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Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Disposal of Chemicals
Formaldehyde is regulated by OSHA as a carcinogen (Standard 1910.1048) and is listed in IARC Group 2A ("probable human carcinogen"). This substance is classified as a "select carcinogen" under the criteria of the OSHA Laboratory Standard. Prolonged or repeated exposure to formaldehyde can cause dermatitis and sensitization of the skin and respiratory tract. Following skin contact, a symptom-free period may occur in sensitized individuals. Subsequent exposures can then lead to itching, redness, and the formation of blisters.
Flammability and Explosibility
Formaldehyde gas is extremely flammable; formalin solution is a combustible liquid (NFPA rating = 2 for 37% formaldehyde (15% methanol), NFPA rating = 4 for 37% formaldehyde (methanol free)). Toxic vapors may be given off in a fire. Carbon dioxide or dry chemical extinguishers should be used to fight formaldehyde fires.
Reactivity and Incompatibility
Formaldehyde may react violently with strong oxidizing agents, ammonia and strong alkalis, isocyanates, peracids, anhydrides, and inorganic acids. Formaldehyde reacts with HCl to form the potent carcinogen, bis-chloromethyl ether.
Storage and Handling
Because of its carcinogenicity and flammability, formaldehyde should be handled using the "basic prudent practices" of Chapter 5.C, supplemented by the additional precautions for work with compounds of high chronic toxicity (Chapter 5.D) and extremely flammable substances (Chapter 5.F). In particular, work with formaldehyde should be conducted in a fume hood to prevent exposure by inhalation, and splash goggles and impermeable gloves should be worn at all times to prevent eye and skin contact. Formaldehyde should be used only in areas free of ignition sources. Containers of formaldehyde should be stored in secondary containers in areas separate from oxidizers and bases.
In the event of skin contact, immediately wash with soap and water and remove contaminated clothing. In case of eye contact, promptly wash with copious amounts of water for 15 min (lifting upper and lower lids occasionally) and obtain medical attention. If formaldehyde is ingested, obtain medical attention immediately. If large amounts of this compound are inhaled, move the person to fresh air and seek medical attention at once.
In the event of a spill, remove all ignition sources, soak up the formaldehyde with a spill pillow or absorbent material, place in an appropriate container, and dispose of properly. Respiratory protection may be necessary in the event of a large spill or release in a confined area.
Excess formaldehyde and waste material containing this substance should be placed in an appropriate container, clearly labeled, and handled according to your institution's waste disposal guidelines. For more information on disposal procedures, see Chapter 7 of this volume.