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Chemical Storage and Inventory

Properly store, label, and keep track of chemicals at UC San Diego.

Be Ready for the Inspector!

UC San Diego departments are responsible for safely and securely managing chemical supplies and complying with fire code allowances in facilities under their purview. The procedures below meet the California Fire Code (CFC) requirements and the Community Right-to-Know Act.

Important – Read about how the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) affects chemical use at UC San Diego.

Segregate incompatible chemicals

See Chemical Compatibility Guidelines for detailed information.

  • Separate and store chemicals according to compatibility group, not alphabetically.
  • Store each compatible group in separate cabinets, or separate them from other chemical groups with tubs (e.g., polypropylene "Nalgene") or secondary containers.
  • Label storage cabinets and tubs by compatibility group.
    • For example, label a tub containing hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, and phosphoric acid "Mineral (Inorganic) Acids."

Basic chemical storage

  • Keep containers capped and closed when not in use, per County of San Diego regulations.
  • Place hazardous materials on lower shelves. Do not store them overhead.
  • Use seismic restraints to prevent containers from "walking off" open shelves during earthquakes.
  • Protect drains from chemical spills. Do not use sinks for chemical storage or secondary containment.
  • Chemical containers need to be free of corrosion/degradation, not physically compromised, and free of visible contamination.

Select appropriate containers

When transferring a chemical from the original container:

  • Choose a sturdy, sealable storage container made of material compatible with the chemical it will hold.
  • Contact the EH&S Chemical Hygiene Officer if you have questions about chemical and container compatibility.
  • Label containers - see labeling instructions below.

Label chemical containers

Chemical container labels are required by law to contain specific information. High hazard materials require extra information.

  • Accurately label chemicals transferred from their original containers with the following required information, written legibly:
    • Chemical name or abbreviation
    • Concentration
    • Hazard warning
  • Include this additional information required for chemicals that degrade over time, peroxide formers, and air and water reactives:
    • Date received
    • Date opened
    • Date tested
  • Label storage cabinets and tubs by compatibility group.
    • For example, label a tub containing hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, and phosphoric acid "Mineral (Inorganic) Acids."
  • Post a chemical abbreviation sheet in the lab when abbreviations are used on labels.
    • Print out this list (PDF) (Word) of common substances and abbreviations. Extend the list as necessary with your laboratory-specific abbreviations.
  • Label refrigerators used for chemical storage with a "No Food Storage" sticker. Label refrigerators that are not approved flammable storage units with a "No Flammable Storage" sticker.

Chemical inventories

Make the most of your investment and prevent chemical degradation over time by accurately tracking what you buy, use, and store.

Include the following in your inventory records:

  • Chemical Name 
  • Chemical Abstract Number (CAS#) 
  • Building/ room number – Sublocation within the room  
  • Container size/ Unit of Measure (UOM) 
  • Number of Containers 
  • Physical State

Chemicals that degrade over time require additional record-keeping. These include peroxide formers, air and water reactives, and other time-sensitive materials.

  • Carefully track the date received, opened, and tested.
  • Read Organic Peroxide Formers for information on identifying, testing, and managing organic peroxide-forming chemicals.

Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) periodically verifies chemical inventories during regular safety audits.

My Research Safety

Principal investigators, authorized lab contacts, and Department Safety Officers (DSOs) may use the My Research Safety Web portal to view and export their current inventory records for chemicals, radioisotopes, and controlled substances.

Related links:

Keep inventories lean

Minimize inventory tasks, maintenance, and the risks associated with chemical supplies by restricting the amount of material you order and store:

