A: It is important for us to be able to link existing sets of
data in our database with recently updated information. The PI
name is often the only effective way of doing this. Additionally,
the value of the inventory data is multiplied each time it is
used for different purposes after it has been processed and stored.
Having the PI name allows the data to be searched and sorted to
aid in facilities planning processes and laboratory moves. Because
the PIs and supervisors are responsible for safety matters
in their labs/shops, their names and phone numbers can be used
for following up on questions about their inventories and for
providing information on new requirements in their areas.
Q: Why do lab personnel have to
do the inventory? Why cant we have a secretary or EH&S
do the inventory?
A: No one but lab personnel really knows where the chemicals
are. Lab workers are in fact trained to handle the chemicals and
are familiar with their hazardous properties. Also, lab personnel
are able to determine whether a chemical still has value or should
be disposed ofinventory time is a good house-cleaning
time. Finally, most lab personnel are not very happy about people
unfamiliar with their labs rummaging through them.
Q: Why cant we
use abbreviations in chemical inventories?
A: Chemical abbreviations are not used consistently and will
cause misidentification of a material. For example, TCA means
Trichloroacetic acid to a chemist and it means Trichloroethane
to an environmental scientist or a regulator. Also, emergency
responders look up chemical information alphabetically by chemical
Q: Why must we include prefixes with chemical
A: The prefixes found in front of chemical names are essential
to accurately identifying chemicals. For example, N-Butanol has
different hazardous properties than Tert-Butanol.
Q: Why cant we simply use chemical
formulas on inventories?
A: A chemical formula is not necessarily unique to a single chemical.
For example N,N-Dimethyl-P-toluidine has a chemical formula of
A look in the Aldrich MSDS database, which allows searches by
chemical formula, reveals 29 compounds with that formulamany
more exist but these are the only ones Aldrich sells. Here are
some examples of other chemicals with that same formula:
- L-Amphetamine (the drug) is, clearly, highly biologically
- 2,4,5-Trimethylaniline is a carcinogen.
- N,N-Dimethylobenzylamine is a skin absorbable moderate poison
that may be a sensitizer and can cause an allergic reaction
for some individuals.
Chemical formulas are also not acceptable as names on labels
for chemicals, even if they are unique. For example, instead of
labeling a bottle with "HCl" and "EtOH," write
"Hydrochloric Acid" and "Ethanol" respectively.
Emergency response personnel do not always know chemical formulas.
But they do know how to look up a chemical name in a reference
to get more information. Most hazardous chemical references are
not set up to be searched by chemical formulas due to the problem
Q: When is it appropriate to specify product
A: Product names are acceptable on an inventory if the product
name matches the name on the Material Safety Data Sheet for that
chemical. Sometimes the manufacturer or supplier should be listed
to make it a complete name. For example, with "MEK"
one should specify if it is produced by Fisher or by Sigma. Sometimes
the "full chemical name" is far too long and the material
is sold by a short product name. In these cases, the product name
is preferable. For example POPOP is the product name for 1,4-bis-(5-Phenyl-2-oxazolyl)benzene.
The key to all these questions is to report the original name
on the bottle that the material was purchased in.
Q: Why do we have to include manufacturer
and product codes?
A: We ask for a manufacturer name and a product code
for each chemical entry because together they are the most reliable
identification of a chemical. If there is a question, we can go
to the manufacturers catalog and check on what the material
actually is. To save time, we make tables of these codes to match
products automatically with the chemical information in our database.
Q: What should we put in the "location"
A: You may write in helpful and specific lab area designations
in the location field (e.g., "cabinet 1" or "shelf
A"). You do not have to fill this in at all, but it can be
very helpful the next time you update your inventory. Many people
wish to identify the location of their chemicals in their labs
or shops. You should use consistent names for your locations so
the computer will handle them as the same things. For example,
if you write "cabinet 1" one time and "cab 1"
another time, the computer will consider these to be two different
places. You may indicate these locations on your map if you wish.
When you receive your next update report, it will be sorted by
locations if you entered them to ease your updating of the inventory.
Q: How should we specify units when doing inventories?
A: Measurable and convertible units must be used to define the
quantity of each chemical. "Box" or "Bottle"
cannot be quantified and provides no information to those who
need it. Many regulations require that we report quantities of
certain chemicals or types of hazards. So we need real units like
pounds, liters, or grams. See Units of Measure
Q: Why do the inventories have to be done
by building, rather than by school or department or research group?
A: The county health department and other regulatory agencies
require us to produce reports from the inventories of each building.
These agencies are not concerned with which department or which
part of Stanford is responsible for each room or bench. We have
found that, if we do updates by departments, whole buildings or
benches in rooms are missed and the information is not complete.
Also, we process the inventory updates in building-level batches
because it is much more costly for us to break the buildings into
Q: Why do some chemicals end up not classified?
A: There are two reasons why a chemical may not be classified.
First, the chemical may simply not be in our Chemical Safety Database
yet. We are constantly updating and adding to the database, but
it does take time to research the hazards of a chemical and enter
them into the database. Second, if a chemical is listed on an
inventory and is in the database but is still not classified,
the reasons are invariably that:
- the complete name was not given
- the hydration state was not listed
- the oxidation state was not given
- half the name is missing (e.g., "barium salt"salt
- the chemical was listed solely as a formula
Q: Why do labs need to keep
notification sheets up to date in the Life Safety Boxes?
A: Although the overall nature of hazards in the lab does not
change significantly from day to day, the specifics and details
about them may change. When an emergency occurs in an area, the
best source of accurate information are the people that work there
regularly. Also, it is important for workersespecially
for PIs and supervisorsto know when something
dangerous has occurred in their areas.