Chemical Tracking Systems: Not Your Usual Global Positioning System!

Article excerpt

A new middle school science teacher was interested in how chemicals were being tracked in his new school's science department. In helping to answer the new recruit's questions, the retiring science teacher gave him a tour of the chemical storeroom. The new teacher noticed that all of the chemicals were alphabetically arranged. "Why is that?" he asked. The retiring teacher noted he found it easy to locate chemicals using this system. Not seeing any dates on the bottles, the new teacher asked how old the chemicals were. "I have it all in my head," the retiring teacher noted. He went on to say that there were other chemicals stored in various parts of the building in laboratories and classrooms. Unfortunately, the retiring teacher had not gotten around to creating an inventory of chemicals on hand. The new teacher thanked the retiring teacher for the information and began thinking of the number of changes he would need to make in order to track and store each chemical in a safe way.

Unfortunately, this scenario is all-too-common in middle schools. The haphazard storing and tracking of chemicals in the laboratory is a serious safety issue facing science teachers. To get control of your chemicals, I suggest that you implement a chemical tracking system.

Using chemicals: The way life ought to be

A chemical tracking system (CTS) is a database of chemicals used in the laboratory. If implemented correctly, a CTS will reduce purchasing costs, eliminate overstocking, and reduce disposal costs. It will also allow you to respond more effectively to accidents, fires, and other hazardous situations.

Working with chemicals in the middle school science laboratory requires prudent management in purchasing, using, storing, and disposing. Teachers need to have knowledge of how chemicals are to be used and how they interact with other chemicals. Information can be secured by using chemical labels, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) and other available resources. Once you've decided which chemicals to purchase, tracking is the next critical step.

Security is another critical issue today with school districts and teachers being held liable for injuries and suffering via civil liability if chemicals are not stored or controlled correctly. A CTS also helps you monitor your supplies more closely, and makes theft and tampering more apparent.

The end goal in storage and tracking inventory is simple--to reduce the cost, waste, and environmental impact associated with using chemicals. By tracking chemicals from date of purchase until disposal, you can easily determine how often or with what frequency chemicals are used and will need to be replaced. This saves precious purchasing dollars and reduces needless waste.

A major part of the tracking system is a viable and effective inventory process. The components of such a system include a centralized inventory storage location, a management system, and personnel in charge of the program. An exceptionally user-friendly inventory system for CTS is available from vendors such as Flinn and the American Chemical Society (see Resources). If funding is limited, you can create your own inventory system using word processing or database software. A third alternative is a card filing system.

Steps to CTS: Walking the walk

The following are components of an effective CTS:

Know what's in the container--Make sure chemicals are properly labeled. Purchased chemicals from credible suppliers should have appropriate labels. Mislabeled and unidentified chemicals usually are the result of students and/or teachers trying to save leftover chemicals in a new container and not creating a proper label. Be sure to use a standard labeling system for chemicals and waste products. Also, use permanent and colorfast ink when creating labels to prevent fading. …