ORGLIST: Normal odor level in an organic lab

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From: Paul Handley (p.handley$##$chemistry.uq.edu.au)
Date: Mon Feb 05 2001 - 00:25:48 EST


>I am currently in discussions with our local safety representative regarding
>"fugitive odors" in our laboratory. He equates it with chemical
>contamination, while I equate it with the normal odors associated with
>synthetic organic research.

 Your nose is much more sensitive than a gas chromatograph for certain
compounds, yet for others eg chloroform, by the time you can smell it the
concentration far exceeds the safe levels. Odour is therefore not a good
measure of exposure to hazards.
  My sympathies are with you, but unfortunately I have little to offer.
In our lab, the acids cupboard was a big source of odours, but a simple
dish of bicarbonate inside fixed that quite nicely. What about those
commercial odour-removing sprays like Febreeze (spelling?). How do they work?
Often in this building, a bad smell in someones office or lab can be
eliminated by pouring water down each sink and runnel, including those
behind the fridge etc. If a sink is not used for a while, the water in the
S-bend dries out and smells come back up from the drains.
  As far as I know, if you do risk assessments on each compound used or
produced in your lab, and control the hazards for each, then you are at
least fulfilling your legal responsibility. As chemists we understand that
noone can truly know which compounds are produced in tiny amounts in
otherwise well-understood reactions. If you were to remove all odours with
"expensive mechanical controls" how would you know know if hazardous
compounds that you cant smell are also removed? Some safety
representatives seem to be against the idea of people doing any chemistry
at all.
Good luck,
Paul Handley
Dept of Chemistry
University of Queensland
Brisbane, Australia


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