Chemical Inventory Instructions
Instructions for Stanford Chemical Information Management System (SCIMS)
Chemical Storage Maps/ Notification Sheets
Questions and Answers

Q: Why do we need the PI or shop supervisor’s name and phone number?

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 PI’s 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 can’t 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 of––inventory 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 can’t 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 name.

Q: Why must we include prefixes with chemical names?

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 can’t 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 C9H13N. A look in the Aldrich MSDS database, which allows searches by chemical formula, reveals 29 compounds with that formula––many 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 active.
  • 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 stated above.

Q: When is it appropriate to specify product names?

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 manufacturer’s 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" field?

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 Table.

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 smaller sections.

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 of what?)
  • 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 workers––especially for PI’s and supervisors––to know when something dangerous has occurred in their areas.

Q: What are the browser requirements for SCIMS?

A: You will need either Microsoft Explorer, Netscape Communicator 4.5 (or later versions), or Netscape Navigator 4.08 (or later versions) installed on your computer. If screens do not refresh as expected, browser settings may need to be modified.

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