Using Chemical Inventory Management to Maintain Awareness of Toxicity and Health Effects

Chemical Inventory Management
Chemical inventory software inform you of potential toxicity and health effects.
Image source: Flickr CC user PEO ACWA

We may be in the last days of summer, but the rampant wildfires that spread across much of the West Coast this past season will linger in our memories for years to come. In fact, experts are expecting things to get worse!

When we think of putting out fires, the first image that comes to mind is likely that of firefighters spraying water over a blaze. These days, however, first responders use more than water to deal with fire. If you use water to put out flames, is there anything that can be used to prevent fires from starting in the first place? That’s where flame retardants come in.

Flame retardants are compounds that inhibit fire, thereby minimizing the risk of it spreading. Not only are they used to deal with forest fires, they’re also used in the kitchen appliances and furniture in our homes. They’re actually comprised mostly of water, with only 10% coming from inorganic chemicals and another 5% going to coloring agents and stabilizers.1 The problem, however, arises from that small fraction of inorganic chemicals.

There’s been recent debate over whether or not flame retardants are safe for the environment. Previously, the compounds often contained sodium ferrocyanide to prevent corrosion, but concerns about toxicity eliminated its inclusion. That doesn’t mean all worries have been laid to rest, though. Many flame retardants contain ammonium phosphate. If materials coated with this compound combust, will they release harmful ammonium vapors into the atmosphere? And what about water run-off? If flame retardants contaminate our rivers and streams, what effect will they have? No one wants harmful chemicals in their well water.2

Chemical Inventory Management Can Allay Fears about Health Effects

While uncertainty surrounds the chemicals included in flame retardants, the same need not be said about the chemicals in your laboratory. That’s where having a chemical inventory system comes in.

Chemical inventory systems aren’t just for tracking the materials in your laboratory or complying with disclosure laws; they’re for keeping employees and the workplace safe. The key to this rests with safety data sheets.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with dusty chemical safety binders tucked away on a forgotten shelf. Most people have worked in at least one laboratory where this was common practice. However, with a digital chemical inventory management system, those unused, often out-of-date, safety binders are eliminated.

Instead, safety data sheets are digitized and linked to their corresponding chemical in the tracking system. Rather than flipping through a binder, users can access safety information in a centralized location.

  • At a glance, users can determine whether a chemical is hazardous and how it is safely stored.
  • In cases of exposure, users can look up toxicology and any important symptoms—both acute and delayed—as well as how they can be treated.
  • In cases of emergency, users can see which methods of fire extinguishment are appropriate.
  • In cases of an accident, users learn how to safely clean up a spill and what protective gear to wear while doing so.

In the case of flame retardants, the debate will likely continue to wage on. Alongside environmental effects, many health effects ranging from memory and learning problems to lower fertility3 have been implicated. People will no doubt work to find ways to minimize the toxicity and health effects in these important firefighting compounds.

In your laboratory, however, safety can be assured by keeping employees aware of the chemicals they work with. The nature of research requires that we sometimes must handle hazardous chemicals. But as long as we’re kept informed of the potential risks and trained to minimize them through protective gear and proper handling, we can do our best to prevent accidents. And in cases where those measures fail, we can at least quickly access information on how to appropriately handle the situation. Contact us today to learn more about BIOVIA CISPro, a chemical inventory management system that can help your laboratory keep its workers safe and informed as well as help your company track materials through their life cycle and comply with regulations.

  1. “Flame Retardants: Toxicity and Environmental Effects,” August 11, 2015, http://www.decodedscience.com/flame-retardants-toxicity-effects-environment/55397
  2. “Lawsuit filed after exposure to chemicals in toxic train derailment,” August 20, 2015, http://wwlp.com/2015/08/20/lawsuit-filed-after-exposure-to-chemicals-in-toxic-train-derailment/
  3. “Flame retardants in consumer products are linked to health and cognitive problems,” April 15, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/flame-retardants-in-consumer-products-are-linked-to-health-and-cognitive-problems/2013/04/15/f5c7b2aa-8b34-11e2-9838-d62f083ba93f_story.html

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