by Tim Loftus
years ago in one of my college chemistry laboratory classes, the
instructor told us he just got a call from a local high school science teacher.
The teacher found an old bottle of ether in the storage room. A significant
amount of powder had formed around the cap of the bottle. He wanted to know if
the ether was still good. Or should he throw the whole bottle away?
My instructor told him to gently close the storage room door and immediately
call the state police bomb squad. Peroxide formation on ether bottles can have a
way of ruining your day - explosively.
The potential for fires, property damage, or personal injury from chemicals
is an important matter to address in our laboratories. It is one that many
technicians do not take very seriously. It seems that since nothing has happened
yet, why worry about it now? I know that I am often guilty of thinking this way.
But avoidable accidents do happen more often than they should. Reducing the
potential for accidents will provide a safer environment for all laboratory
Below are some general recommendations for storing laboratory chemicals.
It is not a complete list and should only serve as a starting point in making
your laboratory a safer place to work.
should be stored by class, not solely by alphabetical order. For example,
flammables should be stored with flammables, oxidizers with oxidizers, etc.
containers should be clearly labeled and have the purchase date and opened date
written on it.
3. Storage areas should be in well-lit, free of clutter, and have good
4.The depth of storage shelves should
be shallow to allow for easy access of containers. The shelves should also have
a lip around the edge to keep containers from accidentally rolling or “walking”
5. Chemical storage areas should be checked frequently for rusty and
corroded containers, formation of residues on bottles, and expiration dates of
chemicals. When found, follow through with remedial actions.
or transferring chemicals to another container should not be done in the storage
laboratory hood is not a substitute for a ventilated cabinet.
chemical containers should be stored at or below eye level.
Liquids, if compatible, should be
stored under powder chemicals.
Store incompatible chemicals
in separate places. Any two chemicals that can react to form a toxic gas should
not be stored together.
Learn the exceptions of chemical
storage. Most of these involve chemicals with multiple hazards such as acetic
acid. Because it is both an oxidizer and a flammable liquid it has special
The recommendations here for chemical storage are very incomplete. Review any
of the many safety reference books and guidance manuals in print to help you
develop a safe chemical storage system. Like any safety program, it is an
ongoing process that needs continuous reviewing and updating. Like that high
school science teacher, you don’t need any explosive surprises waiting for you
in your chemical storage areas.
As usual, check the federal, state and local regulations for the many
additional requirements needed to keep your laboratory a chemically safe
If you have any questions, suggestions, or comments, please contact LPC
Chair Paul Fitzgibbons at (401) 222-6780 ext. 118 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
or Tim Loftus at (508) 949-3865 (email@example.com).
You can also visit our website at newea.org. Once on the website, press the Lab