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7.8.1 Non-Original Containers

Non-original containers (secondary use containers) such as wash bottles, squirt bottles, temporary storage containers, beakers, flasks, bottles, vials, etc. or any container that a chemical from an original container is transferred into, must be properly labeled. In general, EHS recommends writing out the full chemical name and any hazards associated with that chemical. Laboratory personnel are strongly encouraged to use commercially available pre-labeled containers (such as squirt bottles) for chemicals that get used frequently. However, labs can also choose to label chemical containers in other ways such as:

1. Abbreviations - Structures and Formulas

Use of abbreviations such as structures, formulas, or acronyms is acceptable. However, if you use any abbreviations, you must hang up a “key” to the abbreviations in a visible location (preferably close to the chemicals and/or by the door). The “key” must contain the abbreviation and the name of the chemical. Including the hazards of the chemical on the “key” is also useful information. A sample fill-in the blank key can be found on the EHS Signs and Labels webpage. The abbreviation key must be readily available upon request by visitors, emergency responders, and state and federal regulatory agencies such as EPA, OSHA, or New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control (OFPC) inspectors.

2. Small Containers and Sample Storage:

For small containers, such as vials and eppendorf tubes, which may be too small to write out a chemical name, structure, or formula, laboratories can implement other systems to identify the chemicals such as:

  • Placing the vial or small container in a Ziploc bag or other type of overpack container (beaker, plastic bottle, etc.) and labeling the overpack container with the chemical name.
  • Laboratories can use “price tag” style labels in which the chemical name is written out on a tag, and the tag is then attached to the small container with string or a rubber band.
  • For vials in a test tube rack – laboratory personnel can simply label the rack with the chemical name, and then label the vials with an abbreviation, color, number, or letter code that corresponds to the label on the test tube rack. For example, if a lab had 10 small vials of ethanol in one rack, the rack could be labeled a 1-E = Ethanol. All of the vials would then be labeled as 1-E. Be sure that the number or letter code is clearly identifiable and would not be confused with other chemicals in the lab. 
  • For preserved specimens, bottles should be labeled with the preservative (i.e. ethanol or formaldehyde). A large number of these labels could easily be produced on the computer using Avery style mailing labels. 
  • For sample storage in refrigerators, laboratory personnel should label sample containers with one of the above methods, including labeling boxes that hold the small vials or chemical containers. Laboratories should include a key to any abbreviations on the outside of the refrigerator and label the key as “Sample Storage abbreviation = chemical name”.

3. Number, Letter, and Color Codes:

For vials and other small containers, laboratory personnel can make use of number, letter, and color-coded systems as long as a “key” is hung up which clearly identifies the chemical name that the number, letter, or color code represents. While this type of system is available for laboratory personnel to use, EHS does not recommend using such a system for hazardous chemicals. Such a system would be more appropriate for non-hazardous compounds such as agar and buffer solutions.

Please keep in mind that some laboratory workers may be color-blind - red-green and blue-yellow. This fact needs to be taken into consideration, BEFORE a color-coding system is used.