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Health Effects of Toxic Chemicals
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WHMIS: What You Need to Know
6. Health Effects of Toxic ChemicalsThere are many materials used in the workplace that can be hazardous. However, in order for them to affect your health, they must contact the body or be absorbed into the body. When assessing the potential health effects from working with a particular material it is necessary to understand difference between "toxicity" and "hazard".
In order for toxicants to affect the human system either they must cause damage to external tissues, such as the skin or eyes, or they must be able to enter the body by some mechanism.
Routes of EntryThere are three primary routes of entry into the body: ingestion, skin or eye absorption, and inhalation.
Ingestion:- This means taking a material into the body by mouth (swallowing). Ingestion of toxic materials may occur as a result of eating in a contaminated work area.
Absorption- Substances that contact the eye and the skin may be either absorbed into the body or cause local effects. For the majority of organic compounds, the contribution from skin absorption to the total exposure should not be neglected.
Inhalation- This means taking a material into the body by breathing it in. In the lungs, very tiny blood vessels are in constant contact with the air we breath in. As a result, airborne contaminants can be easily absorbed through this tissue. In the occupational environment, this is generally the most important route of entry.
Health Effects - Chronic vs AcuteOnce a toxic substance has contacted the body it may have either acute (immediate) or chronic (long term) effects.
Example: Spilling acid on your hand will cause immediate harm, i.e. a burn to the skin.
Exposure to asbestos or tobacco smoke may result in lung cancer after as much as twenty years (this is a long term effect).
Exposure - Chronic vs AcuteExposure can be classified as chronic or acute. In chronic exposures, the dose is delivered at some frequency (daily or weekly usually) over a period of time. In acute exposures, the dose is delivered in a single event and absorption is rapid. Usually, a chronic exposure occurs at low concentration and acute exposure at high concentration.
Some materials may only cause harm if given acutely, not having any effect in the long term. Other materials may not exhibit an effect in the short term, but may cause problems after prolonged exposure.
Physiological Classification of MaterialsThis classification identifies toxic materials on the basis of biologic action.
Irritants - refers to some sort of aggravation of whatever tissue the material comes in contact with.
Asphyxiants - exert their effects through a depletion of oxygen to the tissues
Narcotics or Anaesthetics - the main toxic action is the depressant effect upon the Central Nervous System.
Systemic Poisons - the main toxic action includes the production of internal damage
e.g. Nephrotoxic agents - toxic effects produce kidney damage eg. some halogenated hydrocarbons
Carcinogens - agents/compounds that will induce cancer in humans.
Mutagens - agents that affect the cells of the exposed people in such a way that it may cause cancer in the exposed individiual or an undesirable mutation to occur in some later generation.
Teratogens - Agents or compounds that a pregnant woman takes into her body that generate defects in the fetus
Sensitizers-Agents that may cause allergic or allergic-like responses to occur. After an initial exposure to a substance an individual may become sensitized to that substance. Subsequent exposures to the same substance, often at a much lower concentration than before, produce an allergic response. This response may be a skin rash (dermatitis) or an asthmatic-like attack, depending on the route of exposure.
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