Chemical Burns

Many chemicals present a serious hazard.

At home there are products such as Drain cleaners, Oven cleaners, Brick cleaners and Rust removers, that have the potential to cause a chemical burn if they come into contact with the skin or the eye.

At work the risks increase significantly because the volume, concentration and variety of chemicals increases. Associated problems are:

  • Being able to identify the chemical.
  • The lack of knowledge regarding the chemical’s mechanism.
  • The lack of synergy between the chemical and the treatment.

The consequences following a splash with an aggressive chemical can result in a chemical burn.

What is a Chemical Burn?

A chemical burn is the partial or total modification/destruction of the molecules, cells or structure of the skin/eye due to contact with an irritant or corrosive chemical product. The degree to which the tissue has been modified/destroyed will determine the seriousness of burn.

The Products That Can Cause A Chemical Burn

Irritant and Corrosive products represent two classifications of hazardous chemicals, each with the potential to cause a chemical burn on contact with the skin or eye.

Some of these chemicals present a double hazard because of a secondary generalised toxic action associated with the primary irritant / corrosive action (example: Hydrofluoric acid)

The Steps That Can Lead To A Chemical Burn

  • Contact from the chemical onto the skin or eye.
  • Penetration of the chemical into the skin or eye.
  • Reaction between the chemical and the constituents of the skin or eye.

Note: Depending on the aggressive potential of the chemical, we may only have from a few seconds to a few minutes between contact and reaction to provide effective emergency first aid.

How a Chemical Burn Develops

Irritant and Corrosive products can create an exchange between the aggressive chemical molecules and the constituent parts of the skin or eye. The six sub groups of chemicals, categorised by their destructive potential to provoke an exchange are:

  • acids
  • bases
  • oxidizers
  • reducing agents
  • chelating agents
  • solvents

Factors That Influence The Penetration Of The Chemical

  • Concentration - The more concentrated the chemical the more aggressive it is.
  • Temperature - The higher the temperature of the chemical, the quicker it causes cell modification or destruction.
  • Time - The ability of the chemical to penetrate and react depends on the duration of contact. The quicker the first aid response, the more effective the treatment.

Steps Required For Effective Decontamination

  • Remove the chemical remaining on the surface of the skin or eye to avoid further penetration.
  • Stop the aggressive chemical action.
  • Stop further penetration of the chemical inside the tissue.

Solution Used For Emergency Decontamination

Historically water has been the default solution of choice and its use has continued on the basis of arguments which are more practical than scientific, because of its general-purpose potential, its non-toxic character, and its availability. It also allows the chemical agent, on the surface of the contaminated tissues, to be carried away by a mechanical washing effect.

However, there are limits to water washing:

  • It does not act on the potentially irritating or corrosive nature of the chemical agent,
  • There is no rapid return to a physiological state (the effect of carrying the chemical agent away is limited to the surface tissue and has no in-depth effect),
  • Water, because it is hypotonic, favours the chemical agent's penetration into the tissue,
  • In order to obtain optimal results, it is necessary to intervene IMMEDIATELY, according to the European Standards (10 seconds according to the ANSI standard) after the splash. However, there is sometimes only partial effectiveness, in particular on major corrosive agents.
  • Observation of significant after-effects, secondary care and surgical interventions resulting in permanent disability, and even fatalities are regularly reported in the scientific literature.

Recently, comparative studies have shown the possibility of improving on washing with water.

The Effective Solution

The PREVOR® Laboratory of Toxicology and Chemical Risk Management, from its Headquarters in France, has developed a unique range of products for the safe, effective emergency decontamination of chemical incidents / accidents. For further information regarding these improvements please refer to the DIPHOTERINE® and HEXAFLUORINE® solutions.

For more information about PREVOR®, click here.