Special hazards

Hazards in laboratories vary as greatly as the research being conducted or the techniques being used. Some hazardous materials present risks that require special precautions for safe handling, storage and use.

Labs and individuals who use the hazardous materials described below should familiarize themselves with the safe work procedures, along with any lab-specific training, before starting work.

Physical hazards

Compressed gas cylinders

Any staff, faculty, or students handling compressed gas cylinders should enrol in our training course.

Please review this safe work procedure:

Liquid nitrogen

Liquid nitrogen (LN2) is inert, colourless, odourless, non-corrosive, and extremely cold (boiling point of -196oC). The hazards associated with handling LN2 include cold burns and frostbite, asphyxiation, explosion due to over pressurization and fire hazard from oxygen-enriched air. 

Any personnel handling LN2 must read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), the documents listed below and receive job specific training on the hazards, safe handling and dispensing, and emergency procedures.

Chemical hazards

Aqua Regia

Aqua Regia is a strong acid and oxidizer solution, specifically composed of a 3:1 mixture of concentrated hydrochloric acid and nitric acid.  The acid combination reacts and produces gases most of which are harmful, such as nitric oxide and chlorine gas.  

Any personnel handling Aqua Regia must read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), the safe work procedure listed below and receive job specific training on the hazards, safe handling, and emergency procedures.

Azides

Inorganic and organic azides are explosive compounds with the slightest addition of energy from external sources (heat, light, pressure).

Any personnel handling azides must read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), the safe work procedure listed below and receive job specific training on the hazards, safe handling, and emergency procedures.

Cyanides

Cyanides are corrosive and poisonous. The greatest hazard is formation of hydrogen cyanide (HCN) gas when the cyanide salts contact neutral to acidic solutions. Hydrogen cyanide is a toxic and flammable gas. In the body, cyanide inhibits the enzyme cytochrome C oxidase in aerobic respiration resulting in tissue death.

Any personnel handling cyanides must read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), the safe work procedure listed below and receive job specific training on the hazards, safe handling, and emergency procedures.

Cytotoxic drugs

WorkSafeBC regulates the storage, preparation and administration of cytotoxic drugs, which are used primarily in health care settings for therapeutic purposes.

Cytotoxic drug means an agent that possesses a specific destructive action on certain cells or that may be genotoxic, oncogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, or hazardous to cells in any way and includes most anti-cancer drugs. Also referred to as antineoplastics and chemotherapy.

Researchers at UVic using cytotoxic drugs should take all reasonable precautions to prevent exposure. Caution signs must be posted at work areas where cytotoxic drugs are handled. Any personal handling or administering cytotoxic drugs must read the SDS, the safe work procedure, and exposure control plan.

Ethidium Bromide

Ethidium Bromide (EthBr) is a potent mutagen, carcinogen and possible reproductive toxin. It is a dark red crystalline, odourless, non-volatile solid that forms highly fluorescent complexes viewable under ultraviolet (UV) light when intercalated to nucleic acids. It is commonly used as a non-radioactive visualization agent for gel-based nucleic acid separation. Exposure to EthBr can occur by inhalation, ingestion and skin absorption.

Any personnel handling EthBr must read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), the safe work procedure listed below and receive job specific training on the hazards, safe handling, and emergency procedures.

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a regulated carcinogen. Pure formaldehyde is a gas but for practical use, formaldehyde is available as a saturated aqueous solution and dilute solutions are also known as formalin. Formaldehyde aqueous solutions are available in various concentrations as high as 37% or as low as 3.5% and typically contain methanol (1-6%) to inhibit polymerization. A methanol-free alternative called paraformaldehyde (PFA) is also an alternative to generate formaldehyde in situ.

Any personnel handling formaldehyde solutions must read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), the safe work procedure listed below and receive job specific training on the hazards, safe handling, and emergency procedures.

Hydrofluoric acid

Hydrofluoric acid (HF) is a corrosive acid and is very hazardous since any exposure to HF can produce harmful health effects that can have delayed symptoms. Prevention of exposure or injury must be the primary goal when working with HF.

Any personnel handling HF must read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), the documents listed below and receive job specific training on the hazards, safe handling, and emergency procedures.

Perchloric acid

Perchloric acid is a very strong oxidizing agent and strong acid. Even dilute solutions can, over time, reduce certain plastics to dust. Perchloric acid can form explosive mixtures with organic materials such as wood, paper, cardboard and many organic solvents. Clothing and rubber materials can become highly flammable if contaminated with perchloric acid. Perchloric acid vapours can condense to form perchlorate crystals, which are highly explosive and sensitive to physical shock. To reduce potential for vapours, no use of perchloric acid above room temperature is permitted.

Any personnel handling perchloric acid must read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), the safe work procedure listed below and receive job specific training on the hazards, safe handling, and emergency procedures.

Peroxide forming chemicals

Peroxide forming chemicals (PFCs) are reagents or solvents that over time under the presence of atmospheric oxygen are oxidized and produce organic peroxides. The most common peroxide forming solvents found in labs are diethyl ether and tetrahydrofuran (THF). Peroxides can violently explode by either thermal or mechanical shock when solutions are concentrated or when peroxide solids form. The risk of peroxide formation or concentration can be reduced by following storage and handling practices.

Any personnel handling PFCs must read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), the safe work procedure listed below and receive job specific training on the hazards, safe handling, and emergency procedures.

Piranha solution

Piranha solution is a strong acid and oxidizer solution, typically composed of a 3:1 mixture of concentrated sulfuric acid (H2SO4) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2).  Both liquid and vapour forms are corrosive to skin and respiratory tract. Piranha solution can become hot, more than 100 °C. Explosion can occur when gas generated from Piranha solution pressurizes closed containers or when Piranha solution is in contact with organic compounds.

Any personnel handling Piranha solution must read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), the safe work procedure listed below and receive job specific training on the hazards, safe handling, and emergency procedures.

Pyrophoric and water reactive chemicals

Pyrophoric chemicals are defined as chemicals that react with air (oxygen) and ignite within seconds or minutes. Whereas water reactive chemicals are those chemicals which ignite due to moisture in the air or in contact with water. The hazards and risks associated with both pyrophoric and water reactive chemicals in either solid or liquid state are similar.

Pyrophoric and/or water reactive chemicals themselves are health hazards; in many cases their by-products from igniting in air or reaction of water are highly toxic.  Always plan ahead, be prepared and consult the SDS to understand the possible by-products and what precautions to take.

Stench chemicals

Stench chemicals are those where even a miniscule amount can create an overwhelmingly noxious smell.

Examples of stench chemicals:

  • Thiols (mercaptans)
  • Sulfides
  • Selenides
  • Phosphines
  • Isonitriles (isocyanides)
  • Butyric acid
  • Valeric acid

Any personnel handling Stench chemicals must read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), the safe work procedure listed below and receive job specific training on the hazards, safe handling, and emergency procedures.