Chemical exposure is a blanket term for exposure to a wide variety of substances in the home or workplace that could be toxic. Those who work in chemical and plastics manufacturing, the petroleum industry, steel and heavy metals, construction or welding are at high risk for occupational exposure. At home, potentially dangerous chemicals include cleaning products, pesticides, spray paint and drain cleaners. Those who live or work near a chemical plant, refinery or gas station may also be at risk. Though it is impossible to list every potential side effect of chemical exposure, injuries from short-term exposure may include dizziness, shortness of breath, headaches and forgetfulness. Long-term exposure may cause cancer, birth defects, damage to major internal organs, learning disabilities and chronic neurological damage.
Ailments Caused By Chemical Exposure
Chemical exposure includes many varieties of substances, including biological agents, mineral dusts, nitrogen compounds, metals, pesticides, plastics, rubber, solvents, asphyxiates and sulfur compounds.
Some of the more dangerous chemicals a person can be exposed to are as follows:
Ethylene glycol ether: A solvent used in heavy industry and during semiconductor chip manufacturing “clean rooms”.
Pentachlorophenol (PCP): First used as a domestic pesticide, but use is now restricted as a preservative for wood. It is a potential carcinogen and may cause birth defects and respiratory complications.
Chromated Copper Arsenate: Used for many of the same purposes of PCP. It contains high amounts of arsenic that is highly toxic to humans.
Trichloroethylene: Used as a cleaning solvent. It is now in many groundwater supplies and soil. It can be inhaled or consumed with water, and may cause respiratory complications, nervous system problems, organ failure and death.
The most common ailments caused by some of the 400+ regulated hazardous substances include:
Asthma – A respiratory disorder during which the chest constricts and sufferers find it difficult to breath. Asthma is often times caused by an allergic reaction.
Pneumonitis – An inflammation of the lungs. Can be caused by a virus or an allergic reaction to aspirated vomitus, ingested gasoline or other petroleum distillates, ingested or skin adsorbed pesticides, gasses from electroplating, or other irritants. It manifests itself through fever, chills, dry cough, and inability to breath, constricted airways, and fatigue.
Fibrosis – The unhealthy growth of scar tissue as a reaction to a stimulus or catalyst (usually a hazardous chemical). It is commonly located in the liver or lungs.
Chronic Bronchitis – An obstructive pulmonary disease which, to be considered chronic, must occur for over three months to years in a row. Coughing and phlegm production are common symptoms.
Cancer – Many hazardous chemicals are carcinogens in concentrated amounts, and can result in the uncontrolled abnormal growth of cells.
Neuropathy – Degeneration of the nerves resulting in pain, numbness, tingling, swelling, and muscle weakness in various parts of the body.
Parkinson’s syndrome – A central nervous system (CNS) difficulty characterized by resting tremor, muscle rigidity (including a mask-like face), slow motor movement, and a stooped, shuffling gait.
Methemoglobinemia (met-H) – Is caused by a higher than normal occurrence of methemoglobin in the blood, it results in a difficulty of oxygen transport in blood. Met-H is commonly caused by an over-exposure to nitrates.
Anemia – A deficiency of red blood cells; symptoms include feeling tired, weak, and short of breath
Dermatitis – Chronic inflammation causing swelling, pain, redness, itching, and cracking of the skin.
Chloracne – An eruption of blackheads, cysts, and pustules, caused by the over-exposure to chlorine compounds such as halogenic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Burns – Resulting from topical contact with strong acids or alkalies.
Heavy metal poisoning – Examples are an over-exposure to substances such as mercury, lead and cadmium. Can be caused by elements that are either nephrotoxins (substances harmful to the kidneys) or heptotoxins (substances harmful to the liver).
Birth Defects – Including hydrocephalus, Spina Bifida and Anencephaly.