In the HazMat World, knowing the chemicals that you are dealing with can mean the difference between life and death. This may seem a little dramatic but it is very important to have some basic tools and knowledge to determine the hazards to First Responders. This video should help demonstrate some basic experiments, air monitors and free computer software that can be used to identify and reduce the cost of disposal. I will outline my basic testing methodology that I hope you will find useful in identifying a chemical spill or orphan drum.

Step One: Don at least a Level B chemical suit with hood and chemical boots/gloves taped at the seams.

Step Two: With a Combustible Gas Air Monitor, Ludlum Geiger Counter and pH Paper approach the spill.

Step Three: If no LEL or Radiation is detected, sample the liquid to determine if it is an acid or an alkali material.

Step Four: Use Watesmo paper to determine if it is a water based material or possibly oil based.

Step Five: Test with Oxidizer Strip Paper to determine if the product is an oxidizer or organic peroxide. Note: If there are indications of crystals on a container, care should be exercised in sampling due to the fact that some oxidizing compounds can be shock sensitive.

Step Six: Place a small amount of product in a test tube which is half full of water to test for solubility in water and the specific gravity. Less than 1.0, it will float if not soluble.

Step Seven: Place a small amount in another test tube and sample the head space using a 4 Gas Monitor and Photo-Ionizing Detector. Use toxic sensors for suspected materials such as ammonia, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide or hydrogen cyanide. The PID will only detect toxicity vapors of any volatile or semi-volitive compounds that are less than the lamp strength of the PID.

Step Eight: Compare your results to Safety Data Sheets from any suspected chemicals or add this information under the “unknown chemical” in a program called WISER. The number of chemicals in the database will be reduced as you add the chemical information and there is a section under “miscellaneous” for suspected Meth Lab Chemicals.

Step Nine: If you have identified the product, follow the Safety Data Sheet recommendations and contact Chemtrec as well as any appropriate State or Local Agencies for proper disposal of any hazardous materials.

I hope you find these tips useful for determining the hazards associated with any liquid hazardous material. And as always Stay Safe Out There!

Dean Blauser, MS, CHMM
Hazardous Material Specialist