Breaking Bad fans tend to remember Jesse Pinkman’s infamous misstep in “storing” hydrofluoric acid in a bathtub, instead of a plastic container. Chemical storage, as demonstrated by Pinkman, is of high importance.
Large-scale facilities, such as the fictional one Heisenberg and Pinkman steal a barrel of methylamine from, are structured specifically for handling and storing hazardous materials.
And while security may be a consideration for chemical distributors or manufacturers, their biggest considerations for choosing a storage facility focus on safety, regulations, and experience.
The basics of chemical storage
Storage warehouses for chemicals, or even university labs, follow the same underlying rules for storing hazardous materials. Chemical storage begins with keeping families together — chemical families, that is.
Chemicals are stored with similar chemicals, ones within their chemical family or hazard classification. Flammables, corrosive acids, and cryogens are examples of hazard classifications.
Containers for large quantities of chemicals are either metal or polyethylene, a plastic. Tanks, cases, and drums are some of the most common containers for chemicals. Smaller amounts of chemicals, such as what a college lab may store, require more specific containers.
The rules of chemical storage
Chemicals have a variety of rules and regulations when it comes to their storage, or even transportation. And safety is at the forefront of this regulation, which results in chemical storage facilities that operate efficiently, but also safely.
Four features, or sectors, encompass the ways in which storage chemical facilities structure their operations and what businesses look for when choosing a storage facility.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations
Failure to comply with OSHA regulations is expensive, especially since the organization now adjusts for inflation. OSHA regulations are extensive, but two particular mandates are perhaps the most important: labeling and Safety Data Sheets.
Two labels found on a container’s exterior detail everything a person could want to know about a container’s contents. One label is from the original manufacturer. The second includes the name and address of the manufacturer, as well as an emergency phone number for them. Hazardous information, like health risks or potential chemical reactions, are also listed.
And of course, what’s in the container is included on both labels. If either of these labels isn’t intact or legible, a fine is awaiting whoever oversees the container. Safety Data Sheets expand on labels, and are often a reference for warehouse employees.
Sixteen sections are included on Safety Data Sheets, which are used worldwide, and entail methods for storing chemicals, as well as the protective gear employees should wear when handling them. Importers, manufactures, or distributors are responsible for creating and supplying Safety Data Sheets. If they don’t, it’s another fine.
Hazardous materials compliance
Storage facilities or warehouses are directly responsible for ensuring they comply with rules and regulations for hazardous materials. Records are a big part of this, as OSHA commonly conducts random audits. Warehouses maintain records regarding when materials were received, how long they were stored, and when they left the facility.
Training records are also essential. Facilities, for example, are required to provide refresher training every three years to employees and must document the training and that the employee understood the seminar. Emergency response plans must also be in place at storage facilities, as well as programs for containing and/or controlling spilled chemicals.
Chemical storage facilities are designed specifically for chemicals. Like other warehouses, the facilities include automatic sprinkler systems and fire exits. Certain chemicals, such as those that are corrosive, require facilities with a concrete ceiling and concrete walls. Facilities may also install a mechanical ventilation system in case of a fire, to remove smoke and heat.
Standards applicable to any type of chemical storage facility include ample room between pallets or chemical stacks, which must be secure and interlocked with one another. Containers must also be more than three feet away from ceiling fixtures, such as sprinklers or lights.
Employees are invested in immensely by chemical storage facilities. Plant workers must be trained and certified per state, national, and international regulations. For example, employees need to know how to read and interpret Safety Data Sheets, as well as how to shut down a facility in response to a spill, fire, or other accident.
Workers are also responsible for maintaining an accurate and up-to-date inventory, which emergency responders immediately request to assess the damage and to estimate the amount and type of chemicals released in the warehouse.
While Breaking Bad characters Jesse Pinkman and Walter White chose their chemical storage facility based on its methylamine supply, chemical distributors and manufacturers focus on building or using chemical storage facilities that follow regulations and practices that promote safety.
And Breaking Bad fans know firsthand what happens to those who abandon safety protocols in regard to chemicals — a charred Superlab.
This article was written by Megan Ray Nichols. If you enjoyed this article, please visit her page Schooled by Science.