Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chemical safety in the laboratory: The dehydration, embedding and staining process

Histology lab technicians work with
many potentially harmful chemicals.Many histology laboratories employ complex dehydration, embedding and staining processes that involve harmful chemicals.

During the dehydration process, laboratory technicians may pass the tissue through an ethanol bath. Ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol) is a clear, colorless liquid with a characteristic, agreeable odor. It may cause damage to the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs and central nervous system. Long-term exposure has been linked to cancer and birth defects.

After the ethanol, the tissue is often passed through xylene to remove the alcohol.
Xylene is a clear, colorless, sweet-smelling liquid that is often used as a solvent and in the printing, rubber, and leather industries. In histology, xylene is used for clearing the tissues following dehydration in preparation for paraffin wax infiltration. It is also used after sections have been stained to make them hydrophobic so that a coverslip may be applied with a resin in solvent.
Long-term exposure to xylene is said to cause "organic solvent syndrome", which negatively affects the nervous system and can cause symptoms such as headaches, depression, irritability, insomnia, extreme fatigue, tremors and short-term memory loss.

Paraffin wax is used for light microscopy. During the embedding process, dimethyl sulfoxide is often added to paraffin wax. Dimethyl sulfoxide has been linked to cancer, while molten paraffin wax creates droplets that are capable of damaging lungs.

Laboratory safety supply

Many laboratories have installed fume hoods that are ducted directly to a station and expel the fumes outdoors, or they may filter and redistribute the air. The safety equipment includes biosafety cabinets and snorkel exhaust.

Biosafety cabinets generally feature a HEPA filter, a UV light and a blower. They can filter out microorganisms, airborne pathogens and particles, but they are not recommended for protection against chemicals.

How you can improve indoor air quality in laboratories

An industrial-strength air filtration systems featuring activated carbon and HEPA filters (plus UV) can trap many gases that escape fume hoods.

The air cleaners can be portable, stand-alone units, or they may be attached to existing fume hoods to provide cleaner air.

Contact an Electrocorp IAQ expert to find out more about air filtration systems for laboratories and research facilities.
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