Chemical Safety

Who must maintain Material Safety Data Sheets?

Every lab/location is required to maintain a current chemical inventory and collection of material safety data sheets that are readily accessible to all occupants of the laboratory.

Where should I store my MSDSs?

MSDSs must be readily accessible during each work shift to employees when they are in their work areas.

Are there OSHA standards that cover workers exposed to hazardous chemicals in laboratories?

Yes, the OSHA Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.1450, Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories, covers all workers using hazardous chemicals in laboratories. The standard is implemented through the PDF icon WCM Chemical Hygiene Plan.

How do I store corrosive acids in my laboratory?

Title 3, Chapter 10-Chemical Laboratories in the Rules of the City of New York (RCNY) states that storage of corrosive acids shall be so arranged that there will be no contact with bare metals or of cellulosic material with nitric acid in event of spillage. In general, plastic bins are used for acids to not only meet this requirement but also to serve as secondary containment.

What is an MSDS?

An MSDS is the acronym for a Material Safety Data Sheet. An MSDS is issued for every hazardous chemical by the chemical manufacturer. MSDSs provide information about the type of chemical you are using and what hazards it contains.

What is a Hazard Communication Program?

The College's Hazard Communication Program has been developed to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (29 Code of Federal Regulations 1910.1200). The program is designed to ensure evaluation of the hazards of all chemicals present in non-laboratory workplaces, and ensure that both employers and employees receive relevant information about those hazards. Certain chemicals are exempt from the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard, including hazardous wastes (contact EHS to obtain a copy of the Waste Disposal Procedures Manual), food, wood, tobacco, and potentially hazardous substances such as drugs and cosmetics brought to the college for personal consumption (e.g. rubbing alcohol in a first aid kit would not be covered). Laboratories are covered under another OSHA standard (see PDF icon Chemical Hygiene Plan).

Where can I find an MSDS?

MSDSs should be readily accessible in your laboratory or other area where chemicals are used. To request an MSDS, use the MSDS search engines or contact EHS.

Where can I find secondary containment bins/trays?

What quantity limits on chemical storage in laboratories do I need to follow?

The New York City Fire Department regulates laboratories and uses the following storage limitations:

Lab TypeFire RatingFire ProtectionFlammable LiquidsFlammable SolidsOxidizing MaterialsUnstable (Reactive)
ITwo hoursSprinklers30 gallons15 pounds50 pounds12 pounds
IIOne hourSprinklers25 gallons10 pounds40 poundsSix pounds
IIITwo hoursNo sprinklers20 gallonsSix pounds30 poundsThree pounds
IVOne hourNo sprinklers15 gallonsTwo pounds20 poundsTwo pounds

To find out your laboratory type, contact Environmental Health and Safety.

What is needed in a chemical spill clean up kit?

Chemical spill cleanup kits are helpful to have in the laboratory and other service areas which use chemicals. The kits are useful if you and your fellow workers know how to use them properly. Chemical absorbent or neutralizing powder pads can be used to quickly contain a spill. Use these items if your personal safety is not jeopardized. Often the best use of such a kit is to put the absorbent on the spill to contain the material, then leave the room and secure the area until the Environmental Health and Safety arrives and finishes the cleanup.

Minimally, a chemical spill kit should contain:

  • splash resistant goggles
  • chemical resistant gloves
  • plastic bags
  • multi-chemical absorbent including solvent/acid/caustic (enough for a 2 gallon spill)
  • plastic scoop and dust pan

Alternatively, you may choose to purchase a ready-made chemical spill kit, such as the Universal/Maintenance Spill Kit shown on the link.

NOTE: A hydrofluoric acid (HF) spill control kit is required in all areas using or storing hydrofluoric acid. This link provides a suitable option. 

NOTE: A container of sodium bicarbonate or other suitable neutralizing or absorbing agent shall be provided at all areas used for the storage of acids (FDNY requirement). Contact EHS to request a container of sodium bicarbonate.

