Oleylamine Chemical Burn

December 31, 2008

What happened?

  • A laboratory researcher suffered a delayed chemical burn after only a few drops of a highly corrosive organic chemical splattered on his unprotected left forearm.
  • The burns first appeared hours after exposure, got worse overnight, and eventually required treatment at a hospital.

forearm with spotted chemical burns

The researcher's forearm

Working in a fume hood, a researcher was drying a large quantity of oleylamine (CAS# 112-90-3) in a 250ml three-neck flask under pressurized argon. After cooling the flask, he proceeded to transfer the contents to a bottle. As he removed the septum from the neck of the flask, a small quantity of oleylamine spurted from its neck and a few drops landed on his forearm. He subsequently went to a nearby restroom and briefly (less than one minute) washed the affected area of his forearm with soap and water. A few hours later he noticed a minor burn mark near his wrist. Late that same evening he noticed that several other burn marks had formed on his forearm. By morning a few of the burn marks had developed blisters and he went to the hospital where he was treated.

The accident investigation revealed that the researcher:

  • Had performed this operation dozens of times before without injury, so he was not particularly worried about it.
  • Was not familiar with the high corrosivity of the chemical, and he expected it to wash off quickly with soap and water.
  • Was not wearing a lab coat or other protective clothing (there were no burns where his arm was protected by his short-sleeved shirt).
  • Was concerned about being late for a group meeting and therefore ran a higher than normal argon pressure, hoping to expedite the procedure.

Lessons Learned

  • Study the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) before using a chemical. The MSDS for oleylamine states the following health effects, exposure controls, and first aid measures when it comes to skin exposure:
  • Causes skin burns
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing to prevent skin exposure
  • Get medical aid immediately. Immediately flush skin with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes while removing contaminated clothing
  • Always wear a lab coat or other appropriate protective clothing when working with corrosive materials. When working in a fume hood, the sash protects the torso and face but not the arms. The Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP) should require that a lab coat be worn during such procedures and these coats should be provided to all researchers. The laboratory where this accident occurred now has instituted a policy that lab coats are required.
  • Allow adequate time when conducting experiments or work involving hazardous chemicals.
  • For this type of procedure, keep the gas pressure at a minimum or briefly turn it off when transferring contents.
  • Always ensure that pressure within a container is not too high before opening it.
  • Containers that may be under pressure should be opened away from your body and face.
  • Wash any chemicals from the skin or eyes very thoroughly, in accordance to the MSDS.


UC Berkeley Chemical Hygiene Plan

College of Chemistry personnel

The National Research Council's Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Disposal of Chemicals (National Academies Press,1995) is a good source of additional lab safety information.

Please call EH&S at 510-642-3073 with any comments or questions.