Chemicals and Their Containers Have Limited Lifespans

Key Learnings

  • Chemicals have limited lifespans, and must be disposed prior to their expiration dates.

  • Chemical containers should be periodically inspected to determine if they should remain in service. 

Effects of Incident 

Injury-free event

Description

A laboratory worker acquired a small bottle of 30 percent hydrogen peroxide through the site’s chemical sharing program. The material became available as a result of a clean-out effort in another lab. The 500 mL white opaque plastic bottle was inspected following delivery to the recipient and appeared to be in good condition. The plastic bottle featured a vented cap.  

After the hydrogen peroxide solution was used, the container was rinsed in preparation for disposal. At that time, the lab worker noticed that the container was very brittle. Light pressure created fractures in the plastic. 

This was the second time a container of hydrogen peroxide had failed at the site. In 2009, a 50 percent hydrogen peroxide solution leaked onto an employee's hand and arm when the bottle was picked-up. The skin contact resulted in an injury requiring first aid.

Causation

It was determined that the bottle of 30 percent hydrogen peroxide had been purchased in 2002. In 2006 the chemical manufacturer changed their hydrogen peroxide polyethylene bottles from opaque white to amber. The amber bottles are also made from high-density polyethylene but feature a more stable resin.

Corrective Actions to Prevent Reoccurrence

Laboratory personnel are encouraged to identify and dispose of expired chemicals and those in compromised containers.

Determining expiration status

  • Some chemicals have expiration dates printed on their labels.

  • Cloudiness, discoloration or crystals may form and become visible in some chemicals over time. However, not all expired chemicals show visual signs of degradation.

General guidance from the chemical supplier

  • Dispose of hydrogen peroxide after two years.

  • Chemicals should be kept for no more than seven years in order to maintain product quality and container integrity.

Check container integrity

  • If the vent cap on a bottle of hydrogen peroxide is blocked, the container tends to swell toward the middle or bottom of the bottle as a result of decomposition.

  • A visual evaluation may help detect cracks, dents, leaking, swelling, rust or other corrosion products (metal containers), and chips (glass containers).

Photo: Bottle containing hydrogen peroxide.