  • Avoid duplicative inventory orders.
  • Order the minimum quantity of chemicals required for the near future. Do not stockpile chemicals.
    • A 6-month throughput of material is a good ordering target.
  • Conserve resource funds. Use Chemcycle chemical recycling program:
    • Check the Chemcycle inventory of over 6,000 chemicals before you order from suppliers. Follow instructions on the Chemcycle Web page to search for and request free chemicals.
    • Donate usable surplus chemicals to Chemcycle:
      1. Use the Online Waste Tag Program (OTP) to have EH&S hazardous waste technicians collect your usable chemicals.
      2. On the OTP's "Create Tag" screen, for "Indicate type of content" select Chemcycle.
      3. Complete and print a tag for the chemical. Request pickup for the container.
      4. Tag and place the container in your hazardous waste collection area.
      5. EH&S technicians will pick up the container on the next scheduled hazardous waste collection for your building.
  • Reduce your stored chemical supplies to keep your facility fire code compliant. Overstock and bulk orders negatively effect the entire facility by:
    • Violating fire codes if the maximum allowable quantity of hazardous materials is exceeded for your facility
    • Limiting storage space for colleagues sharing the facility
    • Increasing safety hazards and risks
  • Promptly dispose of unwanted chemicals through the EH&S Hazardous Waste Program at no charge to the researcher.

Fire code limits — Maximum Allowable Quantities (MAQs)*

Among the challenges facing UC San Diego is ensuring unhindered research while managing chemical inventories within allowable California fire code (CFC) limits. Fire code limits differ by building, building floor, or a defined storage area in some cases, and are subject to many variables.

The variables described below—building occupancy, control areas, maximum allowable quantity, and mitigating circumstances—determine chemical allowances for each building:

Building occupancy

Occupancy is the purpose for which a building or a part of the building is used or intended to be used. Most UC San Diego research and shop facilities are classified as Group B occupancy.

  • Group B occupancy – Group B occupancies include buildings, structures, or portions thereof for office, professional, or service-type transactions that are not classified as Group H occupancy.
  • Group H occupancy – Group H occupancies include buildings, structures, or portions thereof that involve manufacturing, processing, generation, or storage of materials that constitute a high fire, explosion, or health hazard. UC San Diego has a few buildings and portions of buildings designated Group H occupancy.

Control areas

Control area is a building or portion of a building where a maximum allowable quantity of hazardous materials can be stored, used, or handled.

Group B occupancy buildings have a specific number of control areas. Most Group B occupancy research buildings at UC San Diego have 4 control areas, but there are some exceptions for newer buildings.

Chemical inventory limitations are addressed by control area, not by specific room location. The maximum allowable quantity of hazardous materials will be considered as part of the control area where the materials are located, type of building occupancy, and other mitigating circumstances.

Maximum allowable quantity (MAQ)

Maximum allowable quantity (MAQ) is the amount of hazardous material that can be stored or used within a control area inside a building or an outdoor control area.

The maximum allowable quantity per control area is based on the material state (solid, liquid, or gas), the material storage or condition of use, and possible mitigating circumstances.

Prevention, control, and mitigation of dangerous conditions is the goal of limiting the hazardous material allowance in a control area.

Sample maximum allowable quantities (for demonstration purposes only) are:

  • Flammable gas (storage or closed system) – 1000 cubic feet
  • Flammable liquids (storage) – 120 gallons
  • Oxidizer gas (storage or closed system) – 1500 cubic feet
  • Explosives (storage) – 1 pound
  • Pyrophoric gas (storage or closed system) – 50 cubic feet, but not permitted in unsprinklered buildings

MAQ Compliance 

MAQs are set by the Fire Code to keep building occupants and first responders safe. EH&S tracks, monitors, and assists in facilitating MAQ compliance on Campus. 

Mitigating circumstances

Mitigating circumstances are fire-suppression systems and special storage cabinets that significantly reduce hazards and may affect the maximum allowable quantity assigned to a control area.

Examples of how mitigating circumstances may affect maximum allowable quantity:

  • Fully sprinklered buildings – Allowed quantities may be increased 100 percent in a fully sprinklered building. There may be an allowed increase of select hazardous materials based on classification and based on allowable quantity for the type of construction.
  • Facilities that are not fully sprinklered – Base level maximum allowable quantities apply and are specifically addressed in the fire code. No increase is allowed. Some hazardous materials may not be used in an unsprinklered facility in any quantity (e.g., pyrophoric material – alkyllithiums, alkylzincs, alkylmagnesiums, diborane, arsine, phospine, etc.).
  • Special storage containment – When all materials of a specific classification are stored in an approved storage cabinet, gas cabinet, or exhausted enclosure, as determined by the fire code, allowable quantities may be increased 100 percent.
  • Storage without benefit of special containment – Base level maximum allowable quantities apply and are specifically addressed in the fire code. No increase is allowed.


Need assistance?

Regulated and high hazard materials

Particularly high hazard materials and substances regulated by law are subject to special storage requirements. See special requirements for the materials below:

Questions? Contact the EH&S Chemical Hygiene Officer.

Flammables | Pyrophorics

  • Pyrophoric materials may only be stored and used in completely fire sprinkled buildings, per California Fire Code.
  • Maintain Class D fire extinguishers for work with flammable metals. These types of materials react violently with water!
    • Flammable metals such as lithium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, etc.
    • Flammable metal compounds such as butyllithium, diethylzinc, lithium aluminum hydride, etc.
  • Never store flammable liquids in a standard or domestic refrigerator or freezer. They have numerous ignition sources that could ignite vapors.
  • Flammable liquids that must be chilled or frozen require special flammable storage refrigerators or freezers to minimize fire and explosion risk.

Environmental rooms

Never use environmental rooms (also called cold/warm rooms) for storage of flammable or other hazardous materials.

  • Many ignition sources exist in environmental rooms and little or no air circulates from outside.
  • Small quantities of flammable or hazardous materials (500 ml) may be used in these spaces.

Hazardous waste

Annual hazardous materials inventory

EH&S performs a pre-scheduled annual inventory of every facility where hazardous chemicals are used or stored as part of the Hazardous Materials Business Plan (HMBP) required by the County of San Diego.

Inventory criteria

Hazardous materials are inventoried for the HMBP if the substance is used, handled, or stored in quantities greater or equal to the following:

  • Any amount of a chemical/ compound/ agent with a hazard characteristic of:
    • Pyrophoric
    • Water reactive
    • Potentially explosive
    • Acutely toxic
    • Peroxide forming
    • Strong corrosive
    • Strong oxidizing
    • Strong reducing
  • Listed extremely hazardous materials (40 CFR Part 355, appendix A), including poisons, oxidizers, teratogens, etc.
  • Any compressed gas
  • 250 grams of solid substance
  • 100 milliliters of liquid substance

Non-manufacturer containers, buffers, or small quantities of low-hazard chemicals are not tracked for HMBP reporting.

What to expect:

  • EH&S HMBP technicians perform scheduled annual chemical inventories that include:
    • Visual confirmation of inventory
    • Consultation with the lab or shop contact to determine if major inventory changes have occurred
    • Checking for a 2-fold increase or decrease in any hazard class
  • During inventory, EH&S technicians can assist with donation of surplus or legacy chemicals to ChemCycle.
  • When completed, EH&S asks that you review the updated records of your chemical inventory on My Research Safety.  
  • When EH&S technicians find chemical inventories unsafe or not in compliance with fire codes, EH&S notifies:

About the Hazardous Materials Business Plan

All reporting of “Hazardous Materials Business Plan” information to regulatory agencies and the California Environmental Reporting System (CERS) is facilitated through Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S).

UC San Diego's Hazardous Materials Business Plan facilitates chemical safety by:

  • Providing valuable information for local fire and hazmat departments responding to emergencies on campus
  • Helping us achieve chemical inventories within allowable fire code limits (see the Fire code compliance section above)
  • Encouraging discovery and proper disposal of degraded or unwanted chemicals

Policies and regulations

Note: All reporting of “Hazardous Materials Business Plan” information to regulatory agencies and California Environmental Reporting System (CERS) is facilitated through Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S).

Questions? Contact the EH&S Chemical Hygiene Officer.
Notice: Disposal of hazardous waste using sinks, intentional evaporation, or as regular trash is against the law. Campus laboratories must abide by strict state and federal waste disposal requirements. You may be held liable for violations of applicable laws.