During regular laboratory processes, researchers are exposed to a number of chemical-related hazards. One must be aware of these hazards and the precautions to take when working with them in order to be safe in the workplace. According to the regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency, there are 4 characteristics that make a waste hazardous: ignitability, corrosivity, toxicity, and reactivity. These types of waste must be handled and disposed of by means that are safe for the environment and the people who handle them.
- Ignitability: Acetone
- Corrosivity: Sodium hydroxide
- Toxicity: Lead
- Reactivity: Picric acid (dry)
- Use containers that are appropriate for the waste. For example, if the material is corrosive, do not use a metal container.
- Do not mix incompatible wastes.
- Always keep containers closed, unless material is being immediately added.
- Affix an EPA “Hazardous Waste” label to each container, and place in the labeled Hazardous Waste Accumulation Area (HWAA).
- No hazardous waste should be stored outside of the HWAA.
- Incompatible wastes should be isolated from each other by separate secondary containment trays.
- Chemicals that are too old to be used or in bad condition inherit the characteristic of waste and must be treated accordingly.
- Containers should be no more than 80% full.
- Supplies for labeling and accumulation areas are available through EHS.
- Hazardous waste pickups are conducted every Wednesday, unless otherwise specified.
Hunter College employs a private vendor for the recycling of spent household batteries.
Examples: AA batteries, cell phone batteries
Deposit batteries in towers located throughout the campus.
Mercury and Mercury-containing Instruments
Elemental mercury is an extremely toxic substance, and its disposal and remediation are highly regulated. Discontinuing the use of mercury containing instruments in the laboratory is strongly recommended. If you come into contact with mercury, or any instruments that contain mercury, thoroughly clean the contaminated area and dispose of any contaminated clothing.
Examples: mercury metals and salts, elemental mercury, broken thermometers and lamps
- Secure, sealable containment should be utilized when possible.
- A “Hazardous Waste” label must be affixed to the container.
- Place the container in the laboratory Hazardous Waste Accumulation Area (HWAA).
- If a release of elemental mercury occurs, please contact the Environmental Health & Safety office immediately.
It is very important to note that organic compounds exist in differing physical phases that may form peroxides under normal conditions. Peroxide formation is a result of a chemical’s reaction with oxygen in air, which usually enters the container when it is opened for the first time. Organic peroxides are sensitive to heat, shock, and friction, and some have the potential to become explosive. Caution must be taken when handling peroxide-forming chemicals.
Examples: 2-propanol, Indene, vinyl chloride, picric acid
- Check to see if your laboratory works with any peroxide-forming chemicals.
- All peroxide formers in the lab must be labeled with the sticker pictured above. The label must be filled in with the date of chemical receipt and the opening date.
- The allowable time period for use of the chemical may be extended after qualitative peroxide testing. Check the EHS website for specifics on varying extensions times.
- Peroxide test strips and labels are available through EHS.
- Contact EHS for removal of waste peroxides.
The process of identifying unknown chemicals is tedious and potentially expensive; be aware of the chemicals that you are working with and their hazards.
Examples: bottles or containers with labels that are missing, deteriorated, or defaced
- If the contents of a chemical container cannot be identified, the substance should not be used for laboratory processes.
- Affix a “Hazardous Waste” label to the container, and supply as much information as possible.
- Place the labeled container in the laboratory Hazardous Waste Accumulation Area (HWAA).
- Be aware that a charge may apply to cover the cost of chemical characterization.