What is a laboratory certificate of fitness?

A laboratory certificate of fitness is issued by the New York City Fire Department to laboratory users. The certificate of fitness ensures personnel qualified to act during a fire emergency are available inside laboratories while it is operating. See the laboratory certificate of fitness page for more information.

Who needs a laboratory certificate of fitness?

At any time a laboratory is in operation, a certificate of fitness holder must be present. If someone works over the weekend, that person must have a certificate of fitness. If the certificate of fitness holder leaves for lunch, all lab operations must cease if no certificate of fitness holder is present. For these reasons Environmental Health and Safety recommends every person working in a laboratory maintain a certificate of fitness. See the laboratory certificate of fitness page for more information.

Do I need to have an inventory of all my chemicals in my laboratory or other work area using chemicals?

Yes, all laboratories and other work areas are required to maintain a complete inventory of all chemicals including the types, quantities and locations where these chemicals are being stored and used at the college. Chemical owners must maintain their chemical inventories in the PDF icon Salute-Chemical Inventory System

How often should an inventory be conducted?

Chemical inventories should be conducted on at least a yearly basis. Personnel should be looking at the physical condition of primary and secondary containers. Chemicals should be inspected for signs of decomposition, such as discoloration, turbidity, caking, moisture in dry chemicals, particulates in liquids, and pressure buildup. However, as new chemicals are received, the inventory in Salute should be updated to include them.

What is required to use hydrofluoric acid (not hydrochloric acid)?

Labs which use hydrofluoric acid must have:

  • completed a high hazard operating procedure which is approved by EHS
  • a spill kit specific for hydrofluoric acid
  • a current supply of 2.5% calcium gluconate gel readily available

What are the hazards of oxidizing acids?

An oxidizing material (e.g. nitrirc acid, perchloric acid) spontaneously evolves oxygen. When in contact with wooden cabinets and other cellulose materials oxidizers may spontaneously ignite the material. They may also yield oxygen to the fire, greatly increasing the fire's effect.

What are examples of oxidizing acids?

Examples of oxidizing acids include concentrated perchloric acid, nitric acid, iodic acid, chromic acid, and the glass cleaning mixture of chromium trioxide and sulfuric acid. There are other oxidizers that are not acids but evolve oxygen. Examples include potassium dichromate and potassium permanganate.

How should oxidizing acids be stored?

Oxidizing acids (e.g., perchloric acid) should be stored in plastic-lined (high-density polyethylene) storage cabinets on glass or ceramic trays large enough to contain a spill.

How should corrosive bases be stored?

Corrosive bases should be stored separately from acids in secondary containment to prevent any interactions with non-compatible chemicals.

How should corrosive materials be stored?

The area used to store corrosive acids must be carefully designed to ensure spills of acid will not come into contact with bare metal or cellulosic materials with nitric acid. Strong organic acids should be stored separately from mineral acids. The perchloric acids must be stored in glass containers separated from the organic materials. Strong acids must be stored separately from strong bases. Care must also be taken to ensure acids are not stored near substances which react with them to evolve heat, hydrogen or explosive gases.

Is there a location where my laboratory can store excess flammable liquids?

Due to the low FDNY storage allowances for flammable liquids in laboratories (see PDF icon WCM Chemical Hygiene Plan for specific limitations), EHS maintains a facility for the storage of excess flammable reagents. This facility is intended solely for the storage of overstock flammable reagents, not for general reagent storage (e.g. storage of the only container of a given flammable reagent). While EHS is usually available to respond to immediate requests, EHS cannot guarantee immediate access to the facility. Plan ahead and contact EHS before lab stocks are depleted. For more information about the facility or to request access, contact EHS.

Weill Cornell Medicine Environmental Health and Safety 402 East 67th Street
Room LA-0020
New York, NY 10065 Phone: (646) 962-7233 Fax: (646) 962-0288

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