ABC of Safety in the Biological Sciences




Ethyl alcohol, methylated spirits, denatured alcohol, absolute alcohol.
Clear, colourless, mobile and volatile liquid. Characteristic odour and burning taste. Vapours are heavier than air and may travel a considerable distance along the ground to a source of ignition and flash back.
Heating may produce the toxic fumes of carbon monoxide. Ethanol is incompatible with oxidising agents, and aluminium. Never store in aluminium containers as aluminium alcoholates may be formed.
Flammable liquid that should never be stored or handled close to heat or a naked flame. Ethanol is generally regarded as one of the safest industrial solvents. Although it possesses narcotic properties, vapour concentrations sufficient to produce this effect are rarely, if ever, reached in a medical laboratory. Ethanol is rapidly oxidised in the body to carbon dioxide and water and it does not cause permanent damage to the central nervous system as does methanol, when ingested in moderate amounts. A splash to the eye can cause redness and pain. Repeated or prolonged skin contact may lead to dermatitis. Inhalation is moderately irritating to the respiratory system. Chronic exposure may result in headache and central nervous system depression. Ingestion can cause dizziness, dullness, gastric disorders and central nervous system depression.
Avoid skin contact ­ defats the skin and can cause dermatitis.
Avoid eye contact.
Avoid inhalation of the vapour.
Keep away from heat or naked flames.
Earth all metal containers as static is generated when pouring.
Do not store in aluminium containers.
Never handle close to heat or a naked flame. Use a fume hood if exposure is expected to exceed the recommended threshold limit, i.e. 1,000 ppm (NH & MRC, Australia, 1980) or 1.900 mg/m3. Wear protective clothing to avoid skin or eye contact and inhalation. A long sleeved laboratory coat or gown, rubber gloves, safety goggles as a minimum standard.
Skin ­ remove contaminated clothing and wash the affected area with large amounts of water until all evidence of the chemical has been removed (approximately 15 minutes). Wash contaminated clothing before re­use. If irritation persists seek medical advice. Barrier creams offer some resistance to ethanol.
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 or pain persist seek immediate medical attention.
Inhalation ­ remove from the area of exposure to fresh air. If breathing has stopped apply artificial respiration. Keep warm and allow to rest. Seek medical advice.
Ingestion ­ give plenty of water to drink. If the patient is conscious induce vomiting by touching a finger to the back of the throat or by administering syrup of ipecac. Seek medical advice if it is deemed necessary.
Store away from heat or naked flame. Store in a cool, dry atmosphere. Do not store in aluminium containers. If stored in metal containers ensure that the containers are properly earthed before commencing pouring.
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 leak: 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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