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12.15.1 Hazards of Solvents

Most of the commonly used solvents are volatile and flammable. See Section 12.5, Flammable Liquids, for hazards and precautions associated with the flammability of solvents.

Many solvents are readily absorbed through the skin. This capacity to pass through skin permits them to act as transporters of other toxic chemicals (e.g., metals) which might otherwise not be easily absorbed through the skin.

12.15.2 Handling Procedures for Solvents

Check on the possibility of substituting a less toxic or less flammable solvent. Use an aqueous solution, if possible.

Wear gloves of appropriate material, safety glasses, and a lab coat when handling solvents. N-Dex provides protection for intermittent/splash contact. See Section 6, Personal Protective Equipment, for glove materials resistant to various solvents.

A chemical fume hood should be used when appreciable quantities of solvents are transferred from one container to another, used in open containers, or heated in open containers.

Be fully aware of the toxicity of the solvent you are using. Examples of solvents which require special care include:

  • Aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Carbon disulfide
  • Carbon tetrachloride
  • Chloroform
  • Esters of acetic or other organic acids
  • Glycols, glycol esters, and glycol ethers
  • Halogenated hydrocarbons
  • Methyl alcohol
  • Nitrogenous bases, such as amines

12.15.3 Chloroform

The acute toxicity of chloroform is low by all routes of exposure. Inhalation of high concentrations can cause liver and kidney damage. Chloroform is irritating to the skin and eyes. Chloroform is classified as a "select carcinogen" and requires completion of CMUA. There is some evidence from animals studies that chloroform is a developmental and reproductive toxin.

Although chloroform is noncombustible, exposure to fire or high temperatures may lead to formation of phosgene, a highly toxic gas. Chloroform reacts violently with alkali metals such as sodium and potassium. Chloroform reacts explosively with fluorine and dinitrogen tetroxide.

12.15.4 Carbon Tetrachloride

Another hazardous solvent is carbon tetrachloride. Keep exposure to the liquid and its vapors to a minimum. High concentrations in the air can rapidly lead to death from respiratory failure. Less severe exposure can lead to kidney and liver damage. Carbon tetrachloride is also absorbed through the skin. A safer chlorinated hydrocarbon, such as dichloromethane, should be substituted for carbon tetrachloride if possible.

12.15.5 Storage of Solvents

All flammable solvents must be stored in Group 1: Flammable Liquids. See Section 9, Proper Chemical Storage, for information on storing nonflammable solvents.

12.15.6 Disposal of Solvents

See Chapter VI, Hazardous Waste Directory, Section 6, Sewer Limits. Most solvents will need to be labeled for collection by EH&S

  • Skin: Immediately remove affected clothing and flush contacted tissue with copious amounts of water for 15 minutes. If injurious to the skin, proceed to the nearest hospital ER.

  • Eye Contact: Rinse eyes with copious amounts of water for 15 minutes. Hold lids open while rinsing. Seek medical evaluation.

Complete an Accident-Illness Report Form as soon as possible and mail to EH&S at J3-200.

12.15.8 Emergency Response: Spills

If highly dangerous or flammable solvents are spilled, turn off ignition sources.

Small spills can be cleaned with a universal absorbent while wearing safety goggles, gloves and a lab coat.

For large spills (>200 ml), evacuate the lab and call EH&S for clean-up.