Environmental Health & Safety

Training for Anatomy Students

ANATOMY STUDENTS – This informational sheet is designed to alert you to the possible hazards of anatomy dissections and to provide you with some guidance on how to protect yourself. 


BEFORE YOU START – If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, please notify the physician before you enter the laboratory.  


EMBALMING CHEMICALS – A number of chemicals are used in various proportions to preserve cadavers.  The main chemicals are typically: formaldehyde, phenol, methanol, and glycerin.  These chemicals may be hazardous if they get into your body, through inhalation, ingestion, injection or absorption. A great deal of effort has gone into reducing or eliminating any possible hazardous exposure while performing dissections.  The embalming method, the laboratory ventilation, the personal protective equipment you are instructed to wear, and your training in proper dissection practices are all designed to help minimize your exposure. 


FORMALDEHYDE – Formaldehyde is a carcinogen classified as toxic, corrosive, and sensitizing chemical.  It is part of the embalming solution at a 3.0% concentration. In addition to preserving tissue for long periods of time it also acts to inactivate many microorganisms that may reside in the tissue. It has a pungent odor and the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for formaldehyde is 0.75 parts per million (ppm).  Airborne concentrations of formaldehyde above 0.1ppm can cause irritation of the respiratory tract.  Higher concentrations can be immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH). Primary routes of exposure include; inhalation, skin and/or eye contact. Skin contact with formaldehyde can result in various skin reactions, including sensitization.   


PHENOL – Phenol is classified as a toxic and corrosive chemical. It is used in the embalming solution at a 26.0% concentration.  It can cause irritations and burns and can have systemic toxicity.  It has a characteristic sweet acrid, disinfectant, odor that you most likely detect when you enter anatomy class.  The permissible exposure limit (PEL) for phenol is 5 parts per million (ppm). Primary routes of exposure include; inhalation, skin absorption, ingestions and/or eye contact.   


METHANOL – Methanol is classified as a flammable and toxic liquid. It is used in embalming solutions at 28.0%. Contact with this chemical can result in irritation to the skin, eyes, and upper respiratory system.  It has a characteristic pungent odor. The PEL is 200 ppm. Primary routes of exposure include; inhalation, skin absorption, ingestion and/or eye contact.  


GLYCERIN – Glycerin is not a classified chemical. It is used in the embalming solution at 11.1%. This chemical is an irritant to the eyes, skin, and respiratory system.  It is a colorless, odorless liquid. The PEL for this chemical is 5mg/m3. Primary routes of exposure include; inhalation, skin and/or eye contact.   


The chemicals are mixed with water at a ratio of one part embalming fluid to one parts water.  For further information on the chemicals used for embalming, please go online at the EH&S website or speak with the Laboratory Supervisor to obtain copies for all of the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) used in the process. The SDS is an informational sheet that contains more in-depth information about the chemicals used. Specifically, information about how to safely work with the chemicals and what symptoms to look for when dealing with possible exposure.  


INFECTIOUS AGENTS – Infectious agents are microorganisms that may cause disease in humans or animals.  Much like chemicals, you can be exposed to infectious agents by inhalation, ingestion, injection or absorption. Human tissues may contain infectious agents; however, the embalming solutions used on the cadavers not only preserve the tissue but also destroy many infectious agents.  In addition, the cadavers are screened and therefore are of low risk.  To minimize the risk of exposure to infectious agents, make sure that the tissues you are working with have been properly preserved.  Wear nitrile gloves and protective clothing such as a plastic apron or lab coat.  Wash hands thoroughly after working with tissues or if you suspect that you may have been exposed. Eating or drinking is NOT ALLOWED in work areas where tissues or chemicals are present.  Report all accidents to the course director. 


ERGONOMICS – Ergonomics is the study of the physical relationship between the individual and their work.  This relationship may be awkward or strained and must be adjusted to prevent discomfort.  Often your awareness of body tension is sufficient to remind you to adjust to a more comfortable position.  When performing dissections, get close to the area where you are working, bend at the knees if necessary, avoid excessive repetitive motions, avoid extensive fixed positions, and take regular breaks to relax strained areas. 


PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT – Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is anything that will reduce or eliminate the possibility of exposure to hazardous materials.  Your clothing, lab coat, apron, nitrile gloves, safety glasses, and respirators are all examples of possible protective equipment. Your typical attire for dissections should be as follows: surgical scrubs, apron, nitrile gloves, safety glasses, and surgical mask. If you wear contacts, please make sure that they are cleaned daily to prevent hardening due to chemical exposure. Vapor proof goggles are available upon request.  Please note that latex gloves do not provide the same level of protection as nitrile gloves for the embalming chemicals used.  Do not re-use gloves.  Change them after 15 minutes of continuous use.  Double-gloving prolongs use time. 


PERSONAL HYGIENE – After you complete your work in the anatomy class, remove PPE such as gloves, apron, mask and safety glasses and wash thoroughly with mild soap and water.  Washing should be careful and deliberate, ensuring thorough cleaning of any possible exposed skin.  If you suspect that you have been exposed during the dissections, stop what you are doing, remove protective equipment and wash carefully as above. 


WASTE DISPOSAL – All disposable PPE must be disposed as medical waste.  Medical waste containers are located in each anatomy laboratory.  Please remove gloves and disposable aprons and place these items in the medical waste containers before you leave the laboratory. This equipment must not be worn in the hallways. Please do not push down the waste in the bio hazard bins. If the waste is approaching the top, just close it up and start a new bin. The human tissue that becomes waste is collected in a red container at the end of the dissecting table during the semester and disposed at the end of the semester with the cadaver.  


ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH and SAFETY – The College is committed to maintaining a safe and healthy environment for everyone who works and lives within its facilities.  Environmental Health and Safety assists the College in this endeavor by monitoring the use, storage, and disposal of hazardous materials and by helping to educate staff, faculty, and students about the proper handling of these materials and about the actions to be taken in the event of an accident. 


As both students at the College and future health care professionals, you should be concerned with the quality and safety of the environment in which you work and live.  We have included a test with this material as a means of helping you to learn more about the exposure risks associated with dissection and the anatomy laboratories.  Please take a few minutes to complete this test and return it to the Anatomy Laboratory Supervisor.  If you have any questions about specific safety procedures regarding dissections, please address them to your laboratory teaching supervisor. 

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