It's HOW Old? by Lauren Kelly

There may be chemicals in your laboratory that have been there longer than you realize. These old chemicals may also be a high risk hazard to you and your laboratory staff if they have been improperly stored or allowed to degrade over time and become unstable. While not all old chemicals become unsafe over time, many do. Chemicals that can become unstable over time, such as diethyl ether or 1,4-dioxane, can form peroxides which can result in a flash fire or explosion upon opening. Monomers, such as methyl methacrylate, can self-polymerize and become explosive if not chemically inhibited while stored. There are many other compounds that can ignite or explode on heating, grinding or repeated exposure to air or moisture producing degradation products which may contain peroxides, such as sodium amide.
In the past several years, EH&S has had to manage numerous unstable, degraded or otherwise "reactive" chemicals stored in laboratories. Proper handling, stabilization and ultimate disposal of these chemicals required assistance from experts trained in safe handling of explosive compounds. Several compounds, including ethers and sodium amide compounds, required the use of robotic technology to remotely open the containers, while under the careful supervision of experts wearing ballistics gear for blast protection. These types of projects are both inherently risky and expensive. There are several steps that laboratories can take to avoid chemicals becoming unstable during storage, including:

  • Check your chemical inventories regularly for chemicals exhibiting signs of degradation , such as multi-colored layering you might see with sodium amide, or clumps of crystals as you might see with peroxide forming compounds.
  • Follow the EH&S and FDNY guidance regarding dating your peroxide formers upon opening available at http://www.ehs.columbia.edu/tsc.html
    If you are unsure how to properly manage a chemical or dispose of it, please contact the Hazardous Materials Team at hazmat@columbia.edu.
Congratulations to Dr. Kathleen Anne Crowley
On May 21, 2013, Kathleen Anne Crowley (KAC) received her Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. In addition to earning her degree, KAC was awarded the I. Bernard Weinstein award for academic excellence in environmental health sciences, which is given to a student in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences for outstanding academic achievement and promise in the field of public health.
Please join the EH&S Team in congratulating KAC on her academic accomplishments.
kac

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