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Dangers of Bouin's

Judith A. Fournier 110275.1004 at compuserve.com
Thu Mar 30 16:59:26 EST 2000

Dear Annelidans,

Leslie and Jack are correct about some aspects of Bouin's solution 
hazards. A few years ago, a colleague was  sorting through some Bouin's 
preserved whale organs and noticed a yellow crystal growing on some jar 
lids that had mostly dried up.  Having just attended a Monona Rossol 
seminar on hazardous lab products, he contacted me as his Health & 
Safety Committee Rep.  I bounced it to the Museum Safety Officer who did 
some research.  The upshot was that the army explosives disposal team 
was called in to clean up (ie: clear out) Bouin-preserved specimens from 3 
different buildings, plus any Bouin's solutions remaining in the labs and 
storage rooms.  There was a big meeting between army, 2 police forces, 
the museum safety officer, collection manager, me, and several other staff. 
 The officer in charge of the army unit was actually talking about a "long 
walk" to bring an overaged sample out of one building.  

They eventually burned more than 3000 lots of whale tissue and a couple 
hundred lots of other specimens.   

Part of the problem was our inability to locate a Material Safety Data Sheet 
about it (generic home-made solutions).  After the destruction, I was able to 
obtain several MSDS sheets from Fisher Scientific, Baker's, and Canada 
Wide Scientific.  Two described the solutions as toxic, flammable, 
explosive, etc....  based on the characteristics of the components.  The 
third described it as not particularly toxic, non-flammable, no danger of 
explosion.  On requesting further information, I learned that, due to the 
pressure of producing so many MSDS's in a short time, their chemists had 
been making "reasoned guesses" from the ingredients, trying to err on the 
side of safety.  No one had made any tests of the solutions in question.  

Okay, so THEORETICALLY, it could cause an explosion if there is a build-
up of picric acid crystals between the lip of container and the cover and a 
static charge got in to set them off ("you could maybe lose a finger" -- 
explosive sergeant).  Said crystals are easily and safely removed under 
running water.  Samples in Bouin's should be stored under fluid in a larger 
container.  And all samples, regardless of preservative, should be handled 
under a properly set-up fumehood or fume extractor system.   

Judy Fournier,  Canadian Museum of Nature (retired).

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