Hazardous Materials: When Good Things Turn Bad

Look at what’s on your storage shelves

We are a society accustomed to the benefits of chemistry and innovations in delivery of substances.  As a result,  we’ve got hundreds of formulations in spray bottles, aerosol cans, fuel containers, and combined in pastes, waxes, gels and fluids, and bagged as granules, flakes and pellets.  We have become so used to all these materials that we tend to take most of them for granted and either forget, or have never realized, that some of them can be extremely hazardous in the wrong situation.

You’ve probably got a good collection of liquids and “semi-solids” on your shelves.  Alcohol, alcohol-based liniments and rubs, hoof tars, tack cleaning supplies, veterinary compounds, and “stop-chew” products can be found in any barn.  Now is the time to take a look at the conglomeration of containers on your tack room shelves, in the maintenance area, in the washrack, in the medicine cabinet, and in any other locations in your barn where you keep compounds and solutions (including medicines) that could be hazardous if mishandled.

Pick up every container and read each label.  Here’s what to look for:

  • Are you storing these products as the manufacturer instructs?
  • Have expiration dates been exceeded?
  • Even if there is no expiration date marked on the container or its label, has the solution separated into layers?
  • Has a gel dried out or become crumbly?
  • When was the last time you used a particular item?  If you can’t remember, do you really still need it?
  • Does the container have more than an eighth-inch of dust on it?

Do you have a pile of rags or towels sitting on a shelf?  Are they clean, or were they just allowed to air-dry and then put back on the pile?  If they aren’t clean, do you recall what substance was on them?  If you don’t know, throw those rags or towels out immediately.  Whatever is on them might have changed from an innocuous substance when it was first applied into a chemical that may have changed or degraded with time so that now it may be dangerous.

What's on your storage shelves

Once you’ve cleaned your shelves, you should have no compressed gases in your barn except consumer products in aerosol cans, such as grooming sprays or insect repellants.  Definitely, without question, do not store propane tanks for your grill or cylinders of welding gases in your barn.

One other item you should not store in your barn is fertilizer containing ammonium nitrate.  Fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate, according to the State of Ohio Division of Mines, is a powerful oxidizing agent, which means it can support combustion.  Compared to dynamite, ammonium nitrate is less sensitive, but in a fire, or when fire gases are confined, it is explosive.

Security precautions should be used because the chemicals in your barn may not be hazardous in themselves, but in combination with other chemicals, or not handled properly, they can produce deadly results. This can happen if someone attempts to steal certain materials from your barn (see the Michigan Live article in the Security Section), so please do keep medications and other potential theft-prone items locked up.