Home Podcasts THMG063 – Top 5 Chemicals That Will Hurt You

THMG063 – Top 5 Chemicals That Will Hurt You


In this episode, we discuss the top 5 chemicals that can hurt us on the job.

Complete Show Notes

3:05 Background and Stats for Today’s Episode

  • Based upon an article by Ayana R. Anderson, who works in the Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences (DTHHS) in the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
  • Article based upon a study from 1999-2008 that covered injuries from acute chemical incidents across 9 states
    • By acute, we mean incidents lasting less than 72 hours
    • The states were Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin
  • The Toxic Substances Control Act‘s chemical substance inventory covers over 84,000 chemicals in commerce
  • Of the almost 58,000 incidents that were reported, almost 95% of them involved the release of just one chemical
  • The top 5 chemicals associated with injury were carbon monoxide (2,364), ammonia (1,153), chlorine (763), hydrochloric acid (326), and sulfuric acid (318)
  • While not one of the top 10 chemicals released, chlorine was in the top 5 chemicals associated with injury because of its hazardous properties
  • Every year, thousands of chemicals are manufactured and transported in the United States – as the use of chemicals increases, so does the likelihood of unintentional releases
  • A total of 13,196 people were reported to have been injured in single chemical releases
  • Releases of carbon monoxide resulted in the highest number of injured persons and the largest number of incidents that required evacuations (222)
  • The majority of the top 5 chemical releases occurred in fixed facilities (ranging from 70% to 97%)
  • Hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid had the highest frequency of releases during transportation at 30% and 15%, respectively
  • Equipment failure was the most commonly reported contributing factor for the accidental release of ammonia (46%), carbon monoxide (45%), and sulfuric acid (41%)
  • Human error was the most frequently reported contributing factor for chlorine (37%) and hydrochloric acid (41%) releases
  • 16% of ammonia releases involved intentional or illegal acts due to its use in the production of illegal methamphetamine
  • One-quarter of all 354 deaths during this time period can be attributed to these 5 chemicals

19:45 1. Carbon Monoxide

  • Odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death
  • CO fumes are created during combustion and can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces
  • Most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion
  • High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death

23:05 2. Hydrochloric Acid

  • Clear, colorless solution of hydrogen chloride in water – highly corrosive, strong mineral acid that’s also known as muriatic acid
  • Often used to manufacture fertilizers, in dyes, and during ore refining, rubber production, and metal pickling
  • Corrosive to human tissue – upon exposure, it can irreversibly harm respiratory organs, eyes, skin, and intestines
  • Because the majority of hydrochloric acid releases occur in transportation and warehousing, people who work in these industries must be aware of the dangers associated with the chemicals they’re working with and understand how reactive they are

26:15 3. Sulfuric Acid

  • Clear, colorless, oily liquid that’s also very corrosive – also called sulfonic acid, battery acid, and hydrogen sulfate
  • Used in the manufacture of fertilizers, explosives, other acids, lead-acid batteries (used in most vehicles), and glue – also used in the purification of petroleum and the pickling of metal
  • Because of its corrosiveness, high concentrations of sulfuric acid can cause very serious damage from chemical and thermal burns – sulfuric acid also burns the cornea and can lead to permanent blindness if splashed onto the eyes
  • In the HSEES database, the most commonly reported industry for sulfuric acid injuries was manufacturing – these incidents had a high frequency of equipment failures

28:00 4. Chlorine

  • Toxic gas with an irritating odor that’s heavier than air and tends to accumulate at the bottom of poorly-ventilated spaces
  • Low levels of exposure (<15 PPM) can cause nose, eye, and throat irritation
  • At 30 PPM, immediate chest pain, coughing, changes in breathing rate, and vomiting occur – lung damage is a serious possibility at 60 PPM
  • Death can occur after a few minutes of exposure at 1,000 PPM
  • Chlorine is an important industrial chemical used in the production of thousands of products, including vinyl chloride, refrigerants, aerosols, silicones, and foams
  • It’s also used for water disinfection at water treatment plants and in swimming pools and for pulp and paper bleaching
  • A 2012 study found that compared with chlorine releases in paper manufacturing, hydrogen peroxide had fewer injured persons per release with injured persons and fewer injured persons for all releases
  • Because equipment failure represented 37.1% of the incidents that resulted in chlorine releases, routine maintenance of equipment and engineering controls can reduce failure and injuries

32:40 5. Ammonia

  • Colorless gas with a very distinct odor – used in smelling salts, window cleaning products, and many household and industrial cleaners
  • Ammonia gas dissolved in water is called liquid ammonia or aqueous ammonia – when exposed to open air, liquid ammonia quickly turns into a gas
  • Exposure to high levels of ammonia can cause irritation and serious burns to the skin and in the mouth, throat, lungs, and eyes – at high levels, it can cause death
  • A substantial number of injuries were caused by illegal acts – most likely ammonia fertilizer tank thefts for use in producing illegal methamphetamine

Have a question? Send an email to feedback@thehazmatguys.com or leave a message on our Haz Mat Guys comment hotline: 843-628-1484

Show Sponsors
Related Episodes

The Hazmat Guys

Author: The Hazmat Guys