ABC of Safety in the Biological Sciences



Canada balsam is a liquid oleoresin with variable molecular formula and is used as a natural mounting medium for microscopical preparations. In natural form it has a low level of toxicity. When dissolved in a solvent the greatest danger to the handler is the solvent. Canada balsam is soluble in benzene, chloroform, xylene, ether and ethanol. For microscopical preparations the most commonly used solvent is xylene. For hazards related to the use of xylene refer to xylene in this section. In its natural state there is a negligible fire or explosion hazard but this state will change when canada balsam is dissolved in a solvent.

Canada turpentine, balsam of fir.
Yellowish to greenish, viscid, transparent, slightly fluorescent liquid with an agreeable pine­like odour and bitter taste.
Sources of combustion
In its natural state it may be a mild irritant to the skin. It has a very low level of toxicity when ingested. There is no data available on inhalation or eye contact although it should be assumed that an oleoresin will irritate eyes. The greatest danger from using canada balsam is from its solvent which is normally a xylene.
Avoid skin contact, can cause dermatitis.
Exposure limits have not been established for canada balsam. The handling needs to be related to the solvent rather than to canada balsam.
Skin ­ canada balsam is sticky, it may therefore be necessary to remove it with a solvent. After removal the affected area should be well washed with soap or mild detergent and large amounts of water until all evidence of the chemical and solvent have been removed (approximately 15 minutes). If irritation persists or dermatitis develops seek medical attention. It is very difficult to remove canada balsam from clothing. If a solvent is used on clothing to remove canada balsam then the clothing should be well washed before re­use.
Eyes ­ immediately wash the affected eye with large amounts of water until all evidence of the chemical has been removed (approximately 15 minutes). If irritation persists seek medical attention.
Inhalation ­ there is no data available on inhalation of canada balsam. If a staff member is affected and appears distressed seek medical attention.
Ingestion ­ immediately give two to four glasses of water then induce vomiting by touching a finger to the back of the throat. Seek immediate medical advice. Safety measures taken when handling canada balsam also need to be related to the solvent.
Store in a cool, dry, well ventilated area.
Rubber gloves, face shield and laboratory coat. Have an all purpose canister respirator available.
A gas leak - keep the concentration of the gas below the explosive mixture range by forced ventilation. Remove the tank to an open area and allow dissipation to the atmosphere. Attempt to cap the valve outlet and return the tank to the supplier.
A liquid - absorb on paper. Evaporate in an iron pan in a flame proof fume hood then burn the paper.
A solid - sweep on to paper and place in an iron pan in a fume hood. Burn the paper and compound.
A gas - pipe the gas into an incinerator or lower into a pit and allow to burn.
A liquid - atomise into an incinerator. Combustion may be improved by mixing with a more flammable solvent.
A solid - make up packages in paper or other flammable material. Burn in the incinerator. Or the solid may be dissolved in a flammable solvent and sprayed into a fire chamber.


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