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Health Risks When Using Isopropyl Alcohol

by
author image James Highland
James Highland started writing professionally in 1998. He has written for the New York Institute of Finance and Chron.com. He has an extensive background in financial investing and has taught computer programming courses for two New York companies. He has a Bachelor of Arts in film production from Indiana University.

Isopropyl alcohol is a liquid solution used in many applied sciences. The manufacturing of resins, inks, glycerol, acetone and other products often use isopropyl alcohol as an ingredient. This chemical can be hazardous to the health of those who encounter it directly. A proper understanding of the health risks is essential before exposure to isopropyl alcohol.

Flammability

The ease with which isopropyl alcohol combusts makes it a dangerous substance that could result in severe or fatal burns to anyone affected by an explosion. The substance is labeled a "severe fire hazard" by the National Fire Protection Association. Small quantities of isopropyl alcohol can result in small fires that are treated with a standard, alcohol-resistant, foam extinguisher. Much larger fires can result from explosions of trucks or large containers of isopropyl alcohol. In these cases, the health of firefighters is in jeopardy due to the ease with which the substance can continually "flash" explode because of residual vapors. Evacuation is necessary in such cases, and automated water hoses or sprinkler systems are the best option to minimize risks to people in the proximity.

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Irritation

External irritations of the skin and eyes may occur from acute exposure to isopropyl alcohol. The mucous membranes, including the nose and throat, are common sites for internal irritation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes that these symptoms may begin within three minutes of exposure to an isopropyl alcohol solution that is 400 ppm in strength. Stronger solutions cause more severe degrees of this irritation. OSHA also notes that isolated cases of eczema and skin sensitization have been reported, though these are not common.

Nervous System

Incoordination and dizziness may result from exposure to isopropyl alcohol. Narcosis, a condition that temporarily distorts consciousness, can also occur from acute exposure to isopropyl alcohol. OSHA notes that these are among the common signs of exposure, and anyone observed having or experiencing these symptoms should leave any area where isopropyl alcohol is used. Nausea and low blood pressure may accompany these symptoms.

Heart and Respiratory System

OSHA reports that bradycardia, a slowing of the heartbeat, has been observed after oral ingestion of isopropyl alcohol solutions of 25 ml to 100 ml of water. These findings were noted in "Proctor and Hughes' Chemical Hazards of the Workplace" by Hathaway and Proctor. When absorbed through the skin, isopropyl alcohol can lead to extreme difficulties in breathing and eventual coma or death. OSHA reports that skin contact is common when children are treated with isopropyl alcohol sponge baths to treat fever, resulting in cases of serious poisoning.

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