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Expanded Chemical Safety
Article © MAIL User: Samma

While doing research for a maille project, I came across an article by Drax on basic Chemical Safety. As it was published in 2003, I'd like to expand on it for 2007.

[It is the editor's opinion that this article gives advice on the most safest methods, and may be overkill in some situations. If you have it, use common sense and tailor your protection to what you are doing. The editor is also Drax, so take this statement with a grain of salt. -- Ed.]

The most important thing about working with chemicals is knowing what you're working with. Most chemicals should come with Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), available from the manufacturer, and hopefully, the supplier. If your chemicals don't come with one, I'd suggest changing suppliers, or checking online (OSHA is a great source). This will tell you about the particular chemical's properties, such as flammability, reactivity, health hazards, and cleanup procedures.

Always wear protection! Goggles, gloves, and an apron are essential.

Full eye protection, like the goggles worn by science classes everywhere, are great, and readily available. If you can't find any in stores, call a local community college. If they don't have them in the school store, they will probably know where to get them. Don't use safety glasses. While these will protect your eyes from wayward bits of ring or mandrel, they won't protect from splashes.

Depending on the chemical, gloves can be the heavy duty, multi-use rubber mitts that go up to the elbow (great for caustic chemicals), or as simple as latex doctor's gloves. Keep a set of gloves for each chemical you work with, as there will be residue on the rubber that could cause an unwanted reaction. The rubber gloves can be found at a grocery store with the cleaning products, or you can spring for professional grade. Latex gloves can be bought by the box from a pharmacy (most even stock a cheaper store brand), or by the case from a wholesale warehouse (think Costco or Sam's Club).

A word about latex: with as many people having allergies to latex, alternatives are vinyl or nitrile. I prefer vinyl, as it's thicker than nitrile, but still gives plenty of sensory input.

An apron is essential if you like your skin the way it is already. It will protect you from wayward chemical splatters or spills. Rubber, or rubberized fabric, is the best. These can be purchased from restaurant supply stores (usually used for hot grease safety) or chemist's shops. Check the Yellow Pages for local shops.

Always be alert when working with chemicals. Work in a well-ventilated area with good lighting, and it's better to not work alone in case of an accident or emergency. Watch out for odd fumes, heat, smoke, or other signs of an unwanted chemical reaction. Add chemicals slowly, measuring carefully. If you splash yourself, or get a powdered chemical on your skin, rinse immediately with plenty of water. Flush your eyes with cool water if you get anything in them.

If something does spill, follow the directions on the MSDS for cleanup. If you don't have them available, general guidelines are as follows. Never dispose of chemicals down the drain or in the trash!

Powdered chemical
Sweep up and seal in a plastic bag, labeling the bag. Don't add it back to the container, as it could have picked up contaminants from being on the floor/workbench.

Liquid chemical
If you work with many hazardous liquid chemicals, consider investing in a chemical absorbent, available from business supply stores or online. Always follow the manufacturer's directions, and remember a little goes a long way. Only use pure clay kitty litter (never clumping or scented!) in cases of dire emergency.

Non-hazardous liquid chemicals can be sopped up with paper towels, and the soiled towels sealed in a labeled plastic bag.

Disposing of chemicals can be complicated with today's strict EPA rules. NEVER dispose of chemicals down a drain! Not only does this contaminate the water supply, it will leave chemical residue on the inside of the drain, which could react if another chemical were poured in.

Most communities have a hazardous waste collection day, where people can turn in paints, motor oil, batteries, and chemicals to be disposed of in the proper manner. Take the labeled plastic bags to the collection site for proper disposal.

If you don't know when or where the hazardous waste is collected, contact the local health department. That number can be found online or in the government section of a phone book.

Be smart. Know your materials, don't cross-contaminate chemicals, know how to clean up spills, and have a way to contact emergency help (be it a cell phone or a friend).
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