ABC of Safety in the Biological Sciences




Ethanoic acid, vinegar acid, methane carboxylic acid.
A translucent crystalline mass below 16°C. At temperatures above 16°C a clear, colourless liquid with a pungent vinegar odour. Hygroscopic and lachrymator. Flammable liquid, keep away from heat or naked flames.
Acetic acid is incompatible with chromic acid, nitric acid, caustic soda, caustic potash, oxidising agents and most metals. The reaction with metals releases hydrogen which can lead to a potentially explosive situation.
The liquid is a corrosive substance, a splash will cause severe burns to exposed areas of the body. A liquid splash to the eye can cause permanent eye damage. Swelling and blistering can occur to the skin. Skin contact can cause sensitisation in some individuals. The vapour is also corrosive and will cause severe irritation to eyes and the respiratory tract. Prolonged eye exposure to vapour can cause conjunctivitis. Inhalation of vapour or droplets may cause bronchitis, pneumonia and pulmonary oedema. Ingestion of liquid will cause dental erosion, bronchitis and respiratory difficulties. Prolonged exposure to vapour can lead to dental erosion, skin thickening and discolouration. Worksafe Australia odour threshold is 0.2 to 1 ppm.
Use a fume hood.
Avoid skin and eye contact.
Avoid inhalation of the vapour.
Avoid ingestion.
Keep away from metals except stainless steel or aluminium.
Wash hands thoroughly after handling.
Use a fume hood that will keep the level of exposure below the recommended threshold level, i.e. 25 mg/m3 (NH & MRC). If the level of exposure is expected to exceed this limit then a respirator is recommended. Wear protective clothing; a long sleeved laboratory coat or gown, rubber gloves (PVC, neoprene or nitrile), safety goggles and a face mask. If a splash is likely to occur wear a full face shield. Do not handle close to heat or a naked flame. Do not spray as explosive air-vapour mixtures can form.
Skin ­ remove contaminated clothing and immediately wash the affected area with large amounts of water until all evidence of the chemical has been removed (approximately 15 minutes). If irritation or burning persists seek medical attention. Wash contaminated clothing before re­use. Skin and clothing can be treated with 1% sodium bicarbonate to neutralise acid residues.
Eyes ­ immediately wash the affected eye with large amounts of water until all evidence of the chemical has been removed (approximately 15 minutes). If an eye splash has occurred seek medical advice after irrigation. If irritation or pain persist seek medical attention.
Inhalation ­ remove from the area of exposure to fresh air. If breathing has ceased apply artificial respiration. Keep warm and allow to rest. If irritation or pain persist seek medical attention.
Ingestion ­ wash out the mouth thoroughly with water, do not induce vomiting but give water to drink and seek immediate medical advice.
Protect from freezing. If freezing occurs thaw by immersion of the container in warm water. DO NOT apply direct heat or the container may rupture. Avoid contact with metals except for stainless steel or aluminium. Store away from incompatible substances.
Wear rubber gloves, face shield and laboratory coat or gown. A body shield and self contained breathing apparatus should be available.
Spills: Eliminate all sources of ignition. Cover the contaminated surface with soda ash or sodium bicarbonate. Mix and add water if necessary. scoop up the slurry, check for neutrality with litmus then discharge to the sewer with a large excess of water. Wash the spill site with soda ash solution.
Package lots: Either - 1. Liquid acid may be injected at the base of an incinerator after mixing with a flammable solvent. the incinerator should be equipped with an afterburner and scrubber OR
2. A solid acid may be dissolved in a flammable solvent and burned as above.
3. A solid acid may be packaged in paper or other flammable material and burned in an incinerator equipped with an afterburner.
Harmful to aquatic life. Avoid contamination of waterways.


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