Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Safer Science

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Safer Science

Article excerpt

October 2014, Best Practices for Safety Issues in the Science Classroom and Laboratory

Corrosives: A Burning Safety Issue


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently adopted new rules to improve understanding of hazardous chemicals in the workplace, including high school science laboratories. This was the result of OSHA's efforts to align its Hazard Communication Standard with the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). One of the OSHA-designated GHS pictograms under the revision is the corrosive symbol, which must appear on chemicals that have corrosive properties. Depending on the properties of a chemical, the corrosion pictogram may indicate that the substance is corrosive to metals, causes severe skin burns, and/or causes serious eye damage. Corrosives common in high school labs include:

* Liquids: alkali solutions; hydrogen peroxide; mineral acids such as sulfuric, nitric, and hydrochloric acid; sodium hydroxide; and some oxidizers.

* Gases and vapors: Highly soluble gases such as ammonia and hydrogen chloride, which can cause severe nose and throat irritation; and less soluble gases, such as nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, which can penetrate deep into the lungs.

* Solids: Dust from corrosive solids such as sodium hydroxide, phosphorus, or phenol can be inhaled and cause irritation or burns to the respiratory tract. Many corrosive solids, such as potassium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide, can also produce considerable heat when dissolved in water.

Dealing with corrosives

Consider the following guidelines when storing or using corrosives:

* Check a chemical's Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for information about its use and storage before using or storing it.

* Facilities must submit an inventory of hazardous chemicals to their State Emergency Response Commission, Local Emergency Planning Committee, and local fire department by March 1 of each year. There are threshold levels that could be applicable to larger school districts.

* Always make sure corrosive chemicals are placed in a locked storeroom or cabinet.

* Never allow students to enter or work in chemical storerooms.

* Keep corrosives' storage cabinets away from exits, walking areas, and emergency equipment.

* Corrosive chemicals require storage in corrosion-resistant containers and cabinets.

* Store minimum quantities of corrosives to reduce risk. …

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