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Preventing Chemical Accidents:  Understanding MSDS’s & Assessing Chemical Hazards

Factsheet #3

Don’t Trust Your Nose

You can’t rely on your sense of smell to protect you from exposure to toxic chemicals. Let’s face it, your nose has some important limitations.  

Here are the basic ones:

•  Some dangerous chemicals, such as carbon monoxide, are odorless. No nose can smell them.

•  For some chemicals, you can only detect the smell when the toxin is around you in such large quantities that your health is being harmed by it.  For example, by the time you can smell ethylene oxide (used in gas sterilizers), you’re already in trouble.

•  Our noses can become accustomed to chemicals.  That means that after a while we can’t smell even very powerful odors.  For instance, our noses can learn to turn off strong odors like ammonia and bleach.  

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