Safe Chemical Storage Containers: Expert Selection Guide


stacked storage containers of chemicals

For most professionals, storage conjures images of neatly organized shelves and efficient inventory management. But when it comes to chemical storage, the stakes are significantly higher, involving critical safety considerations and the potential for severe consequences if mishandled. Consider the explosion that created massive casualties at a Beirut warehouse in 2020, due to improperly stored flammable liquids. Or the toxic fumes that sent emergency responders scrambling after a corroded container leaked its acidic payload. These incidents serve as stark reminders of the vital importance of proper storing and selection of chemical storage containers.

In this article, we will provide a detailed understanding of regulatory compliance requirements, delve into the diverse range of storage container options, and empower you to match each chemical hazard with its ideal storage partner.


Understanding Chemical Storage Regulations

Chemical storage is governed by a complex web of regulations, primarily overseen by organizations such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). These regulations are designed to mitigate risks associated with chemical storage, ensuring both environmental protection and workplace safety. Here's a brief outline of key regulatory considerations:

OSHA Requirements

  • Hazard Communication Standard (HCS): Mandates that chemical hazards are communicated to workers. Includes requirements for labeling, safety data sheets (SDS), and employee training.
  • Process Safety Management (PSM): Applicable to industries handling large quantities of hazardous chemicals, focusing on preventing accidental releases.
  • Storage Guidelines: Specific rules for storing certain chemicals, including flammables, corrosives, and reactive substances, encompassing aspects like container material, storage conditions, and segregation.


EPA Regulations

  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA): Governs the storage of hazardous waste, with stringent guidelines on container types, inspection protocols, and record-keeping.
  • Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA): Requires facilities to report on the storage, use, and release of hazardous substances to improve community safety and emergency planning.


NFPA Codes

  • NFPA 30: Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code: Provides guidelines for safe storage, handling, and use of flammable and combustible liquids.
  • NFPA 400: Hazardous Materials Code: Covers general requirements for managing hazardous materials in terms of storage, use, and handling.

These regulations stress the principle of container compatibility, which refers to the requirement that storage containers must be chemically compatible with the chemicals they hold. For instance, certain plastics may degrade when in contact with specific solvents, while metals might react with acidic or basic substances.


Different Materials Used for Industrial Storage Containers

Understanding the variety of materials used in industrial storage containers is crucial for making informed choices. Each material offers distinct advantages and limitations based on the chemical properties and storage conditions.

High-density Polyethylene (HDPE): The workhorse of the chemical container world. HDPE is resistant to a wide range of chemicals, making it suitable for everything from acids and bases to solvents and paints. It's also relatively lightweight and affordable, so it's a popular choice for smaller containers like drums and carboys.

  • A versatile plastic, resistant to many acids, bases, and solvents.
  • Lighter than metal containers, making them easier to handle.
  • Suitable for both indoor and outdoor storage, with good UV resistance.

Stainless Steel: For the tough stuff, stainless steel reigns supreme. It's highly resistant to corrosion and temperature extremes, making it ideal for storing strong acids, alkalis, and even some hazardous materials. However, it's more expensive than HDPE and can be susceptible to stress cracking with certain chemicals.

  • Ideal for a wide range of chemicals due to its corrosion resistance.
  • Commonly used for flammable liquids, solvents, and certain acids and bases.
  • Offers durability and longevity but can be expensive.

Carbon Steel: A more economical alternative to stainless steel, carbon steel offers good corrosion resistance for many common chemicals. However, it's not as durable and can rust if not properly maintained. It's often used for large storage tanks and IBC totes.

  • Commonly used for petroleum products and certain chemicals.
  • More cost-effective than stainless steel but less corrosion-resistant.
  • Often used in larger storage tanks.

Fiberglass: Fiberglass tanks are another option for large-volume storage. They're lightweight, corrosion-resistant, and relatively affordable, but they can be brittle and susceptible to damage from UV rays.

  • Excellent for storing corrosive substances.
  • FRP containers are robust, corrosion-resistant, and have a long service life.
  • They are, however, more costly than some other plastic options.


Different Types of Chemical Storage Containers

The industrial landscape offers a diverse array of storage containers, each designed to meet specific needs and hazards. The primary types include:

1. Drums

The classic cylindrical container, available in various sizes from 5 gallons to 55 gallons. Commonly used for a wide range of chemicals and handling hazardous materials, drums are versatile and come in various materials like steel, HDPE, and fiber. They are suitable for smaller quantities and are relatively easy to handle. They are used across chemical, pharmaceutical, and food industries for storing oils, chemicals, and food products. Strengthen storage containers’ security with reliable lockout drum locks.

