate air emissions. It is important that researchers check with their EH&S departments or state and local regulatory agencies to establish what requirements may apply to laboratory hoods. In some cases there may be local or state permit or registration requirements to emit specific chemicals or materials. Other considerations include the potential emission of radionuclides, regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and emission of biological organisms often regulated by state and local agencies.

To assess what regulations may apply, pollution prevention opportunities and occupational and environmental health issues, institutions should prepare and maintain a list of actual and potential air emissions from all sources within the institution including laboratory hoods. Some institutions have implemented internal notification requirements for certain experiments that involve the potential emission of HAPs, radionuclides or biological materials.

The full text of regulations promulgated under the CAA is 40 CFR 50-97.

Gas Cylinder Management

To put it bluntly, the mismanagement of even small- to medium-sized compressed gas cylinders could have catastrophic consequences. Personal injury, fire or explosions that release deadly materials into the environment could ensue.

Although few environmental regulations apply to compressed gas cylinders, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued requirements. For instance:

  • Make sure the cylinders are properly labeled.
  • Secure the cylinders to a wall and store upright.
  • Do not store incompatible chemicals close to each other.

Gas Cylinder Management Best Practices

Laboratory personnel may occasionally be required to handle compressed gas cylinders. Employees that perform work involving compressed gas cylinders should be familiar with their hazards and safe practices. In addition, if gas cylinders are to be disposed of and they have contents or are pressurized (usually both), then they are hazardous waste and need to be managed as such.

Even when not required by environmental or OSHA regulations, the following best practices are recommended.

Identification and Labeling

  • All gas cylinders must be clearly labeled.
  • Do not accept a compressed gas cylinder for use that does not legibly identify its contents by name.
  • Never rely on the color of the cylinder for identification.
  • Gas lines leading from a compressed gas supply must be labeled to identify the gas, the laboratory or area served, and the relevant emergency telephone numbers.
  • Signs must be posted in areas where flammable compressed gases are stored, identifying the substances and appropriate precautions (e.g., HYDROGEN - FLAMMABLE GAS - NO SMOKING - NO OPEN FLAMES)

 Engineering Controls / Design Considerations

  • Keep hazardous gas cylinders in gas cylinder cabinets or racks, with the exception of cylinders containing a non-toxic, flammable gas, and cylinders used in fume hood applications.
  • Place a smoke detector adjacent to flammable gas cylinders, connected if possible to the building alarm system. If possible, interlock smoke detector activation with the shutdown of hazardous gas flow.
  • Connect all ducts used to exhaust hazardous compressed gas cylinders or gas-carrying components to a ventilation alarm.
  • Place a safety shower or eyewash with a wand in areas where corrosive gases are used or stored.
  • Make sure that all gas piping is compatible with the gases used and capable of withstanding full cylinder pressure.
  • Never lubricate, modify, force, or tamper with a cylinder valve. Use the appropriate regulator on each gas cylinder.
  • Use check valves when there is the possibility of back flow into the cylinder.

Using Cylinders

  • Always use safety glasses with side shields when handling and using compressed gases, especially when connecting and disconnecting compressed gas regulators and lines.
  • Never use a cylinder that cannot be identified positively.
  • Never use a cylinder of compressed gas without a pressure-reducing regulator attached to the cylinder valve.
  • Use regulators and pressure gauges only with gases and pressure ratings for which they are designed and intended.
  • Do not use oil or grease as a lubricant on valves or attachments to oxygen cylinders.
  • Never use oxygen as a substitute for compressed air.
  • Never empty a cylinder to a pressure lower than 172 kPa (25 psi). The residual contents may become contaminated if the valve is left open.
  • Test cylinders with toxic, corrosive, and pyrophoric gases for possible leaks when receiving, installing, disconnecting or shipping. Always close the cylinder valve before attempting to stop leaks between the cylinder and regulator.
  • Damaged or leaking cylinders should be removed from service and tagged as "DAMAGED or DEFECTIVE."

