Laboratory Safety: Know Your Chemicals

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Laboratory Safety Guide, there are an estimated 575,000 existing chemical products while hundreds of new ones are introduced annually. And, almost 32 million workers are potentially exposed to one or more hazardous substance in the workplace.  
Industrial and academic laboratory workers face potential exposure to the hazardous chemicals stored and used in their labs every day and need to take proper precautions to protect their physical health and safety. The first step involves understanding the chemicals you are dealing with. What makes them hazardous? How should they be handled? What risks do they pose? How do you clean them up if spilled?  

Amphomag®, a universal spill neutralizer, features a rapid response chemistry that safely adsorbs and treats spills. It is used in laboratories across the country to neutralize acids, bases, and gases; adsorb liquids; and control odors. We’ve identified some of the common chemicals in labs to get you started.  
Formaldehyde — Formaldehyde is a common chemical used in a variety of products. It can cause respiratory irritation if inhaled, such as coughing, wheezing, and chest pains, and can affect people with asthma, allergies, or other breathing issues more acutely. If formaldehyde comes in contact with the skin, it can cause irritations like dermatitis or even burns. People with frequent exposure to formaldehyde, like some lab techs, become more sensitive to these negative effects. Amphomag® clean-up instructions. 
Hydrochloric Acid — Use extreme care in handling this extremely corrosive, poisonous acid, which can cause severe damage to all body tissues. If a small amount of the acid is spilled, it should immediately be contained and neutralized to prevent harm to anyone or damage to whatever it was spilled on. When using hydrochloric acid, always wear protective clothing and gear, such as eye goggles and gloves. Amphomag® clean-up instructions.  

Hydrofluoric Acid
Certain spill response products, like clay absorbents, cannot be used on a hydrofluoric acid spill. Attempted use of these products to treat a hydrofluoric acid spill could create a dangerous gas. Due to the limitations of these products, it is important to understand what can and cannot be used to neutralize a hazardous hydrofluoric acid spill. Amphomag® clean-up instructions.   

Nitric Acid — Nitric acid is a dangerous chemical that dissolves metals such as iron, copper, and silver. Commonly used in fertilizer production for plants and grass, nitric acid can also be seen in facilities that have a business in woodworking, sanitizing, rocket propulsion, and metal finishing. Workers should wear protective equipment such as gloves or face shields to prevent inhalation and contact with skin. Amphomag® clean-up instructions.  

Phosphoric acid
— Phosphoric acid is a clear liquid or a transparent crystalline solid. It is widely used in the manufacturing of food additives, fertilizers, cleaning products, and water treatment. Phosphoric acid can damage the lungs through inhalation. Breathing may cause irritation to the nose and throat if a worker is not careful. Amphomag® clean-up instructions.  

Sulfuric acid
— Sulfuric acid is a strong acid that can burn through clothes and skin; making a sulfuric acid spill a potentially dangerous situation. Before dealing with the sulfuric acid spill itself, first check yourself to see if any acid got on you — or anyone else who is around — and wash off/rinse thoroughly any acid found. Amphomag® clean-up instructions.  

As you look into the chemicals in your lab and document risks, protection plans, and clean-up guidelines, check out UW-Madison’s Quick Guide to Hazardous Chemical Risk Assessment (page 46).