Hazardous chemicals, activities or devices

Includes DEA-controlled substances, prescription drugs, alcohol & tobacco, firearms and explosives, radiation, lasers, etc.

The following rules apply to research using hazardous chemicals, devices and activities. Substances and devices restricted for use by minors such as DEA-controlled substances, prescription drugs, alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives are not permitted. Hazardous activities are those that involve a level of risk above and beyond that encountered in the student’s everyday life are not permitted.

These rules are intended to protect the student researcher by ensuring proper supervision and the consideration of all potential risks so that the appropriate safety precautions are taken.

Rules for ALL Projects Involving Hazardous Chemicals, Activities and Devices

1) The use of hazardous chemicals and devices and involvement in hazardous activities require direct supervision by an adult supervisor, except those involving DEA-controlled substances, which are not permitted in Science (Fair) Outside the White House projects.

2) Student researchers must acquire and use regulated substances in accordance with all local, state, U.S. federal and country laws. For further information or classification for these laws and regulations, contact the appropriate regulatory agencies.

4) For all chemicals, devices or activities requiring a Federal and/or State Permit, the student/supervisor must obtain the permit prior to the onset of experimentation. A copy of the permit must be available for review.

5) The student researcher must minimize the impact of an experiment on the environment. Examples include using minimal quantities of chemicals that will require subsequent disposal; ensuring that all disposal is done in an environmentally safe manner and in accordance with good laboratory practices.


Additional Rules for Specific Regulated Substances

There are additional rules for the following regulated substances:

  • DEA-controlled Substances

  • Prescription Drugs

  • Alcohol & Tobacco

  • Firearms and Explosives

1. DEA-Controlled Substances

DEA-controlled substances are not permitted in Science (Fair) Outside the White House projects.

2. Prescription Drugs

Prescription drugs are not permitted in Science (Fair) Outside the White House projects.

3. Alcohol and Tobacco

The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regulates the production of alcohol and distribution of alcohol and tobacco products. Many such products are restricted by age for purchase, possession and consumption. 

   a. Fermentation studies in which minute quantities of ethyl alcohol are produced are permitted.
   b. Production of wine or beer is not permitted in Science (Fair) Outside the White House projects.
    c. Students are prohibited from conducting experiments where consumable ethyl alcohol is produced by distillation. Further, Science (Fair) Outside the White House does not allow distilled alcohol for fuel or other non-consumable products.

4. Firearms and Explosives

Firearms and Explosives are not permitted in Science (Fair) Outside the White House projects.

Potato guns and paintball guns are not firearms unless they are intended to be used as weapons. However, they must be treated as hazardous devices.

5. Drones

Projects involving unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)/drones must follow all state, Federal, and country laws. See the Federal Aviation (FAA) for more details.


Guidance for Risk Assessment

Please find below guidance on conducting risk assessment when using the following:

  • Hazardous Chemicals

  • Hazardous Devices

  • Radiation

A. Hazardous Chemicals

A proper risk assessment of chemicals must include review of the following factors:
   a. Toxicity – the tendency of a chemical to be hazardous to health when inhaled, swallowed, injected or in contact with the skin.
   b. Reactivity — the tendency of a chemical to undergo chemical change.
   c. Flammability — the tendency of a chemical to give off vapors which readily ignite when used under normal working conditions.
   d .Corrosiveness — the tendency of a chemical, upon physical contact, to harm or destroy living tissues or physical equipment.

When assessing risk, the type and amount of exposure to a chemical must be considered. For example, an individual’s allergic and genetic disposition may have an influence on the overall effect of the chemical. The student researcher must refer to Material Safety Data Sheets provided by the vendor to ensure that proper safety precautions are taken. Some Safety Date Sheets rank the degree of hazard associated with a chemical. This rating may assist students and adult sponsors in determining risk associated with the use of a chemical.

Documentation of proper disposal methods must be consulted for the chemicals used in an experiment.

Environmentally Responsible Chemistry

The mission of environmentally responsible (green) chemistry is to avoid the use or production of hazardous substances during chemical process. The principles of green chemistry are described on the EPA website in the Sources of Information section. Whenever possible the following principles should be incorporated into the research plan.

  • Waste prevention

  • Use of the safest possible chemicals and products

  • Design of the least possible hazardous chemical syntheses

  • Use renewable materials

  • Use catalysts in order to minimize chemical usage

  • Use of solvents and reaction conditions that are safe as possible

  • Maximization of energy efficiency

  • Minimization of accident potential


B. Hazardous Devices

The documentation of parental permission is required when a student researcher works with potentially hazardous/dangerous equipment and/or other devices, in or outside a laboratory setting that require a moderate to high level of expertise to ensure their safe usage. Some commonly used devices (Bunsen burners, hot plates, saws, drills, etc.) may not require a documented permission, assuming that the student researcher has experience working with the device. Use of other potentially dangerous devices such as high vacuum equipment, heated oil baths, NMR equipment, and high temperature ovens must have documentation of parental permission. It is recommended that all student designed inventions also have signed parental permission.


Parental permission is necessary when a student's project involves radiation beyond that normally encountered in everyday life. Non-ionizing radiation includes the spectrum of ultraviolet (UV), visible light, infrared (IR), microwave (NW), radiofrequency (RF) and extremely low frequency (ELF). Ionizing radiation is not permitted in Science (Fair) Outside the White House projects.

Lasers usually emit visible, ultraviolet or infrared radiation. Lasers are classified into four classes based upon their safety. Manufacturers are required to label Classes II – IV lasers.

A risk assessment must take into account the time of exposure, distance and shielding involved in the study.
   a. A study of natural radiation that is no more than than encountered in everyday life is exempt from the following requirements.
   b.  All studies may not exceed the dose limits set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of 0.5 mrem/hr or 100 mrem/year of exposure.
   c. If the voltage needed in the study is <10 kvolts, a risk assessment must be conducted. The study may be done at home or school, and SRC preapproval is not required.
   d. Studies using >10 kvolts are not permitted in Science (Fair) Outside the White House projects.


*Adapted from the International Science and Engineering Fair Ethical Guidelines