Top Picks for Drum Storage Containers

2. Totes and Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs)

Intermediate bulk containers are essentially portable mini-tanks, typically holding around 275 gallons. These are larger than drums and are designed for transporting and storing bulk liquids including chemicals, solvents, and food-grade liquids. IBCs, in particular, are designed for efficient stacking and can be made of HDPE, stainless steel, or a reinforced composite. They are popular in manufacturing, agriculture, and food processing due to their larger capacity compared to drums, stackable design, and reusability. However, they are more expensive and require more storage space.

Top Picks for IBCs

3. Tanks

For truly large-scale storage, fixed or mobile tanks are the go-to chemical strage option. These can range in size from thousands to millions of gallons and are used for everything from storing large quantities of chemicals, water, petroleum products, and gases. Available in materials like stainless steel, fiberglass, and polyethylene, tanks can be customized for specific needs and are often used for long-term storage but require significant space and higher initial investment.

Top Picks for Tank Storage Containers

4. Carboys

These are typically crafted from glass or plastics such as HDPE or polypropylene and are used in laboratory settings, research facilities, and pharmaceuticals for storing and transporting acids, solvents, and various laboratory chemicals. These storage containers are suitable for small volume storage and offer advantages like transparency (for glass carboys) and chemical resistance. However, glass carboys are fragile and their capacity is limited.

Top Picks for Carboy Storage Containers

5. Jerry Cans

These compact, portable containers usually made of HDPE, metal, or aluminum, are used for storing and transporting flammable liquids like gasoline or solvents. Their small size and secure closures make them convenient for transporting small quantities, but remember, their limited capacity and stability necessitate extra caution during handling.

Top Picks for Jerry Can Storage Containers

Each container type has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, drums are easy to move but may not be suitable for large quantities. Tanks offer substantial capacity but require more space and infrastructure. The choice of material also plays a critical role in compatibility, with factors like chemical reactivity, UV resistance, and temperature tolerance coming into play.


Matching Storage Containers to Specific Hazards

When selecting containers for chemical storage, understanding the nature of the chemical hazards is crucial. Here are some key considerations for different types of chemicals:

Flammable Liquids: For flammables like alcohols and hydrocarbons, containers should be fire-resistant and grounded to prevent static buildup. Safety cans and drums made of non-reactive metals are commonly used.

Corrosives: Acids and bases require containers that resist corrosion. Materials like high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and certain types of glass are suitable. Carboys, IBCs, or lined drums are often used for these substances.

Hazardous Materials: For highly reactive or toxic chemicals, specialized containers are necessary. These might include double-walled containers, pressurized tanks, or containers with specific liner materials to prevent reactions.


Optimizing Storage Efficiency and Safety

Maximizing storage space while ensuring chemical safety involves several strategies:

  • Ventilation: Proper ventilation is essential to prevent the buildup of hazardous fumes, especially when storing volatile chemicals. This might involve installing exhaust fans or ventilation systems in storage areas.
  • Secondary Containment: Secondary containment systems, such as spill pallets or containment berms, are necessary to prevent spills or leaks from contaminating the environment and posing chemical safety risks.
  • Spill Prevention: Regular inspections, spill kits, and staff training are crucial components of spill prevention. Also, consider the use of containers with spill-prevention features, such as self-closing lids or overflow prevention valves.
  • Container Movement and Handling: Implementing best practices for moving and handling containers can significantly reduce the risk of accidents. This includes using appropriate lifting equipment, securing containers during transport, and training staff in safe handling procedures.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Storage Containers

How do I determine the best material for a chemical storage container?

The choice of material depends on the chemical's properties, including reactivity, corrosion potential, and solvent action. Refer to chemical compatibility charts provided by regulatory bodies or container manufacturers, and consider factors like the chemical's pH, temperature sensitivity, and potential interactions with container materials.

What is the most important feature for a chemical storage area?

The most crucial feature is ensuring safety through proper ventilation, chemical compatibility, robust spill containment, fire safety measures, and secure access control.

What are the regulations for labeling chemical storage containers?

According to OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard, containers must be labeled with the chemical name, hazard warnings, and the manufacturer's information. Labels should also include GHS pictograms for quick hazard identification.

What types of signs are posted in chemical storage areas?

Chemical storage areas typically have hazard warning signs, GHS pictograms, NFPA 704 diamonds, emergency information signs, area identification signs, and safety requirement notices like no smoking and PPE usage.

How often should chemical storage containers be inspected?

Inspection frequency varies depending on the regulations applicable to your industry and the types of chemicals stored. Generally, regular inspections are required to check for leaks, corrosion, or other signs of container failure.

Can I store different chemicals in the same container?

Mixing chemicals in the same container is generally not recommended unless you are certain of their compatibility. Incorrect mixing can lead to dangerous reactions. Always consult material safety data sheets (MSDS) or a chemical compatibility guide before storing different chemicals together.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


Shop Tradesafe Products

Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.