Storing Cylinders

  • Keep cylinders in storage upright, secure, and locked into a compact group.
  • Cylinders containing the same gas shall be stored in a segregated group; empty cylinders shall be stored in the same manner.
  • Properly secure cylinders with chain, rope or brackets to prevent falling. Valve protection caps must be fully screwed on.
  • Protect cylinders stored outside from standing water by providing proper drainage. Where outdoor storage is necessary, an overhead cover is required to avoid overheating in sunlight and rain damage.
  • For short-term experiments using hazardous gases, select the smallest cylinder available.
  • Return corrosive gas cylinders to the gas supplier within one year, to avoid regulator and cylinder valve problems due to corrosion.
  • Some small cylinders, such as lecture bottles and cylinders of highly toxic gases, are not fitted with rupture devices and may explode if exposed to high temperatures.
  • Never place cylinders where they may become part of an electric circuit.
  • Avoid areas that are damp or subject to other corrosive materials.
  • Do not store flammables, toxic gases and oxidizers adjacent to each other. Store cylinders in well-ventilated locations.
  • Areas containing hazardous gas in storage must be appropriately placarded.
  • Cylinders in storage must be separated from flammable or combustible liquids and from easily ignitable materials (such as wood, paper, packaging materials, oil, and grease) by at least 12 m (40 ft) or by fire resistive partition having at least a one hour rating.
  • Empty cylinders must be closed and the valve cap secured. They must be clearly tagged or marked as "EMPTY."

Transporting Cylinders

  • Never move a cylinder with a regulator attached.
  • Cylinders larger than lecture bottle size should be chained or strapped to a wheeled cart during transport to ensure stability.
  • Only trained personnel using approved trucks may transport cylinders.
  • To protect the valve during transportation, the cover cap should be screwed on hand tight and remain on until the cylinder is in place and ready for use.
  • Handle only one cylinder at a time.
  • Secure cylinders in a basket or similar device when moving them using a crane or derrick. Do not use slings, ropes, or electromagnets for lifting cylinders. Do not allow cylinders to strike each other.
  • Piping Incompatibilities and Restrictions
  • Do not use copper piping for acetylene.
  • Do not use plastic piping in any portion of a high-pressure system.
  • Do not use cast iron pipe for chlorine.
  • Do not conceal distribution lines where a high concentration of a leaking hazardous gas can build up and cause an accident.
  • Distribution lines and their outlets must be clearly labeled as to the type of gas contained.
  • Piping systems should be inspected for leaks on a regular basis, preferably weekly. Special attention should be given to findings.

Emergency Procedures

  • Do not remove leaking cylinders from their ventilated enclosures until the leakage has stopped.
  • Trip the remote emergency gas shutoff valve/button, if present.
  • Close the main cylinder valve if a leak is stopped or slow, hazardous gases are contained in their enclosure, and it is clearly safe to approach.
  • Do not extinguish a flame involving a combustible gas until the source of gas has been shut off.

Employees that handle or use compressed gases should have the following training:

  • Safe handling practices for hazardous substances contained in gas cylinders: corrosive, explosive, toxic, etc.
  • Identification and signs.
  • Storage and transportation requirements.
  • Emergency procedures.

Laboratory Safety and Accidents 

Case Study Report on the Texas Tech Laboratory Explosion (2011) by the Chemical Safety Board 

Safety Alert Rainbow Demonstration & Alternatives from the American Chemical Society

How to Make Classroom Demonstrations and Experiments Safer (Chemical and Engineering News, Nov 2015)


Report by California State Auditor critical of California State University Laboratory Safety Practices - Report issued in April 2018 finds California State University has not provided adequate oversight of the safety of employees and students who work with hazardous materials. 

2010 Texas Tech Laboratory Accident; Case Study Identifies Systemic Deficiencies in University Safety Management Practices - 10.12.201

Mercury Poisoning Kills Dartmouth Chemist (1997)

A Case Study of the Biochemistry Cell Culture Facility (2018) Source: Colorado University

OSHA cites Connecticut diagnostic laboratory for inadequately protecting its employees against chemical hazards - 9.01.2016;OSHA administrator states, "A laboratory chemical hygiene plan is not a paper exercise. It's a continuous ongoing process that is key to preventing employees from being sickened by the hazardous chemicals with which they work."

OHSA Updates Laboratory Safety Guidance - 2011

Chemical Safety for Teachers and their Supervisors (Gr 7-12), published by the American Chemical Society 

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