Least-Toxic Chemistry Labs

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Building a Hazard-Free Classroom

Safe labs that don't pollute

High school chemistry experiments often use hazardous materials and generate hazardous waste. It is also not uncommon for some school labs to end up as holding areas for toxins like liquid mercury, and potential explosives like picric acid. This packet of experiments represents one step that teachers can take to create less hazardous waste, improve lab safety and help reduce students' exposure to hazardous chemicals. It includes some of the most popular labs taught in high school chemistry classes, revised to include improved microscale techniques and substitute least-toxic chemicals for hazardous ones. This collection of labs is a valuable tool for reducing your classroom’s impact on the environment.

The experiments were written and reviewed by high school chemistry teachers in King County, Washington. They are not intended to replace your entire curriculum. Use what you can; the adoption of even one lab will go a long way toward reducing the amount of hazardous waste generated in your classroom.

Free help for King County teachers

These labs were developed as part of a larger program called Rehab the Lab. Rehab the Lab is a progressive effort of the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County to eliminate the risks from hazardous waste in schools. This program offers teachers a vital and free service through December 2001. With your pledge to help reduce hazardous waste in your classroom and school, the County will identify chemicals that need disposal, pay 100 percent of the costs to have them safely hauled away, and help create a compatible chemical storage system in your lab. Use the e-mail address below to schedule a visit from one of our technical field representatives.

Safety Suggestions

These laboratory activities are intended for use by high school chemistry teachers who:

  • have appropriate university level chemistry coursework;
  • are endorsed to teach high school chemistry; and
  • have a good understanding of safety hazards and regularly update their knowledge of safety issues.

We recommend that before high school students perform these experiments, they:

  • have first been taught safe lab practices; and
  • have read and understand a safety contract which has been signed by them and by their parents.

Two copies of the safety contract should be issued to each student to be signed. One should be kept on file by the teacher, and one should be kept by the student in his/her science notebook. Most major publishers include appropriate safety contracts in their lab manuals, and chemical supply companies offer them as well.

Topical units for instruction (pdfs):

All 11 units collected in one document

Individual units

By providing these chemistry lab lessons, King County shall not be deemed to, or construed to have assessed all the risks that may be applicable to the school or school district using them. Responsibility for proper handling of chemicals and materials used in these laboratory lessons, and responsibility for proper disposal of waste generated in these lessons, lies with the school and school district.