ABC of Safety in the Biological Sciences




Toluol, phenyl methane, methyl benzene, methylbenzol, methylbenzene, phenylmethane.
Mutagen, do not allow staff who are pregnant to handle toluene.
Use a fume hood.
Avoid skin and eye contact ­ causes dermatitis.
Avoid inhalation of the vapour ­ narcotic.
Keep away from heat, sparks or naked flames.
Do not store close to strong oxidants and metal alkalis.
Do not dispose of down the sink.
Colourless, highly flammable liquid with an aromatic, benzene­like odour. The vapour is heavier than air and may travel a considerable distance along the ground to a source of ignition and flash back.
Toluene is a flammable liquid. It is a central nervous system depressant and a skin and eye irritant. Extreme exposure may result in death from respiratory paralysis. It can be absorbed into the body by inhalation, ingestion and through the skin. Use of alcoholic beverages will enhance the toxic effects. Toluene is a mutagen and should not be handled by staff who are pregnant. Acute exposure to the skin may cause irritation, scaling, cracking and dermatitis. Skin absorption does occur but it is a slow route of entry into the body and usually too slow to cause a systemic poisoning. A splash to the eye causes temporary corneal damage and conjunctivitis. The most rapid route of entry is through the pulmonary system and narcosis can develop before signs of irritation are apparent. 100ppm can produce hallucinations. 200 to 600ppm for prolonged periods causes respiratory tract irritation, fatigue, weakness, confusion, headache, nausea, anorexia, bad taste, lassitude, impaired coordination, hilarity, euphoria, dizziness and dilated pupils. 800ppm causes rapid irritation, nasal mucus section, metallic taste, drowsiness and impaired balance. Kidney and renal damage may occur. Recovery is slow and can take up to six months. At 2,000ppm death may occur. Ingestion will result in serious burns to the mouth and oesophagus. There could be abdominal pain followed by vomiting and diarrhoea. Asphyxia can occur from swelling of the throat. Perforation of the stomach and oesophagus can occur.
Skin ­ remove contaminated clothing and shoes and 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 medical advice.
Eyes ­ if eye contact occurs immediately wash the affected eye with large amounts of water until all evidence of the chemical has been removed (approximately 15 minutes). Seek medical attention.
Inhalation ­ immediately remove the patient from exposure. If breathing has ceased apply artificial respiration. Keep warm and allow to rest. Seek immediate medical attention.
Ingestion ­ if the patient is conscious and not convulsive wash the mouth with water. Do not induce vomiting but seek immediate medical attention.
Toluene is incompatible with:
Strong oxidising agents ­ forms explosive products.
Acids, mixed ­ runaway or explosive nitration reaction. Tetranitromethane ­ extremely violent explosive reaction.
Silver perchlorate ­ an explosive product.
Nitrogen tetroxide ­ possible explosion.
Nitric acid ­ intense reaction.
Nitronium perchlorate ­ explosive reaction.
Heating may produce toxic oxides of carbon.
Do not dispose of waste material down laboratory sinks as this may constitute a fire or explosion hazard.
Store in a cool, dry atmosphere away from heat or naked flames. Store in a well ventilated area away from strong oxidisers and incompatible substances.
Use a fume hood that will keep exposure levels below the recommended threshold limit, ie. 100ppm NIOSH and TWA, 200ppm OSHA. Above this level a respirator is recommended. If levels of exposure exceed 1,000ppm a self­contained breathing apparatus is recommended. Wear protective clothing to avoid skin or eye contamination or inhaling fumes. 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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