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Acetone Hazards - Safe Handling and Disposal Practices

Many industries rely on acetone for various purposes, from solvent cleaning to chemical synthesis. However, its widespread use also poses significant hazards to both human health and the environment.

According to data compiled by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), between 2015 and 2017, there were 13 reported incidents involving acetone exposure in workplaces. These incidents encompassed burns resulting from acetone vapor ignition. Additionally, airborne exposure to acetone can occur in various workplaces where it is utilized as a solvent or cleaning agent. With an estimated 13 million workers in the United States potentially facing acetone-related hazards in their jobs, understanding its significance is paramount.

This ubiquitous chemical can be found in diverse settings such as laboratories, manufacturing facilities, and nail salons, underscoring its versatility. However, its inherent properties cannot be overlooked. Therefore, knowing about safe handling and proper disposal procedures is crucial to safeguarding workers' lives, preserving environmental cleanliness, and protecting public health. 

What is Acetone and its Uses? 

Acetone is a volatile, clear, colorless liquid solvent commonly used in various industries for its ability to dissolve a wide range of substances. Its unique properties make it an invaluable ingredient in applications where immediate evaporation is required, and maximum effectiveness is demanded.

Following are the important points about acetone uses:

Manufacture of Artificial Fibers − Acetone is used under controlled conditions to produce some artificial fibers.

Explosives Industry − Since acetone dissolves fats and resins, it is also used in the manufacture of explosives, where it is known as a dynamite solvent.

Pharmaceuticals − It is used as a chemical intermediate in many pharmaceuticals. As an example, it is used to synthesise cortisone, a steroid drug used to combat arthritis and inflammation.

Cosmetics and Nail Polish Remover − Acetone is the active ingredient in nail polish remover. It acts as a solvent and effectively removes nail polish.

Paints, Inks, and Varnishes − Because it is an excellent solvent, it is used in the formulation and application of various coatings, such as those used for painting cars and other products.

Adhesives and Paper Coatings − It is used in preparing adhesives and heat-seal coatings for the packaging industry since it can dissolve and mix with constituents in these applications.

This highlights the importance of acetone as a solvent in numerous industries due to its typical ketone properties and strong solvent capabilities.

Hazards of Acetone and Classification

Acetone is used in many industries as a versatile solvent, but its unique properties also present several hazards that must be addressed and managed to maintain workplace safety. 

One of the primary hazards of acetone is that it is highly flammable. As such, precautions must be taken when handling and storing to avoid fires and explosions. It should also be remembered that, like the rest of the ketones, acetone is a severe eye irritant. So, appropriate eye protection should be worn when handling acetone in the workplace.

As defined under the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) classification, acetone has a couple of significant hazard classes: 

  1. Flammable liquid Category 2 – indicates its high flammability and potential fire hazard.
  2. Eye irritant Category 2A – indicates its ability to cause serious irritation to the eyes upon contact.

Fire and harmful contact with acetone are significant hazards. Therefore, appropriate hazard identification and safety measures need to be implemented.

Acetone Health Hazards and Exposure Routes

Inhalation:

Inhaling acetone vapors can be harmful, potentially irritating the respiratory tract. This irritation may cause symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and shortness of breath. At high concentrations, acetone exposure can lead to effects on the central nervous system. These include dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, and, in the most severe cases, unconsciousness.

Skin Contact: 

The ability of acetone to remove natural oils from the skin is well known. Loss of the skin's natural oils disrupts its normal barrier properties, causing it to become dry, cracked, and irritated. Repeated or prolonged contact with acetone can lead to more severe dryness, redness, itching, burning, and general discomfort. Inflammation of this type is known as dermatitis.

Eye Contact: 

Both acetone vapors and liquid can cause severe eye irritation. Exposure can lead to redness, tearing, pain, and blurred vision, significantly impacting your ability to see clearly. In extreme cases, prolonged or direct contact with acetone can even damage the cornea, the eye's transparent outer layer, potentially leading to vision problems.

Acetone Safe Handling Practices for Industrial Settings

Let’s take a deeper look at safe handling practices for handling acetone in industrial settings.

Ventilation: Ensuring Air Quality

Mechanical ventilation ways for acetone hazards management

In environments where acetone is present, ensuring adequate ventilation is crucial for maintaining air quality and preventing inhalation exposure. Proper airflow helps prevent the buildup of acetone vapors, reducing the risk of respiratory problems for workers. Utilizing mechanical ventilation systems such as exhaust fans is integral, as they continuously release clean air while dispersing acetone vapors, thereby contributing to a safer working environment. 

Similarly, the establishment of cross-ventilation is facilitated through natural ventilation. This is done by opening doors and windows, further improving air circulation and minimizing the concentration of hazardous vapors in the air.

Provide The Right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Wear necessary PPE while handling large amounts of Acetone.

Some must-wear items include chemical-resistant gloves to protect skin from exposure and eye protection such as safety glasses or goggles to protect against splashes and irritation. 

In areas with particularly high vapor concentrations, workers should also wear respiratory protection such as gas masks to protect against inhalation exposure. In such cases, fittings must be adapted according to acetone levels and workplace dimensions to ensure the solution is effective.

Storage On Non-Absorbent Surfaces

As with handling, storage poses a unique challenge due to acetone’s reactivity with various materials. Because of this, it is essential to use non-absorbent surfaces to prevent material damage, retain the purity of the product, and maintain a safe vicinity. 

