April 1996

DOES Moves Out

As many of you already know, the Department of Occupational and Environmental Safety (DOES) has moved out of the soon-to-be-demolished Quail Building into the first floor of the Service Building. The move occurred on April 15th and 16th.

While we continued to accept orders and requisitions during the move, there may have been minor delays in some of our normally routine functions. We apologize for any inconvenience our move may have caused.

Our phone numbers (368-2906; 368-2907) and fax number (368-2236) have not changed; nor has our mailing code. Our new quarters will feature a large conference room, so many of the training sessions offered by the department can now be held on the premises. Look for more information on this starting in May.

Do You Know Your Oxidizers?

How many oxidizing agents can you name? If oxygen was the only one that immediately came to mind, you're no different from many other lab workers. However, since an oxidizer is one of the necessary "ingredients" for starting a fire, it is important to recognize some of the more common laboratory oxidizers and how to prevent them from creating a fire or explosion.

Oxygen, or air, is the most obvious oxidizing agent, but many oxidizers contain no oxygen. Chlorine gas, for example, is a strong oxidizer and it contains no oxygen. In the lab, it is important to remember that an oxidizing agent is any chemical that can react with a reducing agent, such as a flammable or combustible material. Oxidizers can be gaseous, liquid, or solid and are commonly used in laboratories.

Compounds that include both a fuel and an oxidizer in the same molecule are hazardous. These include organic nitro compounds, organic nitrates, organic chlorates, and organic chlorites. Not surprisingly, these types of compounds are one of the leading causes of industrial fires and explosions.

To prevent potential fires, keep oxidizers separate from flammables. Avoid storing chemicals alphabetically for this reason--acetic acid (a flammable) may sit right next to ammonium nitrate (an oxidizer) on the shelf. While it may seem like an orderly system, alphabetical storing can also be dangerous.

Also, remember to practice vapor control. Most flammable liquids evaporate quickly. When there is a spill, or when containers are left open, flammable vapors are free to drift toward ignition sources. A "flashback" occurs when these vapors drift into an ignition source and catch fire.

Some Oxidizers Common to Laboratories

  • Gaseous
    • Oxygen
    • Fluorine
    • Chlorine
    • Ozone
    • Nitrous Oxide
  • Liquids
    • Hydrogen peroxide
    • Nitric acid
    • Perchloric acid
    • Bromine
    • Sulfuric acid
  • Solids
    • Ammonium nitrate
    • Ammonium nitrite
    • Perchlorates
    • Peroxides
    • Chromates

Is Your pH Correct?

Liquid radioactive waste must be neutralized to a pH between 6 and 8 prior to waste pick-up by the Radiation Safety technicians. Do NOT assume that the pH is between 6 and 8. The pH can be tested simply by using pH paper.

Often buffers are added during an experiment to neutralize the solution, bringing it pH to a desirable level. However, it cannot be assumed that the pH will stay at that level by the time the solution is prepared for disposal. If the liquid has been standing for a period of time, changes in pH can occur due to bacterial contamination of the media and the release of carbon dioxide.

Any liquid waste picked up by the Radiation Safety Office not found to be within this pH range will be returned to the lab to be neutralized. Another waste pickup can then be scheduled by calling Radiation Safety at x2906.

Transporting Radioactive Material

If you need to transport radioactive material for any distance, we ask that you put it on a cart rather than carry it or put it on a tray. This will greatly reduce the chance of spilling.

This is especially important if you need to go to another floor. Rather than take the steps, place the tray on the cart and take it in an elevator. Since elevators are public places, it is important that the chance of spillage be small, and if a spill does occur, that it be contained. Using a cart is the best way to give peace of mind to everyone. Thank you for your cooperation.

Ordering Replacement Radioactive Isotopes

Occasionally there may be a problem with a radioactive material shipment that requires the vendor to replace your order. Regardless of the problem, the replacement shipment must be placed through Purchasing and the Radiation Safety Office. Do not call the vendor or company directly.

If there is a problem with any radioactive isotopes received and a replacement order is needed, two procedures need to be followed:

  1. Call Terry Thomas in Purchasing (x2560) and she will process the order--our office does not deal with vendors themselves and can only re-route your call to Purchasing.
  2. Send the Radiation Safety Office a requisition form for that replacement material, just like you would for a regular order. When filling out the requisition form, write on it "Replacement" and the original PO number of the material it is replacing. If there is no charge for the material, write "No Charge."

Again, do not call the vendor to replace your material. ALL shipments of radioactive materials must be inspected and approved by our department before Shipping and Receiving can deliver it to each lab (see chart below). The order will not arrive at a lab any sooner by calling the vendor rather than calling Purchasing and sending a requisition form. Conversely, it ends up taking much longer, since the package will be held until the order can be verified and approved.

The above procedures must be followed for replacement orders ONLY. With a regular order, simply fax or mail requisition forms to the Radiation Safety Office. We will fax them on to Purchasing as soon as possible after they have been approved, usually the same day.

