Improper Storage Results in Costly Spill

Improper storage of chemicals can pose many different hazards.  Recently, EH&RS/EH&S responded to a report of an acid spill in a storage room.  Users of the room had stockpiled over 30 gallons (a year’s supply!) of chromic-sulfuric acid glassware cleaning agent.  To save space, the bottles, inside their Styrofoam-lined cardboard boxes, were stacked on top of one another lying on their sides.  The highly corrosive material ate through the caps of several of the bottles, causing the contents to leak out.  The resulting contamination rendered the entire ($4,000) stock of acid unusable, generated 1,100 pounds of chemical waste (removal cost, $2,700), and caused significant damage to the floor of the room.

A few lessons learned to prevent future incidents of this type:

  • segregate chemicals by compatibility groups and/or hazard class;
  • always store containers in an upright position; 
  • ensure that chemicals are compatible with their storage container and the cabinet in which they are stored;
  • always use sturdy cabinets and shelving for storage, never store chemicals on the floor; and
  • while bulk purchasing may yield a quantity discount, this example amply illustrates the increased liability associated with storing large volumes of hazardous materials. 

Finally, consider safer alternatives to hazardous products. In many cases, enzymatic detergents can be substituted for acid-based cleansers to ensure ultra-clean glassware.  For more information on safe chemical storage, please visit: http://www.ehrs.columbia.edu/ChemStorage.html.

Hazardous Waste Tidbits – Did you know?

Hazardous waste pickup requests are available via the EH&RS/EH&S website at:  http://www.ehrs.columbia.edu/indexMC.html just click on your campus and then select the “Forms” menu. For the LDEO campus, please submit and email hazwaste@admin.ldeo.columbia.edu.  For the Nevis campus, please contact the Morningside EH&RS/EH&S office at 212-854-8749.

  • Protective, plastic sleeves are available for chemical/hazardous waste labels to protect them from incidental
  • damage such as the occasional drip.  Please remember, waste belongs in the container and not on it.
  • Although not a regulatory requirement, for non-hazardous constituents such as buffers or water, it is
  • recommended that the ‘balance’ of materials in a chemical waste container be specified on hazardous waste
    labels.  For example, sodium azide solution 0.1%, in water
  • EH&RS/EH&S staff conduct routine inspections of the satellite accumulation areas (SAAs) for hazardous waste in laboratories.

Empty chemical container disposal at Morningside campus

To reduce disposal cost and reduce the need for new landfill sites, we recycle unbroken, empty, and clean chemical containers.  Containers must be rinsed and their labels defaced before deposit in the yellow bins.   Otherwise, the Department of Sanitation will not collect them.  Containers that held highly toxic, water reactive or pyrophoric materials can not be recycled and must be disposed through EH&RS/EH&S; the same restriction applies to any extremely malodorous materials.  Remember, every little effort is part of the bigger overall picture.

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