Basic Chemical Storage Principles

There are a number of basic chemical storage principles. Here are some of them:

  • Know what your chemicals are, what their hazards are, their incompatibilities.
  • Know what quantities you have, have an inventory page in your “Right to Know” binder. Maintain that inventory list. Read the MSDS for storage info.
  • Know your local regulations for storage of chemicals. Check with the fire department for guidelines. Sometimes flammables are heavily regulated.
  • Set aside storage space for chemicals. It should be well ventilated, cool and not subject to direct sunlight (like a window that faces the sun at a certain time of day or year). Do not store chemicals in a corridor or on an exit path from the room.
  • Store liquids and solid in separate areas.
  • Do not allow mixing or transfer of chemicals in the storage area.
  • Store the chemicals in considered amounts; do not have too much on hand if it is not necessary. Enough to last several months is something to aim for.
  • Never use food containers for storing chemicals. (I myself had to have my stomach pumped as a young child when I drank kerosene stored in the same kind of bottle that we stored water in the refrigerator in.)
  • Keep the chemicals in tightly closed, unbreakable containers (the ones they came in if possible). Several people who work with chemicals have recommended Tupperware? type containers. Store glass containers so they are unlikely to be broken.
  • Return chemical containers to their proper storage area after use. Clean as you go.
  • Plan for what happens in a disaster-if you are in earthquake country, for instance, it is a good idea to store incompatible chemicals in separate unbreakable containers so there is no way they could mix.
  • The ideal method is to have a locked cabinet for chemical storage.
  • Label everything clearly and correctly, using permanent markers or plastic labels.
  • Have the chemicals at a good height to pick up and reach for, not too low and not too high. Best is below eye level.
  • Be aware of mixing incompatible chemicals, such as acids and cyanides that can release lethal hydrogen cyanide gas, or ammonia and bleach, which if mixed can create toxic and deadly chlorine gas. Separate such materials.
  • Store acids separately from the other chemicals and flammables and preferably some distance away. Store nitric acid slightly apart from the other acids.
  • Store flammable solvents in a proper fireproof cabinet, stored according to the local regulations.
  • Have a spill kit ready.

Those Incompatible Chemicals

It is very important that you do not store chemicals near each other that when placed together can spontaneously burst into flames, emit toxic or totally lethal gases, explode, poison you or otherwise do bad things because you put them next to each other. People in earthquake zones really have to worry about this sort of thing. I heard about a plating facility in San Francisco in the last big earthquake that slopped a foot-deep chemical stew onto the floor, including cyanides and acids that can generate hydrogen cyanide gas, the gas of choice in executions.

So, when you store chemicals you had better take notice of their type, how you have stored them, what the venting is like, and very important: are they incompatible?

In general it is suggested that you store the chemicals according to “hazard classes.” You will no doubt be glad to note that the average jewelry workshop does not have to deal with the hundreds of chemicals that are the norm for chemistry labs to have on hand. The major classes of chemicals in terms of storage are:

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Acids, bases, flammables, oxidizers, water-reactive chemicals, pyrophoric substances (catch on fire when in contact with air), light-sensitive chemicals, peroxide-forming chemicals (they make their own explosives), toxic compounds, carcinogens and teratogens (cause birth defects and cell mutations).

Do not store the following chemicals next to, or bring them in contact with, each other. Some reactions are slow and others very rapid. There are, of course, other incompatible mixtures possible; these are just examples. Numerous sites on the internet, and all university chemical labs will have lists of incompatible chemicals for you to refer to. The ones given below are likely inhabitants of jewelry shops.

Acetic acid: ethylene glycol, nitric acid, peroxides, bases, carbonates, hydroxides, metals, oxidizers
Acetone: concentrated sulfuric and nitric acid mixtures
Acetylene: chlorine, copper, mercury, silver (forms explosive acetylides with longer exposure)
Alkalis: alcohols, ketones, acids, halogens, hydrogen, plastics, sodium chloride, sulfur
Anhydrous Ammonia: mercury, chlorine, iodine, acids, halogens, oxidizers, plastics, sulfur
Chlorates: ammonium salts, acids, metal powders, sulfur, combustible materials
Chlorine ammonia, acetylene, hydrocarbons, hydrogen, turpentine, finely divided metals, alcohols, hydrogen peroxide, iodine, metals, sodium hydroxide
Copper acetylene, hydrogen peroxide, calcium, hydrocarbons, oxidizers
Cyanides acid
Flammable liquids ammonium nitrate, hydrogen peroxide, nitric acid, halogens, alcohols, ammonia, ketones
Hydrofluoric acid aqueous or anhydrous ammonia
Hydrogen Peroxide copper, chromium, iron, most metals or their salts, alcohols, acetone, organic materials, flammable liquids, oxidizing gases
Hydrogen sulfide fuming nitric acid, oxidizing gases
Iodine acetylene, ammonia, hydrogen
Mercury acetylene, ammonia
Nitrates sulfuric acid, acids, reducing agents
Nitric acid acetic acid, cyanides, hydrogen sulfide, flammable liquids, flammable gases
Oxygen oils, grease, hydrogen, flammable liquids, solids or gases
Potassium Chlorate acids
Potassium permanganate glycerin, ethylene glycol, sulfuric acid
Selenides reducing agents
Silver acetylene, oxalic acid, tartaric acid, ammonium compounds
Sulfides acids
Sulfuric acid potassium chlorate, potassium perchlorate, potassium permanganate

If you see the following terms in a chemical’s name, realize that these terms are linked with chemicals that have the potential to be explosive:

acetylide, hypohalite, amine oxide, nitrate, azide, nitrite, chlorate, nitro, diazo, nitroso, diazonium, ononide, fulminate, perchlorate, N-halomine, peroxide, hydroperoxide, picrate. Common materials known to be shock-sensitive and explosive (can detonate when touched) include: ammonium perchlorate, ammonium nitrate, copper acetylide, dinitrotoluene, fulminate of mercury, lead azide, nitroglycerine, dry picric acid, trinitrotoluene and dried crystals of perchloric acid.

(the above lists derived from:

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