19 Toxic Chemicals Used In Organic Synthesis

There are too many toxic and dangerous chemicals, and reagents used in the laboratory of custom synthesis, but we have to use them often for scientific research or contract manufacturing.

As one of the most professional lab chemical suppliers. we must list the dangerous and toxic chemical reagents regularly used in chemical laboratories and give everyone a heads-up.

Except for the common dangerous chemicals very noticeable that will give you a hard time instantly after contact such as HF, H2SO4, Hydrochloride, HNO3 or NaOH, KOH, KCN, NaCN, H2, O2, we must already pay attention to active metals such as Na/K(flammable in water), Hg(highly poisonous, some thermometer contains mercury), Cl2, Br2, etc, we also list some hazardous chemicals not that noticeable so you will pay attention after reading this article. Ok, let’s begin.

Toxic Chemicals Used In Organic synthesis

Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO)

DMSO is versatile. It is used as a solvent for acetylene, aromatics, sulfur dioxide, and other gases, and for spinning acrylic fibers. It has strong permeability to the skin and helps the drug penetrate the human body. It can also be used as an additive for pesticides. DMSO is also a penetrating protective agent, which can lower the freezing point of cells to reduce the formation of ice crystals, thus, less damage of free radicals to cells. It can change the biofilm permeability of electrolytes, drugs, poisons, and metabolites.

However, studies have shown that DMSO has serious toxic effects and interacts with hydrophobic groups of proteins, leading to protein denaturation, vascular toxicity, liver, and kidney toxicity.

When you use it, avoid its volatilization, and prepare 1% -5% ammonia water for emergencies. If it is on your skin, wash it with a large amount of water and dilute the ammonia solution. You may have nausea, vomiting, rashes, and the smell of garlic, onion, and oysters on your skin and exhaled air. Inhalation of volatile DMSO by high concentrations will cause headaches and dizziness. Skin contact will give you burnt skin, and tingly-like rash blisters.


Benzene can cause acute and chronic poisoning, even leukemia and malignant lymphoma. The benzene concentration of exposure is the key.

Some workers brush benzene-containing paint or coating in unventilated cabins and basements or glue leather shoes with chlorobenzene-containing adhesives in workshops with poor ventilation. They can inhale high concentrations of benzene in a short period, causing acute poisoning, headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and walking instability, like being drunk. In serious cases, people will fall into a coma, and fall onto the ground. If they are not rescued in time, they will die.

Long-term exposure to low concentrations of benzene may cause chronic poisoning, leading to aplastic anemia and leukemia.

Hexamethylphosphoramide (HMPA)

This product is a weather-resistant solvent and an excellent polar solvent for polyvinyl chloride, which greatly enhances the performance of agricultural films against low-temperature resistance and aging. It is a multifunctional polar solvent with a high boiling point. It is an ideal solvent for polymer syntheses such as polyphenylene sulfide and aromatic polyamides.

It is a co-catalyst for the polymerization of propylene. HMPA can improve the elasticity and oil resistance of ethylene-propylene rubber

Hexamethylphosphoryl triamine is used as gas chromatographic fixatives, violet light inhibitors, rocket fuel freezing-point lowering additives, and chemical sterilants. It is also used in semiconductor material processing, carbon dioxide absorption/washing, ultra-low-volume spraying of pesticides, production of chemicals for insect sterility, etc. Though it is not very toxic, oral LD50 in mice is only 6000 mg/kg, it is considered a potential carcinogen for humans.


Chloroform (CHCl3) is an anesthetic. It is used as a solvent for fats, rubbers, resins, oils, waxes, phosphorus, iodine, and acrylic materials. It is also used as an extractant for penicillin, essential oils, and alkaloids. It is used in the determination of inorganic phosphorus in serum and as a preservative for liver function tests.

It is irritating to the skin, eyes, mucous membranes, and respiratory tracts and will cause damage to organs. It is very volatile and you should avoid inhaling it.

Wear suitable gloves and safety glasses and always operate in a chemical fume hood when you use chloroform. Due to its low boiling point, the bottle cap should not be directed at anyone so as not to hurt them with the thrusting cap when you open the chloroform bottle in a high-temperature environment.


Formaldehyde is highly toxic and volatile and it is also a carcinogen. It is easily absorbed through the skin and irritating and damaging to your eyes, mucous membranes, and upper respiratory tracts. Avoid breathing formaldehyde vapors and wear suitable gloves and safety glasses when you use them. Always operate in a chemical fume hood and keep it away from heat, sparks, and flames.

Sodium azide (NaN3)

NaN3 is mainly used for bacterial culture, as reagents for the preparation of sodium azide blood culture medium. It is used to produce sulfide and thiocyanate, azide acid, lead azide, and pure sodium, herbicide by organic synthesis.

Because it decomposes rapidly and generates a large amount of nitrogen by the strong impact, sodium azide is used in automotive airbags.

But sodium azide is very toxic and the solutions containing sodium azide should be marked. Or it will harm your health by accidental inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption. Wear suitable gloves and safety goggles, and take extra care when you handle them.

Sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS)

SDS is a known detergent that can denature the protein. It is used to determine the protein molecular weight by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. It can also be used in nucleic acid extraction operations to disrupt cell walls and lyse nucleic acid, and protein complexes.

At higher temperatures, it will disrupt the proteins to DNA binding, and then DNA is released. It is a toxic irritant and poses a risk of serious damage to the eyes. It is harmful to health by inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption. Wear suitable gloves and safety goggles when handling it. Avoid inhaling its powder by all means.

Trichloroacetic acid (TCA)

TCA is mainly used in organic synthesis and manufacturing of medicine, chemical reagents, and pesticides. Inhaling of TCA powder will irritate the respiratory tracts to cause cough, chest pain, and depression of the central nervous system.

Direct eye contact with TCA can cause severe damage to your eyes, even blindness. Skin contact can cause chemical burns. TCA is very corrosive. Oral intake will burn your mouth and digestive tracts, causing severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and collapse.

Ethidium bromide (EB)

EB is a highly sensitive fluorescent colorant used to observe DNA in agarose and polyacrylamide gels. Ethidium bromide is also a strong mutagen with high carcinogenicity! It will evaporate at 60-70 degrees (so it is better not to add it when the agarose and polyacrylamide gel is too hot.

Disposal treatment of EB solution:
Due to the toxicity of ethidium bromide, the solution containing EB should be treated after the experiment to avoid pollution to the environment and harm to human health.

Diethyl pyrocarbonate (DEPC)

DEPC can deactivate various proteins and it is a strong inhibitor of RNase. It is a potential carcinogen and should be handled under good ventilation. Avoid any contact with the skin. DEPC itself is not very toxic, but inhalation is the worst. Wear a mask when you use it.


Acrylamide is medium toxic. It can penetrate through the skin and the respiratory tract to enter the human body. Therefore, you must wear protective equipment such as gas suits, gas masks, and gloves during handling and use.

Acrylamide is mainly neurotoxic, along with reproductive and developmental toxicity. Neurotoxic effects are manifested as degenerative changes on peripheral nerves in the brain that involve learning, memory, and other cognitive functioning sites.

Acrylamide is also a possible carcinogen. Epidemiological observations of occupationally exposed workers indicate that Long-term acrylamide exposure by low doses can cause symptoms of drowsiness, mood and memory changes, hallucinations, and tremors, accompanied by peripheral neuropathy such as glove-like sensations, sweating, and muscle weakness. It is not easy to detox cumulative toxicity once caused.

N, N’-methylenebisacrylamide (methylenebisacrylamide)

Methylenebisacrylamide can be used as a cross-linking agent for the production of polyacrylamide gels and the separation of biopolymer compounds (proteins, peptides, nucleic acids).

It contains a substituent acrylamide and is therefore somewhat toxic. It can slightly stimulate eyes, skin, and mucous membranes, affecting the central nervous system. Please avoid direct contact and powder inhalation. Wash it with clean water by accidental touch.

Dithiothreitol (DTT)

DTT is used as a reducing and deprotecting agent for thiolated DNA. It emits bad smells and harms your health by inhalation, ingestion, or absorption through skin contact. When you handle DTT solid or solutions of high concentration, please wear gloves and goggles and operate in a fume hood.

N, N, N ‘, N’-tetramethylethylenediamine (TEMED)

TEMED is used for the preparation of PAGE gels. TEMED can catalyze ammonium persulfate to produce free radicals, to accelerate the polymerization of acrylamide gels. It has strong neurotoxicity and please avoid its inhalation. It should be handled carefully with protective garments during lab operation and sealed well during storage.

Phenylmethylsulfonyl fluoride (PMSF)

PMSF is a highly toxic cholinesterase inhibitor. It is very destructive to the respiratory mucosa, eyes, and skin. It can be fatal by accidental inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption.

Wear proper gloves and safety glasses when you handle it and always operate under a chemical fume hood. In case of accidental contact, flush your eyes or skin immediately with tons of water and discard contaminated work clothes.


Giemsa dye can be made into blood smears to detect parasitic protozoa, such as Plasmodium and Trypanosomes; It is used as a colorant for pathogenic Borrelia, viruses, Rickettsia, peroxidase, and chromosomes. It can also be used as reagents for tissue culture and research.

Ingestion of Giemsa can be fatal or cause eye blindness. It is toxic through inhalation and absorption through the skin. The damage is irreversible. Wear suitable gloves and safety goggles during the operation. Operate under a chemical fume hood and avoid inhalation.

Polyethylene glycol octyl phenyl ether(Triton X-100)

Triton X-100 can dissolve lipids to increase the permeability of antibodies through cell membranes. In life sciences, it is often used in water to help break down proteases. However, it must be used at the lowest concentration possible or it will contaminate the sample to affect MS analysis. It is also used as one of the components of restriction buffer (NEBufferEcoRI) in genetic engineering.

It can cause severe eye irritation and burns. You should avoid inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption.

Ammonium persulfate

Ammonium persulfate is a strong oxidant and can also be used as an initiator for polymerization. It is extremely harmful to mucous membranes and upper respiratory tracts, eyes, and skin.

