November 1995

Ohio Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law and University Vehicles

Ohio's new Financial Responsibility Law requires drivers of vehicles to be able to demonstrate Proof of Financial Responsibility. This applies to all vehicles, including university vehicles driven by students and staff. According to the regulation, financial responsibility is required to be shown:

  • whenever a police officer issues a traffic ticket
  • at all vehicle inspection stops
  • upon every traffic court appearance
  • after every motor vehicle crash
  • upon random checks by the Registrar of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV).

Any driver or owner who fails to demonstrate Proof of Financial Responsibility will:

  • lose his or her driver license for 90 days on first offense and for one year on additional offenses (work driving privileges cannot be given during this suspension)
  • lose his/her license plates and vehicle registration
  • pay reinstatement fees of $75 first offense, $250 second offense, and $500 any additional offense
  • pay a $50 penalty for any failure to surrender his/her driver's license, license plates, or registration
  • be required to maintain special Financial Responsibility Proof (high risk insurance or equivalent) on file with the BMV for five years.

Once this suspension is in effect, any driver or owner who violates the suspension will have his or her vehicle immobilized and his or her license plates confiscated for at least 30 days for the first offense and 60 days for the second offense. For third or subsequent offenses, the vehicle will be forfeited and sold, and the vehicle owner will not be permitted to register any motor vehicle in Ohio for five years. These penalties are in addition to any fines or penalties imposed by a court of law.

To comply with the requirements of the new law, the university's insurance carrier has provided an insurance identification card for each owned or leased vehicle. The identification card satisfies the financial responsibility requirements of the State of Ohio and should be placed in a safe and easily accessible location in the vehicle (such as the glove compartment). If this ID card is not found in a university vehicle which you will be driving, contact your supervisor immediately.

This law applies to everyone driving, whether in a university vehicle or one's own. Protect yourself: take steps to insure you have proof of financial responsibility ready at all times.

Methylene Chloride in Consumer Products

Methylene chloride is used widely in labs and is present in many common consumer products. Whether at home or in the laboratory, products containing methylene chloride should always be used under very high ventilation conditions because of its hazardous properties.

Methylene chloride causes neurological impairment. Observed effects include fatigue, dizziness, forgetfulness, and delusions. It is metabolized to carbon monoxide in the body which binds to hemoglobin.

In addition, methylene chloride causes cancer in some laboratory animals and may pose a cancer hazard to humans. Harmful exposure to a chemical with the potential to cause cancer, such as methylene chloride, may occur without immediately observable symptoms (such as headaches, dizziness, or watery eyes).

OSHA recently changed the regulations concerning methylene chloride to reflect this potential danger. The Time-Weighted Average (or TWA, the airborne concentration over an eight-hour day, five days a week) for methylene chloride is now 50 ppm, down from the previous 500 ppm. This is a huge reduction and is directly related to the health effects which have been observed in exposed individuals. It goes a long way in showing the increased awareness and concern of regulatory agencies as to the chemical's hazardous properties and status as a carcinogen.

Following OSHA's lead, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has ruled that consumer products containing methylene chloride should be labeled to warn about a possible cancer hazard when used without proper controls. At least some (but not all) products in the following categories contain methylene chloride:

  • paint strippers
  • adhesive removers
  • spray shoe polish
  • adhesives and glues
  • paint thinners
  • glass frosting and artificial snow
  • water repellents
  • spray paints
  • wood stains and varnishes
  • cleaning fluids and degreasers
  • aerosol spray for automobiles
  • automobile spray primers

Paint strippers and adhesive removers generally represent the highest exposures to methylene chloride, but when the products are used under high ventilation, the hazard is low. The exposures associated with similar use of the remaining products would be even lower than those from paint strippers and adhesive removers.

Exposure to methylene chloride occurs by breathing its vapors. The risk depends on the level and duration of exposure. Here are some ways to reduce exposure:

  • use products containing methylene chloride outdoors.
  • if a product using methylene chloride must be used indoors--even in a garage--open all windows and doors and use a fan to exhaust the air outside during application and drying.
  • respirators may not offer protection from methylene chloride vapors, so don't assume you are safe without putting in place other engineering controls.

