Exposure to poisonous chemicals, both at home and work, can lead to short and long term injuries. Injuries range from minor burns to long-term diseases and sensitivity to chemicals.
Chemical burns are caused by acids found in products like home cleaning solutions and cosmetic products like nail polish remover. The severity of the burn depends on the pH level of the product; products that can cause burns are alkali, acid and irritants. Alkali solutions are the most dangerous and penetrating. They include ammonia,lime and magnesium and are found in fertilizers, drain cleaners and cleaning products. Acids have a lower pH and usually causes a minor burn, but still can damage the cornea and lead to blindness in eye injuries. Acids include sulfuric and hydrochloric acids, and are found in vinegar and glass polish. A common injury results when auto batteries explode and acid is sprayed on the skin. Irritants, like pepper spray and detergents, cause only mild irritation.
Chemical burns to the skin cause burning, redness, pain or numbness, blistering and black, dead skin. There may also be coughing or shortness of breath. In severe cases, victims can suffer from weakness, fainting, seizures, irregular heartbeat and cardiac arrest. Prompt medical attention is important for severe burns. For less serious burns, removing contaminated clothing, flushing the burn with water, applying cold compresses, and wrapping with sterile dressing is the only treatment necessary.
Another short-term condition is chemical exposure that occurs from breathing, eating, drinking or touching chemicals. It can cause burning of the eyes, nose, throat or skin. It may be accompanied by headache, sweating, stomach discomfort and diarrhea and anxiety. Symptoms go away once the chemical is removed. Large exposures may cause difficulty breathing, fainting and weakness.
Some studies have shown that long term exposure to chemicals and pollution is linked to many serious disorders, including cancer, multiple sclerosis and autism. Occupational hazards from long term exposure to chemicals can lead to allergies and sensitivity, autoimmune disease, and immunosupression.
Allergies and reactions can develop from working with Polyisocyanates, found in coatings, adhesives and other products; acids found in products like paints and varnishes, and metals. They can result in asthma, anemia and contact dermatitis.
Autoimmune disease is an altering of antibodies that can result from exposure to a number of chemicals, include silica, mercury and sulfa. Examples of autoimmune disease are lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Some chemicals can suppress the immune system, reducing the body’s ability to fight off infection, disease and cancer.
Multiple Chemical Sensitivies (MCS)
Another severe, long term health issue is Multiple Chemical Sensitivities or MCS. It causes an extreme reaction to even low levels of various pollutants. It’s usually a chronic problem, with symptoms that include nausea, fatigue, burning eyes, headache and problems with memory and concentration. Although MCS is not recognized by most professional groups, there are many support and research resources for those who suspect that they suffer from MCS.
Serious health problems can result from exposure to chemicals used in chemical warfare and terroristic attacks. It’s been suspected that veterans exposed to nerve agents and other chemicals suffer from muscle pain, chronic fatigue, and other illness. In high doses, nerve agents cause death within minutes.
For more information on chemical injuries, see:
- Steigerwalt Associates: examples of injuries resulting from exposure to different types of chemicals
- Toxicology Source: news and research about toxic chemicals.
- The Environmental Illness Resource: news, research and treatment options for environmental diseases and illnesses
- Medicine Net: information about Multiple Chemical Sensitivities
- Chemical Injury Information Network: support and advocacy group that deals with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities.
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.org: Information and links about Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
- Health-Cares.net: Information about and treatment of chemical burns
- eMedicineHealth: Information about and treatment of chemical eye injuries
- Virginia Department of Health: information about unknown chemical exposure
- EXTOXNET: information about adverse immune response to chemicals, including chemical allergies, immunosuppression, and autoimmune disease.
- Federation of American Scientists: information about nerve agents
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention: information on nerve agents for emergency preparedness professionals
- Chemical Injury.net: articles about chemical injury and detailed information about individual hazardous substances.
- Occupational Health and Safety: information about pool chemical injuries
- Wellspere: articles about chemical injuries