Mercury in schools
Colorado law prohibits using or storing mercury and mercury compounds in schools. Schools also are prohibited from buying or accepting donations of such chemicals.
Mercury is allowed if it's in sealed devices, such as thermometers and barometers. However, the risk of a mercury spill poses a serious threat to health and safety and may result in significant cleanup costs. Therefore, we strongly encourage schools to replace these devices with mercury-free alternatives.
For more information, please visit the Mercury Free Colorado page.
Guidance for handling mercury spills: Mercury spills in schools.
How to respond to mercury spill events, courtesy of the US EPA: Mercury Response Guidebook.
Chemical management resources
- Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and/or safety information about toxic chemicals are available from their supplier or manufacturer.
- A current copy of the data sheets must be provided for all poisonous, toxic or hazardous substances and must be available for review.
- Safety Information Resources Inc. SDS Index.
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
- SDS Solutions Center.
- Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards.
- Recommended Procedure for Conducting a Chemical Inventory Safely
- List of common chemical hazards.
- Information to Obtain Before Utilizing a Hazardous Waste Vendor.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protective clothing database.
- Testing safety equipment.
- Chemical hygiene form and guidance document
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Placing eyewash fountains and safety showers
- You must provide an easily accessible operational eyewash fountain in each laboratory or any area where corrosives or irritating chemicals are used.
- The eyewash fountain must be clean and tested annually.
- Portable eyewash bottles can’t be used as substitutes.
- Classrooms that may need eyewash fountains include:
- Wood shop.
- Welding/soldering, etc.
- You must document annual testing of safety showers and eyewash stations, and these records must be available for review.
Storing various types of chemicals
- You must store toxic or hazardous materials in approved laboratory containers, separated by reactive group, in a ventilated, locked area.
- You must clearly label chemical containers with the name of the chemical and the date it entered the school.
- You must take an inventory of all chemicals, solvents and hazardous substances at least once a year.
Reducing rust and corrosion in storage areas
- Chemical vapors can attack metal surfaces in storage areas, causing rust and corrosion.
- Good ventilation, even as little as one air change per hour, can dramatically reduce a corrosion problem.
- If metal shelf clips are rusting or corroding, iodine, iodine solutions or concentrated acids are usually the culprits.
- To help reduce corrosion of metal shelf clips, spray them with Krylon liquid plastic once a year.
- Most organic vapors are heavier than air and sit at floor level, so air should be ventilated by drawing it from floor level.
- We recommend mounting a fan that doesn’t create an explosion hazard on an exterior wall of your chemical storeroom.
- Have sheet metal ductwork extend down from the fan to within 12 inches of the floor. The ductwork should be a minimum of 12 inches wide and 8 inches deep.This design provides ceiling-to-floor ventilation.
- We recommend the ventilation provide at least four air changes per hour. Passive ventilation (e.g., a window) isn’t acceptable.
- Avoid having a ventilation system that's either tied in with the rest of the school’s ventilation or vents to open space above the ceiling, as this can distribute chemical vapors to other areas of the school.
Formaldehyde vs. formalin
- Formaldehyde in its basic form is a gas, but many people think of it as a liquid. The liquid is actually a mixture of formaldehyde gas and water.
- The most common concentration used in school science departments (particularly biology) is a 37 percent solution consisting of 37 grams of formaldehyde gas to 100 mL of water.
- To prevent polymerization of formaldehyde solution, about 10 percent to 15 percent of methyl alcohol is added. The substance is then called formalin.
- The terms “formalin” and “formaldehyde solution” may be used interchangeably.
- When diluting full-strength (37 percent) formaldehyde solution, you should assume it to be 100 percent. A fixative-strength (10 percent) solution is therefore a 3.7 percent solution of formaldehyde gas in water.
Restricted vs. prohibited
- Prohibited chemicals aren’t allowed in Colorado schools.
- If you find chemicals in your inventory that are on the prohibited list, first make sure there are no signs they're degraded (i.e., discolored, coagulated, congealed, crystallized).
- Prohibited chemicals that aren’t degraded should be clearly labeled “not for use,” and you should make plans for their safe disposal.
- Prohibited chemicals with signs of degradation should be handled and disposed of by professionals. Ensure the storage area is secure and contact a disposal company.
- Restricted chemicals are chemicals that are for demonstration purposes only or should be purchased only in amounts that can reasonably be used in one year or less.
- You must address all restricted chemicals in a chemical hygiene plan.
- Kilns must be ventilated.
- You must actively remove the heat kilns produce from the building through a canopy hood or direct ductwork.
- Your kiln’s manufacturer may have recommendations for appropriate hood type and size.
Emergency shutoff switches
- You must put emergency gas shutoff switches in any classroom that uses open flames/Bunsen burners supplied with gas.
- You must put emergency power shutoffs in classrooms with power equipment.
- Both types of emergency shutoffs must be readily accessible and clearly labeled.