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

Factsheet #5

The Long and Short of It

There are two different types of effects that result from toxic exposure.  They are acute and chronic.

Acute Effects

“Acute” means that health effects are felt at the time of exposure or shortly after, or result from a short-term, highly concentrated exposure.  Examples of acute effects:

•  Hydrogen chloride (HCl), when inhaled, causes fluid to collect in the lungs (pulmonary edema) and bleeding in the respiratory tract.  When it comes into contact with the skin, it causes severe burns unless promptly washed off.

•  Caustic soda, also known as sodium hydroxide (NaOH), corrodes the skin.  It burns, and actually dissolves the skin while in contact with it.

•  Carbon monoxide (CO) bonds to the protein in blood that is responsible for carrying oxygen to the cells.  If enough of the blood bonds with CO instead of oxygen, the cells “starve” and you may die.

Although acute toxicity is often seen within minutes or hours after a sudden, high exposure there are some instances where a one-time high-level exposure causes delayed effects.  For example, symptoms of high exposures to certain pesticides may not appear for several days.

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