Unknown Chemicals


Unknown chemicals are a particular problem in laboratories. Mysterious chemicals often hide in labs for years before lab personnel notice the unidentified items. However, steps can be taken to rectify these problems. Unknown chemicals must be properly identified according to hazard class before proper disposal. The hazards that should be noted include: corrosive, ignitable, oxidizer, reactive, toxic and radioactive.

Identifying Unknown Chemicals

Every effort should be made by laboratory personnel to identify unknown chemicals. Here are a few steps that can be taken to help this effort:

  1. Ask other laboratory personnel if they are responsible for, or can help identify the unknown chemical.
  2. The type of research conducted in the laboratory can be useful information for making this determination. Eliminating certain chemicals as a possibility helps narrow the problem as well. This is especially important for Mercury, PCB, or dioxin compounds because they must be managed separately from other hazardous waste.
  3. For trade products, contact the manufacturer or search online to obtain an MSDS. EHS staff can assist you in finding an MSDS.

Removing Unknown Chemicals from the Work Area

If laboratory personnel are able to identify the chemical, a hazardous materials pickup request should be filled out. If it is not possible to identify the material, a "Hazardous Waste" label should be placed on the container and a pickup request should be filled out and submitted which describes all of the material with available information (i.e. 4-liter container of clear liquid). Call EHS at (765) 494-0121 if you have a question about an unknown.

Preventing Unknown Chemicals

Preventing unknown chemicals is easy. Here are a few tips that will help:

  • Label all chemical containers, including beakers and test tubes.
  • Immediately replace labels that have fallen off or become damaged.
  • Label Containers using chemical names, not abbreviations, chemical structure, or formulae.
  • Archived research samples are often stored in boxes containing hundreds of small vials. Label the outside of the box with the chemical constituents paying special attention to regulated materials such as radioactives, solvents, heavy metals and other toxics. If the samples are nonhazardous, label them as such.
  • Submit frequent waste pickup request forms to reduce the amount of chemicals in your laboratory.


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