In our day jobs, we (the Safety Guys) have dealt with chemical issues in hundreds of laboratories. Many times it is a result of new construction where research buildings open and the labs come online. Often we have wrestled with lab close-outs either due to renovations, use of the space changing, or the lab moving to another location. Common critical issues in these situations are ensuring that proper organization, storage, and segregation are provided for the chemicals that will be used and kept in the lab. So this issue's column will provide fundamental information on managing chemicals in forensic facilities and offer initial suggestions and guidance for proper chemical handling.
Whether you are organizing the toxicology, serology, DNA, or another specialty lab in your forensic facility, chemicals come into the picture. There are literally thousands of chemicals available and new ones being developed every day. In order to plan chemical storage for your lab, it is ideal to begin with a chemical inventory or at least a list of substances anticipated to be used based on the focus of the particular laboratory. Your job is much easier with the chemical inventory in hand, listing the items and quantities that will be used and stored. Without an inventory, or when setting up a general purpose lab, you will have to plan storage areas for each major chemical class. (More on these chemical classes later.) Given the sheer number of chemicals in use, even with a good inventory you will probably want a few reference sources on chemicals and their properties. So, let's get started.
Chemical Information Sources and References
Since 1991, federal law has required every laboratory where hazardous chemicals are used to have a written Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP).1 The CHP includes the chemical inventory and standard operating procedures for protecting personnel from the health hazards associated with the chemicals present in the lab. If you are lucky enough to have a CHP, for instance when an existing lab is moving into new space, you have a jump start on planning the chemical handling requirements. Without one, for example when setting up a new forensic chromotography lab, you will need to do more homework. After checking for a CHP or chemical inventory, the next task is to collect the material safety data sheets (MSDS) from the vendors or chemical manufacturers. In order to fill the inevitable gaps in the MSDS, we suggest you combine these MSDS with a good chemical dictionary or two, such as the Merck Index2 or Sax's.3 You will also want to secure a few quality chemical references such as the NIOSH Pocket Guide for Hazardous Chemicals,4 the DOT Emergency Response Guide,5 or similar compilations.
Material safety data sheets, chemical dictionaries, and references like the Pocket Guide, provide essential information on specific chemical substances. Included are data on the physical, chemical, and toxicological properties of the substance along with concise information on handling, storage, and disposal. In addition, most of the references mentioned will outline emergency and first aid procedures as well. One other reference that we highly recommend is the National Research Council's Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Disposal of Chemicals.6 This book contains invaluable information on many topics including evaluating hazards and assessing risks and disposal of wastes. It also introduces the concept of laboratory chemical safety summaries (LCSS) and contains LCSS for 88 commonly encountered chemical substances.