What comes to mind when you think of toxic chemicals? You might imagine a scene from a movie with clearly labeled bottles or even the Mr. Yuck sticker, but substances like these are not always so clearly identified.
In order to keep yourself safe from exposure, it is vital to understand what chemical toxins are and where they lurk. Take a look at the safety information below to help protect you and your loved ones.
Defining The Chemical Toxin
Before understanding toxins, you first have to understand chemicals. What is a chemical, exactly? Chemicals are substances that have been artificially prepared, like the byproduct of placing Mentos into a bottle of Coke-a-Cola.
Cooking an egg, baking a cake, or even letting the milk in your fridge turn sour are excellent examples of chemical changes that take place due to artificial factors. Eggs wouldn’t be able to cook without your intervention on the stove, and cakes can’t bake themselves in nature. While these types of chemicals are harmless, save sour milk, some fall under the classification of toxic.
The U.S. Environmental protection Agency (EPA) classifies a chemical as toxic when it is either harmful to the environment or hazardous to your health. Hazards can be present if the chemical is inhaled, ingested, or even absorbed through the skin.
While substances like arsenic or chlorine are commonly known toxins, not all of them are as easy to identify. Some of the items you use every day in your home contain a host of toxins, making your awareness of them crucial to your safety.
Chemicals in Your Home
Have you ever thrown away a busted refrigerator? Before the garbageman will take it, a specialist is required to come by and drain the freon or HFC-134a out of the piping. These coolants have to be handled carefully for both their toxicity and the damage they can cause to the ozone layer.
Just like the coolant in your fridge, there are a number of household items that contain chemical toxins. Here are a few of the most common:
- The acid inside of your batteries
- Rubbing alcohol, when ingested
- Laundry detergent
- Motor oil and gasoline
- Toilet bowl cleaners
- Wooden furniture polish
- Drain cleaners
- And any form of bug spray or pesticides
The majority of the items on that list are only toxic when swallowed or inhaled, but items like battery acid can be toxic when they come into contact with your skin. These items are necessary to daily activities, just like your fridge, but they also need to be disposed of in an appropriate manner. Any household toxin will have direction on its packaging for how to do so safely.
While chemical toxins are defined as being created artificially, there are a number of substances that occur naturally. For instance, several species of plants and animals produce toxins in order to keep themselves safe from predators. Smoke from burning wood is also considered toxic when inhaled, even when no artificial force started the fire.
Most naturally occurring toxins are found far from your home, but there is one in particular that almost everyone drinks. Here are some of the most common:
- Chlorine gas
- Hydrogen sulfide
- Ricin from castor beans
- Snake venom
- The carbon monoxide in smoke
- And the caffeine found in coffee
Caffeine extends to teas, kola beans, and cocoa beans as well. Thankfully, the toxicity level isn’t enough to make us sick after drinking a few cups. If you were to ingest ten grams of pure caffeine, however, it would be fatal.
Fish have been found to contain more mercury than in previous decades due to ocean waste, and you should know how important it is to have a carbon monoxide detector in your home. All of these substances, though natural, are incredibly dangerous to our physical beings.
OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, works to identify the kinds of toxins you could potentially encounter in the workplace. They can range from laboratory agents to substances found throughout multiple industries. They include:
- Isopropyl alcohol
- And hydrogen peroxide mixtures above 35%
Those are just a few on OSHA’s incredibly long list, but several aren’t uncommon to find everywhere form cleaning agents at restaurants to the pool store. These substances tend to be slightly more dangerous than those that occur naturally, or the ones found in your home, making it vital to handle them with great care if need be.
Not Every Chemical Is Toxic to You
You might find household items labeled as either toxic or non-toxic, which is somewhat deceptive. Every compound on earth can become toxic depending on exposure and dosage. Did you know that water can be toxic if your drink enough of it? You would need to drink an astronomical number of gallons first, but that fact still remains true.
Aspects such as species, age, and gender all come into play as well when determining toxicity. For instance, you can enjoy a chocolate bar anytime you like. A dog, however, would immediately become poisoned if it ate just a small amount.
Some chemicals that are necessary for your existence can become toxic in large enough doses. Take iron for example. All humans require some level of iron in their diets, but too much of it has proven fatal. The same is true of oxygen.
If all chemicals can be toxic, then why are there non-toxic labels? If you see one of these labels, it means that the compound has reached what is called the toxicity endpoint. In simple terms, it means that the minimal dose you could possibly be exposed to isn’t going to harm you in any way. Usually, these products replace artificial chemicals with natural ones that human bodies can handle.
Understanding the Types of Toxins
Generally speaking, toxins are lumped into four main groups. Any substance can be categorized into multiple groups, however. For instance, a biological toxin can also be a physical toxin. Understanding the difference between these four groups can help you seek the appropriate medical attention after exposure.
These can be either an inorganic or organic substance. Mercury and carbon monoxide are considered chemicals that are toxic to humans, while methyl alcohol is a naturally occurring poison.
You can usually find biological toxins being secreted by living organisms for protection from predators. The tree dart frog is an excellent example, as is tetanus. The pathogens that cause you to become ill can also be considered biological toxins.
This slight change in wording gives the physical variety its unique category. Toxicants are introduced to the environment, meaning that these substances are entirely artificial. They can interfere with your biological processes, with asbestos and silica being two of the most commonly known.
Finally, toxins can come in the form of radiation. Exposure to gamma or microwaves can cause long-lasting, toxic effects on nearly every living organism. In some cases, overexposure to different forms of radiation can cause irreversible effects or lead to fatality.
What Happens If You Are Exposed?
Chemical exposure can cause immediate effects to your body, especially when inhaled or ingested. The area of your body that comes into contact with the toxin, such as your lungs or stomach, are the ones immediately affected. Some substances, such as gasoline, take a longer time to work their way through your system and cause harm.
Typically, your organs will either fail or have difficulty functioning. Both of these scenarios require an immediate trip to the emergency room, which is advisable no matter what chemical you have come into contact with.
You may experience burning sensations in the affected area, but initial reactions like these often go away over time. The problem that arises is lasting damage from certain toxins. Exposure to corrosive substances can cause permanent damage to the skin and eyes, while prolonged exposure to substances like asbestos can cause diseases. In some cases, issues may not arise for five to forty years after exposure.
Luckily, you can protect yourself from a disaster with a little proactive action. When handling chemical toxins, always be sure to read the entire label before opening the container. Stay in a room with ample ventilation avoid inhalation, and wear protective gear including a mask and gloves.
Avoid buying larger quantities of toxic substances. This will keep your home free of the chemical after use and avoid the need for specific storage. Remember, safety first!
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