Glass Waste Bottle Ruptures, Possible Reaction of Incompatible Chemical Wastes
Key Instruction Points:
- Chemical containers should be triple rinsed and dry before being used for waste accumulation.
- Wear safety glasses while in the laboratory, even while performing
A graduate student sitting at a lab computer was surprised by a chemical waste bottle which burst and sprayed nitric acid and shards of glass all over the lab.
Approximately 2L of nitric acid waste had been accumulated in a chemical waste bottle which originally contained methanol. Over the course of 12-16 hours, it is likely that some residual methanol reacted with the nitric acid waste and created enough carbon dioxide to over pressurize the container. Two other waste containers in the hood were severely damaged and several others were cracked or leaking.
Fortunately, the laboratory worker was not injured.
Chemical containers should be triple rinsed and dry before being used for waste accumulation. Safety glasses should always be worn while in the laboratory, even while performing non-laboratory work.
Researcher Burned in Chemical Explosion Due to Improper Disposal of Chemicals
Key Instruction Points:
- Segregate and dispose of hazardous wastes properly through EHS
- Use appropriate personal protective equipment.
EHS was notified of a chemical spill in a laboratory at the____ Building. At that time, EHS was also told that a Research Associate was sent to the Emergency Room because of skin, eye and respiratory irritation. EHS responded and found yellow liquid splattered on the walls, ceiling and floor. Many bottles of chemicals were placed in a red bag medical trash can, of which several were broken. In addition, there were many more bottles on the counter top and floor.
EHS was told that two Research Associates were cleaning out old chemicals from their lab. They had put the bottles of chemicals into the red bag waste bin, when it appeared that one of the bottles containing ferric chloride broke. An acid mist was created, possibly by water or other broken bottles of chemicals being present in the waste bin. The Researcher stepped closer and peered into the waste bin when an explosion occurred. The yellow liquid splashed all over him. He immediately took off his lab coat and shirt and showered under the two emergency showers in the hallway and then went to the ER. He suffered corneal abrasions and 1° and 2° burns to his face.
The resulting damage and the time required to clean up the spill cost in excess of $2,500. Investigation revealed the following: The lab had been inspected by EHS less than a year ago and was advised to dispose of any old or unwanted chemicals through EHS. At no point was EHS ever informed that the lab needed to dispose of their chemicals.
Over the summer, in a similar incident, EHS was anonymously alerted that another laboratory was performing a laboratory cleanout and was disposing of chemicals in their housekeeping trashcan. EHS conducted an investigation and located the dumpster where the trash was disposed. In it, we found, to name a few, benzene, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen peroxide, mannite, pyroxilin and sodium hydrosulfite. All of the illegally disposed chemicals were taken out of the dumpster by EHS and stored in our hazardous waste storage room. Fortunately, there were no serious repercussions.
What are the lessons from these two incidents? First, all employees must be trained to do their jobs. All lab personnel must be up- to- date in Lab Safety Training, which include Chemical Waste Handling. Next, all hazardous waste is disposed of by contacting EHS, not in the regulated medical waste container.. As stated in the Chemical Hygiene Plan, laboratories wishing to dispose of chemicals should schedule a chemical pickup or drop through our office. We dispose of chemicals at no charge if the proper procedures are followed. Lab workers should wear personal protective equipment and should take care to ensure that incompatible wastes are not mixed. And finally, all laboratory guidelines described in the Chemical Hygiene Plan should be followed to protect the health and safety of the housekeeping staff and co-workers.
Waste Solvent Explosion and Fire
- List all contents on hazardous waste labels.
- Do not mix incompatible chemicals.
At the University of X in the hazardous waste facility, a 55 gallon drum containing 30 gallons of mixed organic solvents exploded, launching upward into the ceiling. A significant fire ensured. Luckily no one was hurt. The mixed organic solvents in the drum had been consolidated from solvent waste containers from laboratories throughout the campus. A similar consolidation process is used at many institutions. Solvents are consolidated because there is significant cost savings in disposing of one large drum compared to disposing of many small containers. This instrument demonstrates why it is important for each lab to fully list the contents on each container on the hazardous waste label.
Mixing Incompatible Wastes
A laboratory worker was cleaning out chemicals from an old refrigerator. Wearing gloves, chemical splash goggles and a lab coat (over shorts), the worker was segregating the chemicals into several different waste containers. He found a small bottle of iodine monochloride, and not knowing the physical properties of the chemical, began to pour it into a jar with other liquid wastes. The waste container suddenly began fuming vigorously, startling the worker and causing the worker to drop the bottle of iodine monochloride. Several drops of the chemical splashed onto the worker's leg, causing a second degree burn.
The iodine monochloride reacted with a chemical in the waste container. The worker was fortunate that the reaction did not produce significant amounts of hazardous vapors. Had the worker been wearing long pants, the burn might have been avoided.
- Never mix chemicals unless you are certain of the consequences and are prepared to control the hazard.
- Do not mix incompatible waste chemicals together.
- Know the hazards of each chemical before working with it.
- Wear pants and a closed lab coat when working with hazardous materials