Safety standards

Kenneth L. Williamson
Mount Holyoke College

Chemical & Engineering News (20 Oct 1997) Vol. 75, No. 42, pp. 6.

In reference to the tragic death of Karen E. Wetterhahn from the absorption of dimethyl mercury through latex gloves, it is worth reviewing the statement on page 33 of the laboratory safety chapter in the organic chemistry laboratory manual "Macroscale and Microscale Organic Experiments" by Kenneth L. Williamson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994)." Be aware that `protective gloves' in the laboratory may not offer much protection.

"Polyethylene and latex rubber gloves are very permeable to many organic liquids. An undetected pinhole can mean long-term contact with reagents. Disposable polyvinyl chloride (PVC) gloves offer reasonable protection from contact with aqueous solutions of acids, bases, and dyes, but no one type of glove is useful as protection against all reagents.

"It is for this reason that no less than 25 different types of chemically resistant gloves are available from laboratory supply houses. It is probably safer not to wear gloves and immediately wash your hands with soap and water after contact with any harmful reagent or solvent than to wear inappropriate or defective gloves."

I gave considerable thought to that last sentence (I was a member of the committee that wrote "Prudent Practices for Disposal of Chemicals from Laboratories"). Based on more than 40 years of experience in the laboratory, I still believe a person is safer with no gloves than with inappropriate gloves.

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