The improper use and storage of chemicals in schools can lead to irritant symptoms related to indoor air quality, particularly in buildings with poor exhaust ventilation. The safety of students, faculty and school staff as well as emergency responders can all be adversely affected by the improper use and storage of chemicals. Due to the inherent danger from chemicals used in science curriculum and the variety of materials used by custodial staff, appropriate measures for proper use and storage of these materials are needed to prevent/reduce exposure. The municipal fire department in each municipality in Massachusetts has the exclusive authority to regulate the storage of flammable materials (527 CMR 14.00). The fire safety office of your municipal fire department should be consulted for assistance in compliance with these regulations.

The following guidelines are intended to serve as recommendations for the proper use and storage of these hazardous materials.

Chemical Identification

Container Labeling

Each container must be labeled with the chemical name of the material stored within (not chemical formula solely). Chemical names must be consistent with M.G.L. c. 111F (Hazardous Substances Disclosure By Employers, also known as the Massachusetts Right-To-Know Law) in order to facilitate the identification of the chemical(s) in case of a spill.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

An appropriate MSDS for custodial supplies and chemicals used in science, art, photography and other programs should be obtained from the chemical supplier/manufacturer and kept in an area that is accessible to all individuals during periods of building operations in conformance with M.G.L. c. 111F. If no MSDS is available for a product because 1) the manufacturer no longer exists; 2) the manufacturer cannot be identified from the label or 3) the chemical was obtained prior to the promulgation of M.G.L. c. 111F, that material should be considered hazardous waste and disposed of in a manner consistent with Massachusetts hazardous waste regulations.

Proper Chemical Storage and Handling

Storage Cabinets

Flammable materials
All cabinets for storage of flammable materials must be in compliance with Massachusetts statutes, regulations and local ordinances promulgated pursuant to M.G.L. c. 148, § 13. In addition, all flameproof cabinets must meet the design and installation criteria set forth in the National Fire Prevention Association's (NFPA) latest version of NFPA 30: Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code.

Acids must be stored in a cabinet that is constructed from corrosion-resistant materials. Each acid cabinet should be vented to reduce acid vapor build up.

Chemical Storeroom Ventilation

Rooms that are designated for use as chemical storage areas must have a functioning exhaust ventilation system that operates continuously to remove fugitive chemical vapors. The local exhaust system should be ducted to the outdoors independent of the general ventilation system. Each room must also have an appropriate source of transfer (or make-up) air allowing for exhaust vents to operate efficiently. Such chemical storage ventilation systems must be in conformance with the applicable fire and building codes. Chemical storeroom exhaust vents must be inspected annually by appropriately trained individuals to ensure proper function.


If chemicals are stored on shelving:

  1. Shelving must be constructed of appropriate materials that will resist corrosion resulting from leaking materials stored on or around the shelves. For example, chemicals that are oxidizers should not be stored on wood and acids should not be stored on or near steel.
  2. The shelving must be able to support the weight of stored materials.
  3. Guardrails should be installed along the edge of shelving to prevent accidental slippage.

Chemical Hoods

Chemical hoods used in science programs as part of experiment preparation must be maintained in an appropriate manner in accordance with manufacturers' recommendations. Chemical hoods must be recalibrated annually by appropriately trained individuals to ensure proper function. Documentation of annual recalibration should be assessable to all building occupants. If an area is designed so the chemical hood is the sole exhaust vent for an area, the chemical hood must operate continuously during occupied hours. Chemical hoods should not be used to store unattended chemicals.

Prohibited Activities

The following chemical storage/handling practices should be prohibited to provide for the health and safety of school occupants.

  • No shock sensitive material should be present in the school and should only be removed after consultation with the local fire safety office.
  • No flammable materials should be stored outside flameproof cabinets.
  • No non-flammable materials should be stored inside flameproof cabinets.
  • Chemically incompatible materials must be separated and stored in an appropriate manner according to the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • No flameproof cabinet should be vented in a manner to allow for backflow of air into the cabinet.
  • No cabinet should share venting with the chemical hood.
  • Acids should not be stored in cabinets made of or shelves supported by materials made of steel.
  • Carpeting should not be used as floor covering in laboratories.
  • Schools should not store more flammables or other liquid chemicals than are necessary to meet curriculum needs, and in no event more than a two year supply.
  • No water reactive materials should be stored within 10 feet of a water source.
  • Chemicals must not be stored in recycled food storage containers.

Chemical Spill Response Plan

Schools should have a chemical inventory and emergency response plan to ensure the safety of building occupants and emergency responders. The elements of an emergency response plan should include the following topics:

  1. Procedures for evacuation of the building in the case of a spill that may to result in exposure to building occupants.
  2. Contact number (911) for emergency response to a chemical spill.
  3. Emergency procedures to contain the material in the location of the spill.
    1. Closing of doors
    2. Deactivation of the ventilation system
    3. Routing of evacuation away from the spill location
  4. Contact information for remediation services
  5. Procedures for proper disposal of hazardous material in compliance with Massachusetts hazardous waste disposal laws.


If you have any questions concerning these guidelines, please contact:

Massachusetts Department of Public Health
Center for Environmental Health
Emergency Response/Indoor Air Quality Program
250 Washington Street, 7 th Floor
Boston, MA 02108

Phone: (617) 624-5757, Fax: (617) 624-5777

This information is provided by the Indoor Air Quality Program within the Department of Public Health.