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Chemical Exposure

Many chemicals and mixtures used in laboratories and other occupational settings present a significant risk if handled improperly. Being aware of the routes of exposure and how to detect when an exposure has occurred are of paramount importance. One can prevent exposures via administrative controls (rules, training, SOPs) engineering controls such as fume hoods and personal protective equipment (PPE). Exposures may be of an acute nature (high concentration for a short duration ) or chronic (low concentration over a long period of time). OSHA has determined permissible exposure limits (PELs) and short term exposure limits (STELs) for hazardous materials. you should be aware of the limits for the materials you work with. Consult the SDS or the OSHA webpage on Permissible Exposure Limits.

If a hazardous material is released in your area, immediate action should be taken to protect yourself and others. There are three methods used to detect a hazardous material release:

SightRelaying on your vision is a safe and practical method of hazardous material release detection. Seeing a container spill, liquid pooled on the floor, or fumes or smoke coming from an area are clues that a material has spilled and your supervisor (and possibly Campus Police) should be notified.

SmellOdor is another simple, yet dangerous, way to detect a release. It is dangerous because if you smell a hazardous material, it has already entered your body. Some solvents, acids, cleaners, and gases have a distinct odor that is noticeable when open to the air. Smelling chemical odors not usually present or that seem stronger than normal should result in notifying your supervisor and Campus Police immediately.

Process Monitoring -  Using an air monitor is very useful for detecting odorless, invisible material, usually gases. If you have concerns that an area you are working in may experience a material release that requires monitoring you should contact

Hazardous materials may enter the body through four different routes of exposure:

Inhalationoccurs when chemical fumes, mists, dusts or gases are breathed in through the nose or mouth. The inhaled chemical is then absorbed through the tissue and membranes in the nose, trachea, and lungs. Tissues in these areas are not very protective against chemical exposure, thus are at greater risk.

Absorption -  occurs when a hazardous material enters the body through the skin or eyes. Skin tissue is more protective than lung tissue, but is not an impermeable barrier. Some materials may be absorbed more readily by the skin than others, and once the material is absorbed, it is carried throughout the body in the bloodstream.

Ingestion -  occurs when chemical fumes, mists, and dusts enter the body through the mouth and swallowed. Hazardous material is commonly ingested when contaminated food or hands come in contact with the mouth.

Injection -  occurs when contaminated sharp objects puncture the skin, introducing hazardous material to the bloodstream. Improperly stored or disposed needles increase the exposure risk. Using a dust pan and broom to clean up broken glass, dropped needles or any other sharp object decreases the risk of injury. Never place any sharp object directly in the waste basket. 


When exposed to hazardous material, there may be two kinds of health effects to the body:

Acute -  Acute health effects are characterized by sudden and severe exposure and rapid absorption of a material. An example would be a chemical burn. If sulfuric acid is spilled on your arm, you will experience a burn within moments of exposure.

ChronicChronic health effects are characterized by prolonged and repeated exposure over a longer period of time. An example would be lead poisoning. If you are exposed to lead particles, you may not notice any health effects. However, repeated exposure may cause lead poisoning over time. Chronic health effects may affect specific organs or result in cancer.

Toxicity is the ability for a material to cause a harmful effect. Please understand that everything is toxic, even water. However, one must drink a lot of water in order for it to be harmful. The amount of a material you are exposed to or come in contact with is called dose. The less toxic a substance is (water) the greater dose you can tolerate without ill effects. The more toxic a substance (cyanide) the less of a dose you can tolerate before you become ill. 

Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn to reduce employee exposure to hazards when engineering and administrative controls are  not possible or effective in doing so. The appropriate PPE to use when working with a hazardous material should be noted in the SDS or other resources (NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards, Prudent Practices in the Laboratory, etc.) Be sure to check the SDS and with your supervisor before you begin working with such a material. If you use the wrong PPE, it will have no effect on reducing exposure and you may be at risk for injury or illness. The links below provide additional information.

Other Resources:
*ANSI Z87.1-2003, American National Standard for Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices
*Eye and Face Protection: Selecting PPE for the Workplace, OSHA e-Tool (Selecting Appropriate PPE for the Hazard)
*Recommendations for Chemical Protection Clothing, (A Companion to the NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards)
*OSHA Fact Sheet on Personal Protective Equipment
*OSHA Personal Protection Equipment Training Course

Relevant OSHA Standards:
*Personal Protective Equipment for General Industry
*Eye and Face Protection, OSHA 1910.133
*Respiratory Protection, OSHA 1910.134
*Head Protection, OSHA 1910.135
*Occupational Foot Protection, OSHA 1910.136
*Hand Protection, OSHA 1910.138

Anyone working with hazard materials should have a spill kit available. The spill kit should be customized to fit the hazards of your area.

There are two types of chemical spills:
Minor - Minor spills consist of a small amount of hazardous material that you are familiar with. This material, although hazardous, is not extremely dangerous and can be cleaned up if the proper clean-up material and personal protective equipment are available. You should only clean up a minor spill if you feel comfortable doing so. The clean-up material should be considered hazardous waste and be disposed of properly. Always let your supervisor know of a spill.

Major - Major spills consist of a a large quantity of a hazardous material, a material that is extremely dangerous, a mixing of two chemicals that may cause a reaction, or unknown chemicals. Do not attempt to clean up a major spill. You should clear the area (possibly the building) and call University Police at 920-424-1212.

Detailed procedures for handling minor and major spills can be found at Chemical Spill Response. General Guidelines for routine spills are given below: 

*Be Prepared in Advance
*Have a spill kit available to clean up minor spills. That kid should include:
-Instructions and/or Material Safety Data Sheets for the chemical in use
-Personal protective equipment including gloves, safety goggles and other protective clothing
-Spill pads or pillows sufficient to contain and absorb one liter of liquid
-Plastic bags or containers to place spill waste material

Do NOT attempt to clean up a spill if any of the following conditions apply:
*More than one chemical has spilled;
*The quantity spilled is greater than one liter;
*The substance is unknown or you are uncertain of the hazards of the substance; or
 *You are uncomfortable in the situation.

Chemical Spill Kits are available in the Chemistry and Biology Stockrooms. If you would like assistance in creating a spill kit for your area, contact 

In an emergency, call the Campus Police at x1212 from a building phone, 920-4247-1212 form your cell phone, or by pressing the red button on the S.A.F.E phone.

If exposure occurs, the procedures that should be followed depend on toxicity of the material, dose, and route of exposure. Everyone working with hazardous material should know the location of the nearest eyewash and safety shower station.

If a material contacts the eyes or face, immediately proceed to the eyewash station and call for help if working with others. REMOVE CONTACT LENSES. Rinse your eyes and face for 15 minutes. Although it may be uncomfortable, you should keep your eyes open (force them if necessary) so water can wash behind the eyelids. While you are rinsing, another person should be looking up the SDS to see if further steps or medical attention is needed.

If a material contacts the body, proceed immediately to a safety shower or drench hose if necessary. Remove affected clothing and rinse the area for 15 minutes. Again, another person should be consulting the SDS to see if further steps or medical attention needs to be taken.

If a material is inhaled making breathing difficult, move to an open air area. If you notice that someone has become unconscious, move that person to fresh air (ONLY IF SAFE TO DO SO) and call Campus Police (920-424-1212). 

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