Rillea recently received a glove inquiry from a candidate for Masters in Physiotherapy, who was required to purchase gloves to work on embalmed cadavers as part of an anatomy lab. When asked about the type of embalming fluid used to preserve the cadavers, the student was unsure. The (Material) Safety Data Sheet ((M)SDS) had not been made available to students, despite a request for the information.
Types of Embalming Fluids
Rillea’s research into embalming fluids found that there are countless formulas and many universities and colleges mix their own.
Skin Hazards of Embalming Fluids
To gain an understanding of the potential hazards posed by embalming fluids, 2 formaldehyde-based and 1 non-formaldehyde based fluids were compared. All 3 of the solutions contained methanol and 2 contained phenol, both of which are listed in Ontario Regulation 833 with a skin notation, which means there is a known danger of absorption through unbroken skin.
How Should Gloves Be Selected?
Based on the two potential skin-hazard chemicals and using the Ansell Glove Chart 7th Edition Chemical Resistance Guide, the permeation breakthrough times for various types of gloves were summarized.
Typical disposable latex examination gloves, that students might be tempted to purchase, are 5 to 6.7 mil and are not likely to provide much protection.
Adding formaldehyde to the mix, a well know ingredient in many types of embalming fluid, influences the permeation breakthrough times as shown below.
Do Students Have the Knowledge They Need to Make Informed Choices?
It is very difficult for students to decide the type of gloves to purchase without understanding the ingredients of embalming fluid or having the (M)SDS to provide some guidance. Under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, colleges and universities would be required to provide (M)SDSs for employees such as Teaching Assistants so students should have access to this information too. Walking students through the risk assessment process on how to select proper gloves to handle chemicals is also a great opportunity to teach them about how to protect themselves in their future workplaces.
What are the Potential Consequences of Making the Wrong Glove Decision?
Summaries of the SDS-stated hazards of phenol and methanol are shown below. With no protection against these chemicals, the consequences would depend on the concentration of the chemicals and length of time of the exposure, but could be quite severe.
With proper glove choices however, the likelihood of skin-related exposure is very low.
Working With Chemicals is a Fact of Life! Let’s do it Safely!
Chemicals are a necessary part of our lives but with knowledge, we can work safely with them. Ensure your students have the guidance and chemical knowledge they need to learn and work safely!