Five Common Solvents that Require Special Chemical Handling

Are you worried that you have solvents around your business that are dangerous? If so, you may very well need specialist chemical handling to move, use, or remove them.

We use solvents for all sorts of different processes, including everything from powering machines to cleaning surfaces.

But even though common chemical solvents are useful, they can pose a real danger to your health and safety, as well as to the health and safety of your team.

In this article, we take a look at the five most common hazardous chemicals that require special chemical handling.

1. Xylene

Xylene is one of the most common chemical solvents used across a range of industries, including:

  • Painting
  • Printing
  • Leather preparation
  • Rubber manufacturing
  • Furniture (varnishing)

There are a whole host of other applications for xylene, but this list covers the main applications of the chemical. Because of the many different applications of the chemical, it can cause harm in a number of different ways, including skin irritation, eye contamination, ingestion, and inhalation.

Some of the known health impacts of xylene include irritation of the throat, eyes, skin, and nostrils. More serious side effects of xylene can include headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, discoordination, and even death.

For all of these reasons, xylene is one of the most important solvents requiring chemical safety. So, if you already use or about to start using xylene, make sure you educate yourself and your team on how to use xylene safely.

2. Toluene

Another solvent that requires proper chemical handling is toluene. Toluene is a chemical that is used in many of the same processes as xylene. But it is also used in things like the production of adhesives, disinfectants, cleaning products, and the production of silicon seals.

Toluene poses a mild risk of irritation to the skin and eyes. However, the most dangerous effect of toluene occurs when it is inhaled.

As with xylene, it can cause nausea, vomiting, aches and pains, and even death when it has been inhaled.

For this reason, the most important aspect of handling toluene is ventilation. Industrial settings like factories need to have top-grade ventilation systems installed to ensure any vapors are immediately removed from the circulating air.

Even better is to use toluene in designated basins with directly overhanging ventilation shafts. Also, you can use chemical filtration masks to prevent inhalation when using toluene in mobile settings like on-site construction.

A further danger of toluene is that it is highly flammable. So, of course, it should be used indoors in controlled environments without any sparks or flames in the vicinity.

3. Acetone

The next important solvent on the list is acetone. Acetone is used in some similar settings as xylene and toluene. However, it is also used in such processes as:

  • Metal preparation
  • The production of resins
  • The use of plastics
  • The use of a wide variety of synthetic fibers
  • Heavy-duty cleaning

Acetone is one of the less dangerous solvents on this list, but it still requires chemical handling best practices.

Acetone is actually found in a number of common products such as food and cosmetics. This gives you an indication that it is relatively safe. It is low in toxicity when ingested or applied to the skin.

However, acetone can form very dangerous vapors and substances when it is combined with other chemicals. So, to safely handle chemicals like acetone, it’s essential that you keep them separated at all times.

As with toluene, acetone is also highly flammable. So, once again, proper chemical handling of this solvent involves using it in stable environments with plenty of fire protection equipment.

4. Ethyl Acetate

Ethyl acetate is one of the most commonly found solvents on this list, primarily because it is less toxic than the others. It is used, for example, in the process of decaffeinating tea and coffee.

However, ethyl acetate requires proper chemical handling in large quantities. In particular, when ethyl acetate forms a vapor, it can be particularly hazardous if inhaled.

Some of the known side effects of ethyl acetate include dizziness, drowsiness, and unconsciousness.

Once again, the primary consideration for safe handling is proper ventilation and the separation of different chemical substances.

5. White Spirit

The last solvent to be aware of is white spirit, which is another relatively mild product. White spirit is used in cleaning machines and thinning oil, for example.

However, it still has a number of toxic side effects if someone comes into contact with it in high quantities. Once again, the primary concern is inhaling white spirit as a vapor.

This can cause many of the same side effects we have already discussed: drowsiness, discoordination, and unconsciousness.

One further consideration to be aware of is that, when used for prolonged periods, white spirit can also cause some types of dermatological conditions. This basically means that the skin is chronically irritated.

So, the best practices of handling white spirit involve using gloves and goggles, as well as using high-quality ventilation systems.

Finally, although it is less so than other solvents, white spirit is moderately flammable. Therefore, once again, proper chemical handling practices of keeping white spirit away from sparks, flames, and sources of heat should be observed.

Never Get Complacent About Chemical Handling

You should now have a good idea of the most important solvents to be aware of in terms of health and safety concerns. You should also now have a good idea of the relevant chemical handling practices to employ in the case of each.

But the most important thing to remember with chemical handling is that you can never afford to get complacent. Even though you might have some safety practices in place already, you should be continually monitoring your use of these chemicals and ensure that the environment in which you are using them is not changing.

With that being said, get going with your work and take care!

If you’ve found this information useful, why not check out some of our other articles on practical health and safety advice in the workplace?

Cheryl Henson

Cheryl Henson is a passionate blogger and digital marketing professional who loves writing, reading, and sharing blogs on various topics.

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