ABC of Safety in the Biological Sciences




Methyl alcohol, wood alcohol, methyl hydroxide, carbinol, monohydroxymethane, wood spirit, wood naphtha.
Mutagen ­ do not allow staff who are pregnant to handle methanol.
Avoid ingestion.
Avoid skin and eye contact.
Avoid inhalation.
Keep away from heat, sparks or a naked flame.
Do not pour down the sink.
Use a spark proof fume hood.
Clear, colourless liquid with a characteristic pungent odour. Flammable liquid, vapours are heavier than air and may travel a considerable distance along the ground to a source of ignition and flash back.
Flammable liquid, do not handle or store close to heat or a naked flame. There is a fire and explosion hazard when methanol is mixed with strong oxidisers. Methanol has a mutagenic effect in animals. It is an eye, skin and mucous membrane irritant and a central nervous system depressant. It is a narcotic and has caused death. Acute exposure to the eyes has caused superficial corneal lesions. Ingestion, inhalation and skin absorption may result in blurred or dimmed vision followed by transient or permanent blindness. Methanol causes defatting of the skin and a mild dermatitis can result. Other effects of absorption through the skin may be narcosis, optic neuritis and acidosis. Inhalation of 800 to 1,000ppm can cause blindness with prolonged exposure. At 25,000ppm intoxication begins with a state of inebriation. Within 12 to 18 hours narcosis will be well advanced and coma may occur with liver and kidney damage and collapse of the circulatory system and cerebral failure. 50,000ppm for 1 to 2 hours will result in death. Permanent renal dysfunction and blindness may follow non­fatal intoxication. Ingestion is as for inhalation.
Skin ­ remove contaminated clothing and shoes immediately. Wash the affected area with soap or mild detergent and large amounts of water until all evidence of the chemical has been removed (approximately 15 minutes). Seek immediate medical advice. Wash contaminated clothing before re­use.
Eyes ­ wash the affected eye with large amounts of water until all evidence of the chemical has been removed (approximately 15 minutes). Seek immediate medical advice.
Inhalation ­ remove from the area of exposure to fresh air. If breathing has ceased apply artificial respiration. Keep warm and allow to rest. Seek immediate medical attention.
Ingestion ­ seek immediate medical attention. If medical attention is not readily available and if the victim is conscious, give two full teaspoons of sodium bicarbonate in water then induce vomiting by touching a finger to the back of the throat.
Methanol is incompatible with:
Chloroform and a base ­ explosive reaction.
Calcium carbide ­ violent reaction.
Magnesium chloride ­ violent reaction.
Cyanuric chloride ­ violent reaction.
Beryllium hydride ­ violent reaction.
Bromine ­ intense exothermic reaction.
Chromic anhydride ­ possible explosive reaction.
Nickel ­ possible ignition in the presence of catalytic amounts.
Oxidising agents ­ violent reaction.
Heating produces toxic fumes of formaldehyde and carbon. Do not pour waste methanol down the sink as it may create a fire or explosion hazard.
Store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight, heat or a naked flame. Avoid storage close to strong oxidising agents and incompatible substances.
Use a fume hood that will keep the level of exposure to below recommended limits, ie. 200ppm OSHA, NIOSH and TWA. The threshold detection limit for the sense of smell is 2,000ppm so do not depend on detecting the odour for safety. Above 2,000ppm a respirator is recommended. At levels of exposure above 10,000ppm a self­contained breathing apparatus is recommended. Wear protective clothing to avoid skin contact, inhalation and ingestion. A long sleeved laboratory coat or gown, rubber gloves, safety goggles and a face mask as a minimum standard.
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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