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VIIBRE Lab Safety

Safety of self and others goes well beyond activities in the lab and even has far reaching implications in ethics. 

Safety in an interdisciplinary environment can become quite complex as people from different backgrounds work together in the same laboratory setting, exploring unfamiliar ground and setting new boundaries for science. The safety concerns of engineers are often not the same as those of biologists and vice versa. This dynamic makes knowledge of safety even more important when designing apparatus and experiments that will be used both in VIIBRE Labs and labs abroad.


Guide for handling chemicals in VIIBRE Labs


The first thing you should always do is read the MSDS - Material Safety Data Sheet. They will give you vital information about dangers related to the chemicals you are using as well as the type of Personal Protective Equipment you should use. Your protocol designs should take into consideration the information available in the MSDS's of the chemicals used. MSDS's are available in every lab that chemicals are allowed in and there is a master library available from the lab manager. If you are introducing new chemicals to any lab you must make sure that the chemical is approved by the lab P.I. and the lab manager and that the MSDS is inserted into that lab's MSDS book. Before mixing any chemicals you MUST have an approved protocol if there is not one already. New Protocol Form


PPE - Personal Protective Equipment - is very important, so learn how to read the MSDS to see what type of PPE you need to handle each chemical in your protocol. Always wear the PPE required by the most dangerous material in use. The minimum PPE when using ANY chemical ANYWHERE on campus is safety glasses, gloves, and lab coat. Most MSDS's will not tell you what type of gloves or what type of respiratory protection you need. It is up to you to find out what types of gloves are compatible with the chemicals that you will use and to determine the best respiratory protection for your experiment. Every glove is different and you should not assume that one nitrile glove is the same as the next. You should always look at the chemical resistance data for each type and brand of glove that you use.


Chemical Storage

Chemicals stored in the same cabinet must be compatible and the cabinet must be rated to store the chemicals that you put in it. Know where you will store your chemicals before you order them.

Some basic guidelines are: Never store acids with organics. Never store acids with bases. Never store acids with oxidizers. Never store flammables with oxidizers. Never store flammables with bases. Never store bases with oxidizers. Organics in any of the categories should be stored separate from inorganics of the same category. There are some chemicals that should be stored separate from all other chemicals and some that need to be stored under inert atmosphere. The MSDS for the chemicals will tell you how to store them. Under no circumstances should you ever store any chemicals at your desk.


Chemical Disposal

Vanderbilt does NOT allow ANY chemical disposal down the drains. You should put your used chemicals in an approved and chemically compatible secondary container properly marked with the contents, fill out a pink collection tag supplied by VEHS or your lab manager and notify VEHS via their web site to pick up the waste. Make sure the chemicals you put in the container are compatible, as some chemical mixtures can generate explosive gases or may generate explosive pressure in a closed container.  VEHS Guide for Managing Chemical Waste


Notes on Chemical Use

There are a lot of reasons to use specific materials for experimental containers, including but not limited to process contamination, spill hazards, and adverse chemical reactions (e.g., you should not use polystyrene petri dishes to soak a substrate in acetone).

Please read the MSDS for ALL CHEMICALS used in your experiments. If you are unable to locate an MSDS for one of your chemicals, please contact Ron Reiserer. If you spill something (even water) please clean it up immediately so others don't have to wonder what it is. Read the MSDS sheet for that chemical for the proper spill cleaning procedure.

If you are ordering new chemicals you MUST get the approval of your advisor or supervisor AND you MUST have the approval from the P.I. of the lab in which it will be used. For all hazardous chemicals you must also have a written and approved protocol for all experiments in which the chemical is used. For VIIBRE labs, hazardous chemicals are any chemical with a 1 or greater number in any part of the hazard diamond or chemicals marked with the words toxic, hazardous, harmful, dangerous, flammable, explosive, corrosive, or oxidizer. If there is any doubt, then it IS hazardous.

Answer the following questions before ordering new chemicals:

  • How much of the chemical will I actually use? Order the smallest amount necessary! Storage space is precious and some chemicals become more dangerous as they age or expire before you get around to using them.
  • Where will I use the chemical and how will I store it? Ensure there is a proper place to handle the chemical. Most chemicals have specific storage requirements and you should make sure that the lab can accomodate those requirements before ordering.
  • How will I dispose of the chemical? Chemical disposal methods are as important as chemical use methods. Improper disposal can create hazards to your health, the health of other lab users and the environment. You should be aware of disposal requirements before you order chemicals.

If you have any questions or concerns please contact: Ron Reiserer by campus phone 22569 or email


Remember that NO experiment is worth your life. Don't take chances with safety!