It is important that products containing methylene chloride always be used either outdoors or under very high ventilation conditions.

MSDS-Access Documentation to be Sent Out

The brochure with instructions on how to access the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) database through CWRUnet has been mailed to all Principal Investigators. Few campuses have such an extensive online MSDS system, and The Department of Occupational and Environmental Safety (DOES) encourages all laboratories to take advantage of this extensive chemical safety information.

The MSDSs provide everything required by OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard--carcinogen status, target effects, persons at increased risk, antidote information, chemical properties, and handling and hazard data.

It is required that all laboratory personnel know how to access this information. We recommend not only teaching all lab personnel how to access the database but also printing out hard copies of MSDSs for ready access.

If you have not received the brochure by the end of the month, contact DOES at 368.2906.

Using Phenol Safely: Know the Dangers

Phenol, also known as carbolic acid, is a commonly used substance in many scientific fields. However, it is not really an acid at all. This base received its "acid" nomenclature because of the severe burns it is capable of causing through any contact with the body.

Phenol is used readily by the medical field in cell research. It is also used in plastics research in the polymer science field and in weak concentrations is a common disinfectant. The danger of phenol in the lab is increased by its extensive utilization--people who use it often tend to forget what an insidious toxin phenol is and are not careful to completely protect themselves from it. Phenol causes severe damage internally through ingestion or inhalation and externally through direct contact. Often phenol causes dual harm, both as a corrosive and after absorption as a systemic toxin.


Skin Contact: Burns are the most common injury caused by phenol, occurring when it comes in contact with the skin or eyes. Upon initial contact with phenol, the skin will turn white while the phenol is being absorbed. Often one will not feel the burn in this beginning stage. By the time a burning sensation arises, the phenol will have already been completely absorbed; the skin will have turned red and a second-degree burn will have formed. At this time, the toxin is already absorbed by the body. The dangers from a phenol burn therefore are two-fold: a physical burn and toxic poisoning.

Any area of the skin that has come into contact with phenol should be immediately flushed with water for 15-20 minutes until no trace of the substance remains. Applying alcohol to the area, once thought the best way to clean a phenol burn, only spreads the substance further. Medical attention should be procured immediately.

The ensuing damage occurring when phenol comes into contact with the eye is even more severe--direct contact can cause blindness; even vapors cause severe burns. Flush the eye with water for 15-20 minutes followed by 20-30 minutes with saline solution.

Inhalation: Damage can occur to the respiratory system if phenol is inhaled. Fumes are released when phenol or a compound containing phenol is distilled. Irritation to the mucus membrane is usually severe, and if large amounts of phenol are inhaled in a short period of time, death from respiratory or cardiac failure can occur.

Ingestion: Having food or drink in the lab when working with any chemical can lead to accidental ingestion--phenol can be introduced into the digestive system this same way. Once in the digestive system, phenol will again work both as a corrosive, burning the mouth and throat, and as a toxin, causing systemic effects such as abdominal pain, nausea, headaches, and death.

Using Phenol Safely:

Lab Attire: since exposure of any kind to phenol is dangerous, it is imperative that proper protection be taken. Gloves (preferably rubber) and a lab coat should always be worn when working with phenol to prevent any contact with the skin. Protective eyewear should also be worn--at the least safety goggles, but a face shield may also be needed if there is the potential of splashing. Again, contact of any kind with this substance will cause damage, so make sure your protection is impervious and securely in place. Wash thoroughly after use or handling.

Fume hoods: always use phenol under a fume hood if there is a danger of inhalation from fumes of any sort.

Eyewash station/safety shower: know the location of the nearest shower and eyewash stations in case of an emergency, when using this or any hazardous material.

Storage: store phenol in a cool, dry, well-ventilated location separate from oxides and other incompatible substances.

Though phenol may be a well-known chemical to you, do not let down your guard when using it--the damage phenol can cause is quite serious. Always wear proper protection and take necessary precautions.

