high-speed blending, or bubbling gas through a liquid, increase the potential for exposure via inhalation. Consequently, these and other such operations on toxic chemicals should also be carried out in a laboratory chemical hood.

4.C.1.3.2 Contact with Skin or Eyes

Chemical contact with the skin is a frequent mode of injury in the laboratory. Many chemicals injure the skin directly by causing skin irritation and allergic skin reactions. Corrosive chemicals cause severe burns. In addition to causing local toxic effects, many chemicals are absorbed through the skin in sufficient quantity to produce systemic toxicity. The main avenues by which chemicals enter the body through the skin are the hair follicles, sebaceous glands, sweat glands, and cuts or abrasions of the outer layer. Absorption of chemicals through the skin depends on a number of factors, including chemical concentration, chemical reactivity, and the solubility of the chemical in fat and water. Absorption is also dependent on the condition of the skin, the part of the body exposed, and duration of contact. Differences in skin structure affect the degree to which chemicals are absorbed. In general, toxicants cross membranes and thin skin (e.g., scrotum) much more easily than thick skin (e.g., palms). Although an acid burn on the skin is felt immediately, an alkaline burn takes time to be felt and its damage goes deeper than the acid. When skin is damaged, penetration of chemicals increases. Acids and alkalis injure the skin and increase its permeability. Burns and skin diseases are the most common examples of skin damage that increase penetration. Also, hydrated skin absorbs chemicals better than dehydrated skin. Some chemicals such as dimethyl sulfoxide actually increase the penetration of other chemicals through the skin by increasing its permeability.

Contact of chemicals with the eyes is of particular concern because the eyes are sensitive to irritants. Few substances are innocuous in contact with the eyes; most are painful and irritating, and a considerable number are capable of causing burns and loss of vision. Alkaline materials, phenols, and acids are particularly corrosive and can cause permanent loss of vision. Because the eyes contain many blood vessels, they also are a route for the rapid absorption of many chemicals.

4.C.1.3.3 Ingestion

Many of the chemicals used in the laboratory are extremely hazardous if they enter the mouth and are swallowed. The gastrointestinal tract, which consists of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and small and large intestines, can be thought of as a tube of variable diameter (approximately 5 m long) with a large surface area (approximately 200 m2) for absorption. Toxicants that enter the gastrointestinal tract must be absorbed into the blood to produce a systemic injury, although some chemicals are caustic or irritating to the gastrointestinal tract tissue itself. Absorption of toxicants takes place along the entire gastrointestinal tract, even in the mouth, and depends on many factors, including the physical properties of the chemical and the speed at which it dissolves. Absorption increases with surface area, permeability, and residence time in various segments of the tract. Some chemicals increase intestinal permeability and thus increase the rate of absorption. More chemical will be absorbed if the chemical remains in the intestine for a long time. If a chemical is in a relatively insoluble solid form, it will have limited contact with gastrointestinal tissue, and its rate of absorption will be low. If it is an organic acid or base, it will be absorbed in that part of the gastrointestinal tract where it is most fat soluble. Fat-soluble chemicals are absorbed more rapidly and extensively than water-soluble chemicals.

4.C.1.3.4 Injection

Exposure to toxic chemicals by injection does not occur frequently in the laboratory, but it occurs inadvertently through mechanical injury from sharp objects such as glass or metal contaminated with chemicals or syringes used for handling chemicals. The intravenous route of administration is especially dangerous because it introduces the toxicant directly into the bloodstream, eliminating the process of absorption. Nonlaboratory personnel, such as custodial workers or waste handlers, must be protected from exposure by placing sharp objects in special trash containers and not ordinary scrap baskets. Hypodermic needles with blunt ends are available for laboratory use.

4.C.2 Assessing Risks of Exposure to Toxic Laboratory Chemicals

Exposure to a harmful chemical results in local toxic effects, systemic toxic effects, or both. Local effects involve injury at the site of first contact; the eyes, the skin, the nose and lungs, and the digestive tract are typical sites of local reactions. Examples of local effects include (1) inhalation of hazardous materials causing toxic effects in the nose and lungs; (2) contact with harmful materials on the skin or eyes leading to effects ranging from mild irritation to severe tissue damage; and (3) ingestion of caustic substances causing burns and ulcers in the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Systemic effects, by contrast, occur after the toxicant has been absorbed from the site of contact into the bloodstream and distributed throughout the body. Some chemicals produce adverse effects on all tissues of the body, but others tend to selectively injure a par-

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement