Wet, wet, wet... handle with care

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BDH 10292, as the chemical catalogue calls it, sounds like a fairly dangerous substance if the standard "hazard data sheet" that accompanies it is anything to go by.

After eye contact with this colourless liquid, you should "irrigate thoroughly with water"; after skin contact, "wash off thoroughly with soap and water"; if swallowed, "wash out mouth thoroughly with water" and "in severe cases obtain medical attention".

Furthermore, take precautions when handling it - gloves (rubber or plastic), eye goggles or a face shield, and a plastic aproon and boots "if handling large quantities".

And the common name of BDH 10292? Water.

While it might seem obvious to everyone else, chemicals suppliers are forced to comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Act, part of the Health and Safety at Work Act, which requires employers to identify any substances which can be classed as dangerous.

Undoubtedly, water can be hazardous if it gets in the wrong place, such as the lungs. (The hazard data sheet's advice is: "Lungs - remove from exposure.")

However, BDH Ltd, a subsidiary of the chemicals giant Merck, seems to have gone overboard in its hazard data sheet for BDH 10292, which it supplies in various quantities.

"If local regulations permit, mop up with plenty of water and run to waste, diluting greatly with running water," it advises. "Otherwise transfer to container and arrange removal by ... If material has entered surface drains it may be necessary to inform local authorities."

Whether one really needs all these precautions is a moot point. But there is some good news. The data sheet confirms that there is "no evidence of carcinogenic properties", nor is there any exposure limit.

Reactions? "None with water" - in which, you will be relieved to know, BDH 10292 is completely soluble.

But let's save the best until last. "Firefighting measures," notes the data sheet, "not applicable."