Attention PIs: Waste Pick-ups

Recently we have noticed some problems concerning waste pickups. Since these issues are common and have been addressed both in the newsletter and in some cases in person, we feel that perhaps newcomers to the lab might be unwittingly making some of these mistakes. Please go over the requirements with any new people on your staff, especially students, so they are aware of the proper protocol. Here are some items that need to be addressed:

  1. All radioactive waste and its completed forms should be ready at the time the call is made for a pickup. If the waste is not ready when the technician comes for the pickup, the technician will not pick it up. It will be up to the laboratory to reschedule a time.
  2. Scintillation vials and acrylamide gels should be separated from dry waste and placed in their own separate bags--these items are not considered dry waste. If these are not separated, the waste bag will be returned to the lab for separation. Please make sure to double-bag scintillation vials, since the added weight of scintillation fluid may cause the bag to leak or break. Vial bags are available from the Radiation Safety Office upon request.
  3. Do not fill containers for liquid up to the rim. This creates a hazard for both the lab and the technician picking up the waste by increasing the likelihood of spillage. The containers also should be wipe-tested to make sure that they are contamination-free. We recommend using a plastic (not glass) container with a wide mouth, holding about 4 liters of liquid. Large containers that hold 20 liters will not be returned until the waste has decayed to background, since it is too difficult to safely pour their contents into storage drums. If you generate less than this amount per month, it would be advisable to invest in smaller reusable containers. Their contents can be poured into larger drums and returned to your lab. These containers can be obtained through commercial vendors like Fisher Scientific.

Respirator Training

OSHA requires that all workers whose responsibilities may require the use of a respirator go through a Respiratory Safety Program. If you work with materials that may cause damage to your respiratory system if inhaled, you may qualify for this program. DOES offers this program as needed, which consists of three parts: training, medical approval, and a fit test.

Respirators work by protecting the respiratory system from the inhalation of hazardous gases. Because they are used as protection against harmful inhalation and in emergency situations, their individual fit must be assured, and employees must be properly trained in their use and care.

There are two main types of respirators: those that filter out contaminants from the air and those that supply fresh air independent of the surrounding contaminated air. The former is most commonly used in the laboratory environment.

Each worker must go through a basic training session as the first step to complete the program. The following issues are among those covered: information on respiratory hazards and health effects, how respirators work, the limitations of a cartridge filter, and engineering controls vs. respirator use.

The OSHA standard also requires medical approval for all workers who will potentially use a respirator. At the training session, each person fills out a confidential medical questionnaire, which is sent immediately to University Health Services. University Health Services then phones each trainee to set up an appointment and administers physicals to determine that each worker is healthy and will not be harmed by doing work requiring the use of a respirator.

The selection of the type of respirator, filter or fresh supply, is dependent on the materials with which each person will most likely work. The choice is made after taking into account the type of work done, the nature of the hazard, particulate contaminants, the concentration of the contaminant, the location of the hazardous area, and worker activity.

After selection of the proper respirator, each worker must be fit tested to assure that the respirator is airtight. The final steps in the program include how to put on the respirator and check to make sure it is working properly, maintenance of the respirator, and cleaning and storage of the respirator.

Overall, respirators should rarely be necessary. Whenever possible, use a fume hood; at times when a respirator is necessary, it means that the individual is working in a hazard zone, which is less desirable than removing the hazard as a fume hood does.

Each person using a respirator need only go through the training program offered by DOES once. However, if you lose or gain over 20% of your body weight, be sure to get re-fit for a respirator so that it continues to protect you.

Recycling Styrofoam Chemical Containers

Chemicals shipped to the university from various scientific companies often come in styrofoam coolers with return postage and labeling included. Take these coolers to the University Mail Room located in the Service Building to be sent back to these companies.

Note that this is the only mail room that has the capacity to accept these containers. The mail room in the Medical School, for instance, exists just for sorting mail and is not large enough to handle any shipping or receiving.

If a hazardous chemical was shipped in a cooler, any labels designating the container as hazardous must be removed or defaced. If the chemical bottle broke inside the cooler, it cannot be sent back--contact DOES for proper disposal procedures.

We encourage all researchers to mail back as many of these containers as possible. Since return postage is already included, it costs nothing to mail these back and saves a lot of room in landfills.