Chemical Safety

American University is committed to providing a safe environment for all community members and visitors. This Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP) establishes policies and procedures to ensure the safe use of hazardous chemicals within all University-owned laboratories.

The purpose of this plan is to protect laboratory worker health and ensure that chemical exposures are minimized. It also defines roles and responsibilities for working with hazardous chemicals, details provisions for lab worker training, outlines emergency procedures, and establishes a number of safety practices that must be observed when handling hazardous chemicals. Environmental Health & Safety manages the Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP) for American University.

You can find details about the Chemical Inventory program here.

Chemical Storage Guidelines

Expand the table below for appropriate storage methods for several common research laboratory chemical classes.

Chemical Storage Guidelines
Class of Chemical Recommended Storage Method Examples Incompatabilities
Compressed gas, flammable Store in a cool, dry area away from oxidizing gases. Strap or chain cylinders to a wall or benchtop. Methane, acetylene, propane Oxidizing and toxic compressed gases, oxidizing solids.
Compressed gas, oxidizer Store in a cool, dry area, away from flammable gases and liquids. Strap or chain cylinders to a wall or benchtop. Oxygen, chlorine, bromine Flammable gases
Compressed gas, poison Store in a cool, dry area away from flammable gases and liquids. Strap or chain cylinders to a wall or benchtop. Carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide Flammable and/or oxidizing gases
Corrosive, acid Store in separate storage cabinet Mineral acids – hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, perchloric acid, chromic acid, chromerge Flammable liquids, flammable solids, bases, oxidizers
Corrosive, base Store in separate storage cabinet Ammonium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide Flammable liquids, oxidizers, poisons, acids
Shock sensitive material Store in secure location away from all other chemicals Ammonium nitrate, nitro urea, picric acid, trinitroaniline, trinitroanisole, urea nitrate, zirconium picramate Flammable liquids, oxidizers, poisons, acids, bases
Flammable liquid In grounded flammable storage cabinet Acetone, benzene, diethyl ether, methanol, ethanol, toluene, glacial acetic acid Acids, bases, oxidizers, poisons
Flammable solid Store in a separate dry, cool area away from oxidizers, corrosives, and flammable liquids Phosphorous Acids, bases, oxidizers, poisons
General chemical, non-reactive Store in designated chemical stock area, preferably behind glass doors or below eye-level Agar, sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, most non-reactive salts See SDS
Oxidizer Store in secondary containment inside a non-combustible cabinet, separate from flammable and combustible materials Peroxides, perchlorates, chlorates, nitrates, bromates, superoxides Reducing agents, flammables, combustibles
Poison Store separately in vented, cool, dry area, in unbreakable chemically resistant secondary containment Cyanides, heavy metals Flammable liquids, acids, bases, oxidizers
Water-reactive Store in a dry, cool place, protect from water fire sprinkler and other potential sources of water intrusion Sodium, potassium, and lithium metals, lithium aluminum hydride Separate from all aqueous solutions and oxidizers

Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)

Safety Data Sheets, formally known as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), describe hazardous properties of chemicals and appropriate risk mitigation techniques. They must be readily available in physical or digital format in work areas. Laboratory personnel may access digital SDSs from a variety of sources:

Chemical Labeling

  • Each chemical in the laboratory must be properly labeled.
  • Most chemicals are shipped with a manufacturer’s label, which contains all necessary information. These labels should not be removed or damaged as long as they contain their original contents.
  • Each chemical bottle, including diluted chemical solutions, must be labeled with its contents and its associated hazards. It is also recommended that each bottle be dated when received and when opened to assist in determining which chemicals are expired.
  • When new chemicals and compounds are generated by laboratory operations, they must be labeled with the name, date, and hazard information. The owner of the chemical should also be listed in case questions arise about the container’s contents.
  • Peroxide forming chemicals (e.g., ethers) can degrade to form shock sensitive, highly reactive compounds and must be labeled with the date of receipt and on first opening the bottle. These chemicals are only allowed a one-year shelf life before they must be either be tested for peroxides or disposed of.  The most recent test date must be listed on the label.

