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Safe Storage of Hazardous Chemicals

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With such a wide range of hazardous chemical storage cabinets available it is understandable that it is not always crystal clear which chemicals are safe to store together. Flammable substances, Acids, Alkalis, Toxics and oxidising agents are all chemicals of one type or another but may be incompatible and dangerous to store together. The following information gives some guidance on the basic principles for the safe storage and segregation but should not be taken as exhaustive.

As a rule store like materials with like and always segregate incompatible substances to prevent dangerous interactions. All chemicals storage containers should have a label on them identifying their hazard category (e.g. flammable, acid, alkali, oxidising, toxic etc.) It is always recommended to examine the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and manufacturers recommendations for more specific and detailed information.

Flammable solvents should be stored in specialised metal flammable solvent cabinets that are clearly labelled. The vapour forming above the liquid of these solvents represents the main danger from an accidental ignition source -even a spark. Ideally position the cabinet away from doors or other means of escape from the laboratory. DSEAR recommends that no more than 50 litres of highly flammable material may be kept in a flammable cabinet in any one room to reduce the risk of a serious fire. Quantities of other compatible flammable substances with a higher flashpoint up to a total of 200 litres may be added.

Flammable solvents must never be stored with oxidising agents such as bleach, hydrogen peroxide and nitric acid or reducing agents and concentrated acids (e.g. concentrated sulphuric and hydrochloric acids).

Because violent chemical reactions can result Chlorinated flammable substances (like trichloroethylene) are best stored in ventilated cabinets separately from flammable (non-chlorinated) solvents. In addition they should not be stored with alkali metals such as lithium, potassium or sodium, since any mixing can result in an explosion.  They can be stored in sealed metal cabinets if ventilated storage is not available.

Acids and alkalis are both potentially corrosive substances. Although specialist so called “Acid/Alkali” cabinets are available this does not mean acids and alkalis should be stored together. They should be stored separately since any accidental mixing of particularly concentrated materials can generate large quantities of heat and fumes. They can be stored separately in a vented or metal cabinet so long as they are in a segregated containment tray to prevent any spillages.

Oxidising substances (e.g. peroxides and nitrates) should be stored in a COSHH metal cabinet well away from organic matter such as wood and paper. As a rule oxidising agents should never be stored in a wooden cabinet. Oxidising agents should also never be stored with flammable solvents or reducing agents since a fire or explosion can result, particularly if a spillage occurs, even without a naked flame or heat present.

The above is a quick overview on what can be a complicated subject but the main point to remember is the incorrect storage or mixing of hazardous chemicals can result in disastrous consequences so check the chemicals’ MSDS before deciding on your haz-chem storage solution.

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