When planning your lab’s chemical storage, you might think it’s a good idea to have sturdy, sealed cabinets. But the reality of chemical storage is that it is more complicated than you might think!
While some chemicals benefit from storage with limited airflow, other chemicals do best in ventilated cabinets.
Why Choose Ventilated Storage Cabinets?
The main purpose of ventilated cabinets is to keep chemical fumes from building up. Toxic fumes, airborne dust, and other atmospheric hazards can accumulate in non-ventilated cabinets.
Depending on your lab’s needs and the types of chemicals you are using, simple ventilation created by air slots in your cabinetry and lab casework might be sufficient to prevent this buildup. Other options include ductwork that vents fumes outside or mechanical fans that pull the fumes away.
Ventilation in your cabinets can also help mitigate other safety concerns. If your chemical storage is a walk-in, all of the cabinets should be ventilated and exhaust fans should be installed to keep the walk-in storage safe.
Labs with poor airflow, like labs in basement levels or labs in old buildings with poor ventilation, should also strongly consider ventilated cabinets.
Ventilated metal cabinets can also help with issues caused by heat or direct sunlight. These environmental factors can increase the rate of vapor buildup and may cause unsafe levels before these levels would accumulate at cooler temperatures.
Finally, the specific hazards that different types of chemicals pose should inform how– or if– their storage space should be ventilated.
General Chemical Storage
Generally speaking, you don’t need ventilation in your general chemical storage cabinets. Usually, good airflow is enough to disperse any vapor buildup.
However, if your lab space has poor ventilation, to begin with, you may want to use a slotted cabinet to allow more airflow into your chemical storage space. Proper room ventilation with adequate air exchanges will eliminate most unsafe chemical vapors.
However, you may not have the choice to not ventilate based on state or local regulations. Some jurisdictions require cabinet ventilation for general chemical storage, hazardous chemical storage, or combined chemical storage.
Another important consideration is the specific laboratory safety environment that exists in your lab. For example, labs with a high biosecurity level may have specialized storage requirements for specimens and chemical reagents.
No two lab settings are identical and your lab safety requirements will vary based on your lab’s purpose. However, some key guiding principles for general chemical storage and specific hazardous chemical storage protocols will help you choose whether or not you should use ventilated cabinets.
There are two competing schools of thought on keeping your flammable chemicals in a ventilated metal storage cabinet. The first is that flammable chemicals should not be stored in ventilated cabinets.
If a fire were to break out in your lab space, vented cabinets would likely do an inadequate job protecting their contents from flames. The additional destruction from the combustion of flammable chemicals could make the emergency much more dangerous and make the fire more difficult to extinguish.
However, there may be advantages to ventilating these storage cabinets. In case of a bad fire, a non-ventilated cabinet might not be sufficient to provide heat protection anyways, and some consider the risk of a non-ventilated cabinet to be greater than the risk of fire.
Instead, advanced ventilation is preferable for flammable chemical storage.
This means that instead of simple air slots, piping and exhaust fans should be used to disperse flammable vapors.
In this case, solid steel piping is recommended for the ductwork, as it has the best chance of withstanding the high temperatures of a chemical fire. The ventilation system should have an exhaust fan constructed of non-sparking blades to disperse the flammable vapors or gasses.
A final consideration is that the ductwork should take the fumes outside, far away from places where people congregate or where there may be ignition sources. It’s also important to remember that these vapors are heavier than air, so they will accumulate at floor level, and the extraction system needs to be capable of drawing those fumes away, too.
Depending on where your lab is located, your municipality or parent university, or corporation may have unique regulations about fire safety. Before purchasing any new laboratory casework, be sure to consult the local fire department and check all regulations about fire safety.
Toxic chemical storage requires excellent ventilation to prevent the chemicals from creating a serious safety problem. As with flammable chemicals, the ventilation system needs to vent the fumes to the external environment away from where people congregate.
It also needs external controls so that the fumes or vapors can be dispersed without having to enter the room where toxic buildup may occur. The circular or air slot vents that are installed in some cabinetry are not sufficient for the venting of toxic material and should be sealed so that toxic vapors don’t accumulate outside of the cabinet where somebody may encounter them.
Corrosive chemical storage poses a unique challenge because the vapors these chemicals produce can actively damage your storage cabinets, whether ventilated or not. Your first consideration for corrosive chemical storage should be materials-based.
Choosing a material like stainless steel, which resists chemical corrosion, will make storing these hazardous chemicals easier.
In addition to choosing corrosion-resistant cabinet materials, the ventilation system needs to resist corrosion as well. Corrosive chemical ventilation systems need to have exhaust fans and ductwork to draw and disperse corrosive vapors, and these require corrosion-resistant materials to properly contain and transport corrosive vapors and fumes without quickly corroding themselves.
Finally, you should never store corrosive materials with other types of chemicals. In case of a disaster, the combination of corrosive chemicals with flammable or toxic chemicals will make the situation much worse.
Corrosive chemicals need their own ventilated cabinet constructed with the proper corrosion-resistant materials.
Ventilation Safety At A Glance
If you’re planning new lab construction or renovation, knowing your ideal chemical storage solution can take some work. Each type of chemical has its potential hazards and ventilation needs, and a system that works well for one type of chemical might be extremely dangerous for another.
|Chemical Storage||Ventilation||Type of Ventilation||Notes|
|General||Not always necessary||Air slots||Good room airflow helps disperse vapors|
|Flammable||Sometimes||Technical exhaust system- air slots must be sealed||Check local fire regulations regarding chemical storage|
|Toxic||Always||Technical exhaust system with extractor fans||Ensure that fumes are dispersed far away from people|
|Corrosive||Always||Technical exhaust system with extractor fans||Use corrosive-resistant materials; corrosive chemicals need their own designated storage cabinet|
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