Wear suitable gloves, safety glasses, and protective clothing during the operation. Always operate under a fume hood and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.


Trizol is a new RNA total extraction reagent that can directly extract total RNA from cells or tissues. It has phenol, guanidine isothiocyanate, and other substances to quickly break down cells and inhibit nucleases released by cells. Trizol maintains the integrity of RNA while disrupting and lysing cells, so it is very useful for purifying DNA and standardizing RNA production.

Because it contains the toxic substance phenol, rinse immediately with a large amount of detergent and water in case of accidental contact. Go to your doctor immediately if you still have discomfort after thorough washing.

2. Seven types of carcinogens used in the lab

Aromatic amines

Aromatic amines, widely used in rubber, pharmaceutical, printing, and dyeing industries, can induce cancer of the urinary system. Aromatic amines are liquids with high boiling points or solids with low melting points. They have a special odor and are very toxic. For example, aniline can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through your skin to cause poisoning. Ingestion of 0.25 mL will cause severe poisoning. β-naphthylamine and benzidine are substances that will cause malignant tumors.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are strong carcinogens substances produced by incomplete combustion of coal, petroleum, firewood, plant straw, sawdust, etc. Benzopyrene is one of the PAHs that will enter the human body through the skin, respiratory tract, and contaminated food, causing leukemia and other cancers in the stomach, lungs, and skin. People will get it through barbecues, grilling fish or meat, smoked foods at high-temperature such as sausages, fish, bacon, etc . benzopyrene will be produced when the frying temperature of foods is too high, cakes and biscuits are burnt. Crude oil pollution in the ocean will also cause seafood to contain benzopyrene.

Alkylating agents

Alkylating agents, including nitrogen mustard, sulfur mustard, cyclophosphamide, mitomycin, diethylnitrosamine, sulfonates, epoxides, lactones, and halogen ethers, some sulfates, and sulfites, can cause leukemia, lung cancer, breast cancer.


N-nitroso compounds are a large class of substances that are highly carcinogenic to animals. More than 100 nitroso compounds that have been studied, more than 80% are carcinogenic and can induce esophageal cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, Gastric cancer, liver cancer, and bladder cancer The most notorious among them is nitrosamine. The content of N-nitroso compounds In natural foods is extremely low (safe for the human body), but it can be synthesized from precursors (nitrates, nitrites, and amines) in the human body, foods, and environment. These precursors are found in many natural and artificial foods, especially in poor-quality, expired, or preserved foods such as bacon, dried fish, milk powder, cheese, and so on. Dry cheese has the most; they also exist n fermented foods such as soy sauce, vinegar, oil, and sauerkraut; Nitrates in vegetables not fresh can be reduced to nitrite by bacteria and enzymes; foods containing N-nitroso compounds are Smoked fish, salted fish, meat, ham, canned meat, shrimp skin, unseasoned pickles or sauerkraut.

Azo compounds

The azo compounds refer to chemicals containing azo-N = N- connecting two hydrocarbon groups, and its general formula is R-N = N-R. Terms related to Azo compounds in life are Azo-free, Azo-free certificate, Azo-free test, Azo fuel, Azo dye, etc. Azo materials are mainly: the structure and formation of Azo. Materials containing azo compounds include cloth, leather, paint, plastics, rubber, colorants, and so on.


Aflatoxin is one of the most dangerous carcinogens ever found. It is a toxin produced by the metabolism of foods contaminated by Aspergillus flavus and Parasitism parasiticus. It can cause liver cancer after being taken by humans. It can also induce cancer in the bone, kidney, breast, rectum, ovary. Aflatoxins are mainly found in foods contaminated by aflatoxin such as peanuts, peanut oil, corn, rice, cottonseed, etc. Aflatoxins have also been found in dried peppers, animal livers, salted fish, and milk and dairy products.

Heavy Metals

The first heavy-metal cancer reported dates back to 1888. It was by Arsenic.

Calcium chromate, zinc chromate, strontium chromate, and lead chromate can all induce cancer.

Chromium is the only convincing hereditary metal whose cancer-causing properties depend on the oxidation state and solubility. Only chromates barely soluble are carcinogenic.

Because soluble nickel compounds are very small and aerosol-like particles, they can easily reach the lungs through breath, leading to lung cancer. Insoluble nickel compounds are dust-like, large particles, and easily linger in the nasal cavity. In addition to causing lung cancer, they can also cause nasopharyngeal cancer. Repeated perfusion of metal beryllium, beryllium oxide, and beryllium hydroxide into the trachea of rats and monkeys can induce lung cancer in them.

In 1965, the UK reported for the first time that a large number of prostate cancers occurred among workers in nickel-cadmium battery manufacturing plants. A series of subsequent studies have shown that workers exposed to cadmium have an increased risk of lung cancer.

End words

It is very dangerous to work in a lab, any chemical can be dangerous if we get sloppy. We just hope all technicians in the lab can take great care and pay extra attention. We can only stay safe in this way.

At last, good luck with the custom synthesis, without your hard work in the lab, there won’t be so many new drug discoveries.

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