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Cause of Injury
Chemical Burns

Chemical burns occur when the skin or eyes come in contact with strong alkaloids or acids. The strength of acids and bases is determined by their pH (pH ranges from 1 to 14). A very strong acid has a pH of 1, while a very strong base has a pH of 14; a substance with a pH of 7 is considered neutral and will not cause a burn injury. The extent of damage is dependent upon length of time of exposure. Flushing the chemical off the skin or from the eyes is important, as chemicals will continue to penetrate (“eat”) through the skin or eyes and underlying layers until it is neutralized or removed completely. It is also important to remove jewellery and clothing that may have the chemical on them.
The following household chemicals are frequent sources of burns:

  • Bleach
  • Paint thinner
  • Plumbing decloggers (Liquid Plumber, Drano)
  • Boric acid
  • Sulphuric acid (found in toilet bowl cleansers, car battery fluid)
  • Hydrochloric acid (pool cleaning products, toilet bowl cleansers)
  • Phosphates (found in many household cleaning products)

In terms of occupational injuries, agents such as liquid concrete in the road construction and paving industry are a source of chemical burns. Chemical fabrication, medicine, mining and agriculture are also occupations where exposure to chemicals is common.

The following are some examples of burn injuries sustained from exposure to chemicals:

Chemical Burns from Leaking Cold Packs

People have reported sustaining chemical burn injuries from leaking Johnson and Johnson cold packs used to reduce pain, inflammation and swelling. The plastic bags are filled with chemicals that are activated when the bag is squeezed. The bags become cold and are applied to the skin to relieve pain and/or swelling. The chemical inside the bag is quite toxic and leaks cause chemical burns which may be quite severe. Read examples of burn injuries and law suits resulting from leaking cold packs.

Chemical Storage Tank Ruptures

A storage tank was in the process of being refilled with a concentrated alkaline cleaner. A man stepped behind the tank to check on the refilling progress. The tank ruptured, spilling its contents all over the man. He sustained chemical burns to his eyes, lips, tongue, buttocks, genitals, trunk, arms and legs. He received burns to both corneas, which resulted in continual dryness and irritation, as well as occasional blurred vision. He sustained a fracture to his right leg and required skin grafts to his buttocks. The tank was constructed from a resin which became brittle and weak after about 6 months. It was determined that premature aging had occurred to thousands of tanks across the U.S., resulting in numerous tank failures and ruptures.

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