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Chemical Safety in Your School
March 8, 2022

It is not always obvious where the sources of dangerous chemicals are in a school. Some of these dangerous materials include:

– Shop or industrial arts classes where you find inks, degreasers, and more
– De-icers, fertilizers, and pesticides
– Health care equipment, such as mercury thermometers
– Lab chemicals including bases, acids, salts, metals, solvents, and more
– Art supplies, such as photographic chemicals, paints, etc.
– Maintenance supplies and equipment such as floor stripping supplies, boiler cleaners, fuels, gauges and switches, drain cleaners, oils, paints, and more

Dangerous chemicals can be found from the elementary school maintenance closet to the high school labs as every school houses a variety of chemicals. A lot of these chemicals are considered hazardous and are used every day, however, some of them found in labs or closets have not been used in years.

Making sure these dangerous chemicals are managed safely helps school administrators safeguard the safety and health of school employees and students. It also helps the school avoid disposal expenses and keep a sense of trust between the district and the community.

A school has to have useful, specific, and solid information and recommendations on how to handle dangerous chemicals and responsibility to create and establish safe district-level procedures and policies. The following is a simple guideline for your use, if you have further questions, contact Environmental Marketing Services.

The Dangers With Chemical Storage, Segregation, and Incompatible Chemicals

If chemicals are not regularly cleaned out, it can potentially result in dangerous reactions. These materials are an important function of school labs and maintenance teams, but if not properly taken care of they can cause severe structural, physical, or financial damage to your school facility.

Chemical Storage Tips

Many labs store their chemicals alphabetically. It might make sense in how to locate certain ones when needed, however, it can lead to incompatible chemicals being too close to one another. One example with the alphabet system is that chemicals starting with ‘S’ will all be together. If sulfuric acid ends up next to sodium nitrite, and one of the containers leaks, it will result in a reaction between the two.

Chemicals should be stored:

– Separate liquids from solids. Within the solid groups, you will want to separate non-metals from metals and keep metals away from moisture and water to prevent corrosion and possible reaction
– Separate your hazardous materials from your non-hazardous
– Separate irritants from toxic materials. Irritants are typically marked by a black ‘X’ on the label. Toxics will have a skull-and-crossbones symbol. Your toxic chemicals should be placed away from sanitary and sink areas
– Containers that hold flammable liquids are often stored in cold rooms or a refrigerator. In a closed chamber, evaporation can occur and can rapidly reach an explosive state. If a spark should occur from a door switch, defrost timer, thermostat, compressor relay, or another source, it can result in an explosion. Cold rooms have ignition sources as well, typically from light switches, electrical equipment, or fan motors.
– Separate corrosives from hazardous chemicals, including flammables. Along with the corrosives, you should separate acids from bases

Chemical Segregation

Chemicals should not be stored alphabetically, but according to their compatibility. Segregating chemicals is much safer for your facility rather than storing them according to carbon numbers, physical state, or alphabetically. Your facility should be segregating them according to the DOT hazard class.

The DOT hazard classes segregate chemicals according to the dangers posed during their transportation rather than on their health hazards. Some hazards do not fall into just one category as they can pose multiple hazards both health and physical. When you segregate your chemicals, keep in mind:

– Health hazards posed by the chemical
– Physical hazards posed by the chemical
– Whether it is gas, liquid, or solid form
– The concentration of the chemical

Once you’ve properly segregated the chemicals, ensure everyone who handles them knows the process and system used during the segregation. All materials should be clearly identified as to where it is in the hazardous class. The storage cabinet or area should also be labeled with signs or labels to identify what is inside.

Dangers of Incompatible Chemicals

Incompatible chemicals produce an undesired reaction when mixed. This reaction typically refers to substances that react and cause an imminent threat to safety and health through an explosion, formation of toxic materials, or fire.

Why School Chemical Cleanout is Chemical Safety

Throughout the United States each year, hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent due to school incidents involving dangerous chemicals. These incidents typically result in spills and/or explosions. Some of the chemicals are found later to be more than thirty years old. Unused chemicals are not potentially saving your school money by possibly having to replace them when needed, they are definitely putting your facility at risk for additional financial loss, and loss of valuable education time.

These are some goals to set for your educational institution to clean out legacy, unused, excess, and improperly stored chemicals. Implementing these goals will help you set up preventive mechanisms in your school for chemical safety:

– Identify and label potentially dangerous chemicals that should not be used or be present
– Encourage the removal of all mercury compounds or equipment that contains mercury for proper recycling or disposal
– Ensure you are complying with all local, state, and federal requirements. If you are unsure about the requirements, talk to the experts at Environmental Marketing Services.
– Remove deteriorated, unused, excess, or outdated chemicals
– Make sure all chemicals are managed properly and safely in storage areas and in the school labs
– Ensure all instructors have the proper training for purchasing, handling, disposal, and storage of lab chemicals in a cost-efficient manner

To verify the types and conditions of your school chemicals in your storage areas, you should conduct a lab chemical inventory. A good inventory will help you plan for disposal methods. Environmental Marketing Services welcome the opportunity to help you through this process.

Why Your School Needs to Understand Chemical Safety

There are five important reasons why your school needs to be concerned with chemical safety:
1. Health and Safety Risks to School Employees and Students
If chemical management is not performed properly, it causes dangerous risks for learning, health, and behaviors to your students. Children are more vulnerable than adults when it comes to chemical exposures. Since children’s body systems are still developing, they breathe more, drink more, and eat more in proportion to their body size. Their behavior can also expose them to more chemicals than an adult.

2. Maintain the Trust of the Community
It will only take one incident, such as a chemical explosion or spill to break the community’s trust in your school. Studies show school incidents from improper chemical management lead to increased parental and community concern, embarrassment, and negative publicity for the school district.

3. Reduce the Risk of Expensive Disposal Spills and Other Chemical Incidents
When chemical safety procedures are not followed, your school is at risk for potential liabilities or lawsuits which are expensive. The costs of responding to a chemical incident can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Your school could also face fines and increased insurance premiums if it shows you have improper chemical waste management.

4. Protect the Environment
Not following proper chemical safety management can lead to chemical spills and discharges. These incidents can cause significant damage to the environment where parents, students, teachers, and staff live and work. If chemicals discharge into the sewer systems or on-site waste treatment systems, it causes potential adverse effects on streams, groundwater, and rivers.

5. Prevent the Loss of Valuable Education Time
If an event occurs due to improper chemical management, it can result in the school having to close. This closure will result in the loss of valuable education time.

The EPA has resources and tools to assist school districts manage and evaluate their school facilities for health and safety issues. You can also talk to Environmental Marketing Services for guidance in proper management, storage, and disposal methods.

Where to Learn More About Chemical Safety for Your School or University

Environmental Marketing Services has over ninety combined years of experience in the industry. We are here to help your facility develop innovative and cost-effective solutions for your recycling or waste disposal. Contact us today if you have questions regarding the clean-out of your unused, expired, or excess school chemicals.

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