Biological Safety

Proper Waste Labeling


Recently, the importance of proper labeling was emphasized by three incidents that occurred in laboratories on campus.

In an agricultural science laboratory waste materials were being prepared for turn in. Two partially filled one-gallon containers both labeled as used oil were being consolidated when, as the liquids were mixed, the container began to smoke and the glass cracked. A messy chemical spill resulted and required several hours of EHSO assistance to clean up. Investigation revealed that one of the containers labeled as "used oil" actually contained concentrated sulfuric acid. Fortunately no one was injured, but the potential for injury was present.

In an engineering laboratory several bottles of waste material could not be positively identified. It was known that the bottles contained two different chemicals but it was not known which bottle contained which chemical. The way this waste was submitted to EHSO is a problem and dangerous. We were able to safely test the materials and determine which was which.

In a Chemistry laboratory the waste turn in sheet incorrectly identified two items. A container which was supposed to contain aqueous tin waste was found to contain a flammable solvent. A container that was supposed to contain mercuric chloride solution was found to also contain acetone and tetrahydrofuran (flammable solvents). It was only by chance that this problem was identified by EHSO prior to packing the material into drums for shipment.

This is a serious problem. Incorrectly identified materials can result in adverse reactions, potential injury and property damage. In the University Hazardous Material Management Program, EHSO relies on the generator of the waste to accurately identify the material. We rely on the information provided on the turn in forms to classify the material and the workers who collect and pack the material do so based upon the classification provided from the label on the container. If the material is not as labeled, incompatible materials can be packed in the same container. This can result in a citation from the Department of Transportation and a fine against the University or in a worst case a reaction of the materials in the container, the breaching of the container and a fire or explosion.

It is the generators responsibility to ensure that the materials are completely and accurately identified and properly labeled. This is stated in the generator certification statement which he or she signs on the turn in form. It is critical that you ensure that the materials turned in for disposal are completely and accurately identified before you sign the form. If you have any doubts about the materials, you should verify the identity or mark the form that the identity of the material is un-certain.

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Last Updated 20 August 2002