Environmental Health & Safety

Training for Anatomy Students

This informational sheet is designed to alert you to the possible hazards of anatomy dissections and to provide you with some guidance on how to protect yourself.

EMBALMING CHEMICALS- A number of chemicals are used in various proportions to preserve cadavers. These chemicals are typically:formaldehyde, phenol, methanol, and glycerin. These chemicals may be hazardous if they get in or on your body. A great deal of effort has gone into reducing or eliminating any possible hazardous exposure while performing dissections. The embalming method, the laboratory ventilation, the personal protective equipment you are instructed to wear, and your training in proper dissection practices are all designed to help minimize your exposure.

FORMALDEHYDE – Formaldehyde is classified as a potential human carcinogen. It is part of the embalming solution at 1.9% concentration. In addition to preserving tissue for long periods of time it also acts to inactivate many microorganisms that may reside in the tissue. The permissible exposure limit for formaldehyde is 0.75 parts per million. Airborne concentrations of formaldehyde above 0.1ppm (parts per million) can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Higher concentrations can be dangerous to life and health. Skin contact with formaldehyde can also result in various skin reactions, including sensitization. The concentrations of formaldehyde used at AECOM for embalming are low. In addition, air monitoring for formaldehyde during anatomy dissections, for the most part, have indicated low levels. Wear protective nitrile gloves and a plastic apron. Wash your hands after dissections and, if you suspect contamination.

PHENOL – Phenol is another chemical that is used in the embalming solution at 9.3% concentration. It can cause irritations and burns and can have systemic toxicity. It has a characteristic sweet acrid odor that you most likely detect when you enter anatomy class. The permissible exposure limit for phenol is 5 parts per million in air. Skin contact is the major route of exposure of this chemical. Use nitrile gloves and a protective apron when performing dissections.Wash hands thoroughly after completion of your anatomy work or whenever you suspect that your skin has come in contact with preserved tissue.

METHYL ALCOHOL - This chemical is also used in embalming solutions at 11.1%. Contact with this chemical can result in irritation to the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and nervous system. It has a characteristic pungent odor. The permissible exposure limit is 200 parts per million in air. Prevent skin contact by wearing nitrile gloves and a plastic apron. Wash your hands carefully after dissection, or if you suspect skin contact.

GLYCERIN-Glycerin is used in the embalming solution at 11.1%. This chemical is an irritant to the eyes, nose, throat, and respiratory system. It is a colorless, odorless liquid.The permissible exposure limit for this chemical is 5mg/m3. Prevent contact by wearing protective nitrile gloves and clothing such as a plastic apron. Wash your hands carefully after dissections or if you suspect skin contact.

The embalming chemicals are mixed with water at a ratio of one part chemicals to two parts water. For further information on the chemicals used for embalming, please obtain a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for this solution.The MSDS is an informational sheet that contains more in-depth information about the chemicals used.The MSDS for embalming solution can be obtained from the Anatomy Laboratory Supervisor or from EH&S.

INFECTIOUS AGENTS – Infectious agents are microorganisms that may cause disease in humans or animals. Much like chemicals, you can be exposed to infectious agents by inhalation, ingestion, injection or contact.Human tissues may contain infectious agents, however the embalming solutions used on the cadavers not only preserve the tissue but also destroy many infectious agents. In addition, the cadavers are screened and therefore are of low risk.To minimize the risk of exposure to infectious agents, make sure that the tissues with which you are working, have been properly preserved. Wear nitrile gloves and protective clothing such as a plastic apron or lab coat. Wash hands thoroughly after working with tissue or if you suspect that you may have been exposed. There must be no eating or drinking in work areas where tissues are present. Report all accidents to the course director.

ERGONOMICS - Ergonomics is the study of the physical relationship between the individual and their work. This relationship may be awkward or strained and must be adjusted to prevent discomfort. Often your awareness of body tension is sufficient to remind you to adjust to a more comfortable position. When performing dissections, get close to the area with which you are working,, bend at the knees if necessary, avoid excessive repetitive motions, avoid extensive fixed positions and, take regular breaks to relax strained areas.

PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT – Protective equipment is really anything that will reduce or eliminate the possibility of exposure to hazardous materials. Your clothing, a lab coat, apron, nitrile gloves, safety glasses and a respirator are all examples of possible protective equipment. Your typical attire for dissections should be as follows: surgical scrubs, apron, nitrile gloves, and safety glasses.Please note that latex gloves do not provide the same level of protection as nitrile gloves for the embalming chemicals used.Do not re-use gloves.Change them after 15 minutes of continuous use.Double-gloving prolongs use time.

PERSONAL HYGIENE – After you complete your work in the anatomy class, remove protective equipment such as gloves, apron and safety glasses and wash thoroughly with mild soap and water. Washing should be careful and deliberate, ensuring thorough cleaning of any possible exposed skin.

If you suspect that you have been exposed during the dissections, stop what you are doing, remove protective equipment and wash carefully as above.

WASTE DISPOSAL – All disposable protective equipment must be disposed as medical waste. Medical waste containers are located in each anatomy laboratory.Please remove gloves and disposable aprons and place these in the medical waste containers before you leave the laboratory. This equipment must not be worn in the hallways.The human tissue that becomes waste is collected in a red container at the end of the dissecting table during the semester and disposed at the end of the semester with the cadaver.

DEPARTMENT of ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH and SAFETY - The College is committed to maintaining a safe and healthy environment for everyone who works and lives within its facilities.The Department of Environmental Health and Safety assists the College in this endeavor by monitoring the use, storage, and disposal of hazardous materials and by helping to educate staff, faculty and students about the proper handling of these materials and about the actions to be taken in the event of an accident.

As both students at the College and future health care professionals, you should be concerned with the quality and safety of the environment in which you work and live.We have included a test with this material as a means of helping you to learn more about the exposure risks associated with dissection and the anatomy laboratories.Please take a few minutes to complete this test and then send it to us at the indicated on-Campus address.If you have any questions about specific safety procedures regarding dissections, please address them to your laboratory teaching supervisor.

Upon reading this information please contact Environmental Health and Safety at x4150 to obtain a copy of the quiz. It is necessary to take and pass the quiz in order to get credit for completing this training.

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