Store product containers in non-absorbent and sealed containers. They should be made of stainless steel or glass to prevent leakage and chemical reactions between acetone and porous materials such as plastics. 

In case of spills, ensure acetone is quickly recovered and contained using non-absorbent, disposable materials as soon as possible to eliminate the hazard. This will also prevent accidental leakage of acetone vapors into the workplace, posing a serious hazard to workers.

Fire Prevention

Take precautions for acetone flammability in the workplace.

A low flash point makes acetone extremely flammable. To prevent fires and other related disasters, ensure that acetone containers are stored in a clear space and separately from ignition sources such as open flames, welding operations, and sources of high heat.

If necessary, designate no smoking zones at and around acetone storage and handling areas to prevent accidental ignition and avoid the accumulation of flammable vapors. Ensure that fire extinguishers that are suitable for use on flammable liquid fires are available and that workers are trained to use them. 

You Can Also Download Our Free Incident Report Template For Reporting Acetone-Related Incidents.

Acetone Disposal Best Practices

Implementing proper disposal practices is crucial for minimizing acetone safety hazards and regulatory compliance. Here are essential guidelines for the safe disposal of acetone:

Containment:

When handling materials saturated with acetone, it is imperative to place them in a closed, leak-proof container. For instance, consider a scenario in which acetone is used to clean glassware in a chemical laboratory.

Technicians rinse their beakers and test tubes and deposit their acetone-soaked paper towels and cotton swabs. Instead of discarding these materials without containment, they transfer them into a heavy-duty plastic bottle with a secure screw-on cap. This precaution helps prevent spillage and the release of acetone vapors into the atmosphere. After transferring, technicians properly dispose of the sealed container following local regulations for hazardous waste management.

In another scenario, a research workplace disposes of used acetone from their cleaning processes. They utilize a designated acetone waste container of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) with a secure screw-on lid. The container is clearly labeled as "Acetone Waste" and is stored in an area designated explicitly for waste acetone, separate from other chemicals.

Acetone Hazard Label: 

In an unlabeled chemical storage room where various waste containers are gathered, confusion may arise, leading to potential mishandling of the containers. Workers should use either a permanent marker or printed labels to identify the drum or container’s contents. The acetone hazard label must also include the date that the material was placed inside. This is of great help to disposal personnel in identifying and properly managing hazardous waste.

For example, employees at a manufacturing plant are emptying solvent-based processes and cleaning equipment. They place the used acetone-soaked rags and wipes in a metal drum. They label the drum’s exterior as “Used Acetone Waste” and then the date. This allows anyone handling the container to know and manage the container's contents correctly for disposal.

Licensed Disposal Facility: 

Acetone is considered hazardous waste for its flammability and potential health risks. Instead of tossing it in the regular trash, industries must team up with licensed hazardous waste disposal facilities. These facilities have the expertise and equipment to handle hazardous materials safely. They adhere to regulatory guidelines for proper disposal methods. These methods can include incineration, acetone chemical hazards treatment, or recycling. Industries teaming up with these facilities ensures responsible and compliant acetone disposal.

SafetyIQ Helps With Managing Acetone Hazards In Industries

It is important to recognize that acetone is among the most dangerous workplace chemicals. Traditional strategies, such as paper-based reporting or periodic inspections, could be more time-consuming and suboptimal, often leaving critical risks behind. However, a comprehensive solution like SafetyIQ can disrupt how you manage the chemical hazards of acetone and related challenges.

SafetyIQ allows workers to report hazards directly from mobile and web interfaces, eliminating paper-based delays and ensuring quick capture, prioritization and control. It provides safety managers systematic guidance for identifying hazards, leaving no risk unmitigated. The real-time data accessibility helps expedite decision-making and drive focused risk reduction, tracking trends, recognizing patterns and enabling actionable preventive actions without delay.

Additionally, SafetyIQ drives the safety culture by promoting employee engagement in hazard reporting, simplifying compliance with safety regulations, and potentially enabling cost savings by proactively reducing risks, boosting workplace reputation, and more. 

By streamlining the process and providing a systemic way to manage hazardous workplace materials, like acetone, SafetyIQ lets you transform your organization into a first line of defense for a safer, cleaner and high-performance work environment.

FAQs

What should I do if my eye comes into contact with acetone?

The International Chemical Safety Card recommends immediately washing the eye with water for at least 15 minutes while tilting the head forward, removing any contact lenses and, as always, seeking medical help. ACS recommends the same and immediately calls for medical help.

Is acetone toxic if you ingest it?

Normally, acetone is not ingested. However, accidental intake can lead to acetone chemical hazards and serious health effects. Vomiting and headache are also noted as other symptoms. ACS agrees and also recommends seeking help immediately if ingested.

How can you prevent acetone spills while storing it?

Keep the container tightly closed in a cool, well-ventilated place when storing. Read the safety card. The National Fire Protection Association also suggests using "secondary containment", such as a spill pallet or tray, in case an accidental splash hits the ground.

Are there alternatives to acetone in some specific applications?

There might be. For instance, if you need to flux circuit boards, many manufacturers recommend a less volatile solvent such as isopropyl alcohol or ethyl acetate. But always check the specific needs of your application.

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