Safety Services: FYI

Waste Sheets

When requesting a waste pick-up, please mail in the pink half of the two-part form, keeping the blue half for your records. Also, waste sheets must be mailed in, not faxed. Thank you for your cooperation.

Emergency Information

During this year's lab inspections, we have noticed incorrect emergency information on some laboratory doors. Make sure that the names and numbers on your laboratory doors are correct--list the Principal Investigator's (PI) name and numbers and the Chemical Hygiene Officer's (CHO) name and numbers.

New Edition of Manual Released

The 3rd edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories manual has just been released. This manual, created by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH), has been the standard guide for labs using biological materials for many years. If you would like a copy of this updated manual, call our office (x2907) and we will mail you one.

Seasonal Hazards

Almost everybody is glad that spring has finally arrived. Unfortunately, hazards sometimes pop up along with May's flowers. There will be a lot of outdoor activity ongoing to clean up and fix up the campus; this can create many temporary or seasonal hazards of which we should be aware and protect ourselves against if necessary.

The grounds crew will be using a wide variety of powered equipment: mowers, weed eaters, roto-tillers, choppers/shredders, etc. All of these devices can occasionally throw a projectile from their point of operation. These projectiles are capable of doing serious damage if they hit someone. Give a wide berth to this equipment when it is operating. The operators will have the necessary protective gear-safety glasses, safety shoes, hard hats, gloves. Chances are you won't have that same protection.

Many outdoor repair projects will be underway; repairing walkways and driveways, fixing steps and entrance ways. Often these projects require digging holes, temporarily removing portions of a walkway or steps and otherwise disrupting the normal flow of pedestrian traffic. Be on the alert for these situations and detour around them. These projects should have barricades and warnings in place; sometimes they do not, so be aware.

If you see any of these hazards and you feel that they are not properly barricaded and posted please call DOES at x2907. Let us know what and where the hazard is. We will check it out and institute safety measures if necessary.

Now think summer.

Chemical Spill Response

A beaker drops to the floor, breaking and spilling its contents. What do you do? How do you respond? Below are both some general spill response procedures as well as guidelines for cleaning up a few specific chemicals.

General Chemical Spill Response

If an accident involving a hazardous chemical occurs, the area must be evacuated. Do not reenter the area until the hazard has been assessed, and then only if it is safe to do so.

The importance of getting everyone out of the lab cannot be overemphasized. The only justification for re-entering would be to save a life or to prevent a fire or explosion. Once the hazard has been determined, a supervisor should decide if it is necessary to call DOES for clean-up assistance.

Spills of many common laboratory chemicals, such as buffers or weak basic or acidic solutions, can be handled by laboratory personnel if they know the appropriate clean-up procedures. However, if spill clean-up procedures are not known to anyone in the lab, or if the chemical spilled presents a hazard, call the Department of Occupational and Environmental Safety (x2907) immediately for assistance.

Spill Kits

Every laboratory should have their own spill kit, suitable to cleaning up typical laboratory spills, and its location should be known to everyone in the lab. You can either buy one or create your own. A spill kit should contain the following items:

  • spill pillows
  • a silicon-based absorbent such as Oil-Dry, kitty litter, or vermiculite
  • dust-pan
  • broom or brush
  • plastic bags
  • waste labels
  • rubber gloves
  • rubber boots or foot protectors
  • chemical splash goggles

Specific Chemical Spill Response


Use an absorbent material to neutralize the acid. Commercially marketed acid neutralizers or sodium bicarbonate powders both work well. Sand can be used but is not as effective. After the acid has been neutralized, scoop every thing into a plastic bag and prepare it for disposal.

Flammable Solvents

First, turn off all spark-producing equipment. Then, using an absorbent from the spill kit, begin pouring around the perimeter of the spill area and proceed toward the center. Again, sand is pretty ineffective. Scoop up the mixture and place it in a plastic bag for disposal.


  • Use a sodium thiosulfate solution (5-10%) to react
  • with the bromine. DO NOT use ammonium hydroxide, as
  • an explosion can result from mixing any halogen with
  • ammonia. A respirator must be worn during clean-up.

Acid chloride

  • Use calcined absorbent products such as Oil-Dry, Zorb-All, or dry sand.

Alkali Metal

  • Smother the spilled metal using Met-L-X Yellow Extinguisher
  • and remove it to a safe location where it can be disposed of by
  • reaction with a dry secondary alcohol. Quickly remove any metal
  • particles splattered on the skin and then flush with water.


  • Flush the contaminated area with water. Do not use anything
  • contaminated with organic materials as an absorbent. After
  • flushing with water, call DOES to assist with the clean-up.
  • Again, these are just basic guidelines. If there is any doubt about how to handle a spill, call us before doing anything and have as much information as possible concerning the nature and potential hazard of the spill. For more information, see the Chemical Safety Manual, pp. 5-8. Any large spills must be reported to DOES.