Compressed Gases

Compressed gases are hazardous because of the potential energy of compression and because the gas may be toxic, flammable, and/or act as an asphyxiant if released in a confined area. Compressed gas cylinders must be used and stored in accordance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines and in accordance with Compressed Gas Association, Inc. (CGA) Handbook for Handling Compressed Gases.   

Written procedures must be developed and implemented for each compressed gas used.  The procedures must describe allowable use, engineering and administrative controls, and required PPE, as applicable. 

The following handling and storage requirements will be followed for compressed gases:   

  • Laboratory personnel must receive training on storage, handling, and hazard precautions prior to use of compressed gases.  This training must be documented.
  • Compressed gas cylinders shall not be moved unless the protective valve cover is securely in place. The valve safety covers must remain in place until the cylinder is secured to a wall, bench, or other stable structures.
  • Compressed gas cylinders shall be moved on cylinder carts, hand trucks, or dollies specifically designed for this purpose.  The valve safety covers must be in place and the cylinder secured to the cart during transport.
  • Compressed gas cylinders shall not be rolled a distance greater than three feet. Compressed gas cylinders shall never be dragged.
  • Compressed gas cylinders shall be always secured to prevent them from falling. They may be secured with a chain, canvas strap(s), or a floor stand.
  • Piping and manifolds must be constructed of materials compatible with gas in the cylinder.
  • The main valve cylinder shall be opened only as far as necessary to produce the required gas flow and closed when the gas is not required.
  • Cylinders shall be checked for leaks when received in the laboratory and before and after attachment of the regulator.
  • Reserve cylinders shall not be stored in the laboratory.
  • Cylinders shall be stored outside or in a separate room designed to meet NFPA standards for storage of compressed gas.  Cylinders stored outside must be protected from the weather and tampering by a covered and enclosed area providing safe access and adequate security.
  • Empty cylinders shall be labeled as such as promptly removed.  A small amount of gas should be left in the cylinder and the valve closed to prevent contamination of the inside of the cylinder.
  • Never attempt to refill an empty cylinder.

Spill Response

American University has developed procedures and a chemical spill response plan to contain and clean up chemical spills. In the event of a chemical spill, it is important that those in the immediate area take responsibility for initiating a prompt, safe cleanup. This responsibility may entail direct response by lab personnel to contain, absorb, or neutralize the spill, or notification to outside personnel to provide adequate controls to engage the more challenging spills.

Since chemical spills can be potentially dangerous, only small spills shall be handled by employees knowledgeable about the contents of the spilled material. Consult the SDS for chemicals involved in the spill for safety precautions and spill cleanup.  If the nature of the material spilled is unknown or if the spill exceeds the minor spill volume (1 liter in volume) the employee must immediately contact the laboratory supervisor, Departmental Chair, EH&S, and public safety to determine appropriate response.

Cleanup guidelines are intended for small volume spills and are general procedures only. They are superseded by information contained in an SDS or other specific directions.  If the hood ventilation should fail evacuate the area and notify Public Safety.  For more information please refer to the Chemical Hygiene Plan.

Tax-Free Ethanol

American University maintains a permit to purchase and use tax-free ethanol. Only pure ethanol at ≥190 proof is subject to the provisions of the permit. Provisions include, but are not limited to:

  • Containers must be defaced when empty
  • Containers must be secured from unauthorized access
  • A copy of the permit must be posted in the use area
  • Receipt and usage of tax-free ethanol must be recorded
  • Records must be retained for at least 3 years
  • Inventory must be conducted biannually
  • Use volume must be limited per the permit

Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) Safety

HF is a unique acid that can cause life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias in addition to skin and eye damage. A crucial immediate treatment for skin exposure (in addition to rinsing and calling 911) is the application of 2.5% calcium gluconate gel to the affected area. EH&S provides this gel to laboratories that work with HF. Laboratory supervisors are responsible for developing SOPs for work with HF and for communicating proper safety procedures to laboratory employees.

For more information, please contact:

Heather McClary, EdD, MPH, CPH, ECoP
Associate Director
Environmental Health and Safety
Phone: 202-885-2007