As we’ve discussed in a previous post, there are many advantages of using isopropyl alcohol in the manufacturing process, but what we didn’t cover is some of the risks and dangers of IPA. Today we’ll cover some of those issues so that you can take full advantage of isopropyl’s benefits while mitigating the hazards of this potentially dangerous liquid.
The first thing I think of when I think of the dangers of isopropyl alcohol is its flammability. Isopropyl alcohol is highly flammable and can easily ignite. Vapors may form explosive mixtures with air, traveling to a source of ignition and flash back, and use of water spray to fight fires may be inefficient. Isopropyl alcohol should be kept away from heat, sparks, flames and other sources of ignition, as well as strong oxidizers, acetaldehyde, chlorine, ethylene oxide, acids and isocyanates. A flammable safety cabinet is the best storage option.
Another danger of using isopropyl alcohol is poisoning. IPA poisoning occurs when the liver is no longer able to manage the amount of IPA in the body. Your body can handle small amounts of isopropyl alcohol. In fact, your kidneys remove approximately 20 to 50 percent of IPA from your body. The rest is broken down into acetone by enzymes known as alcohol dehydrogenases. This acetone is filtered out of your body through the lungs or kidneys.
Isopropyl alcohol can enter the body three ways: ingestion, inhalation, and absorption.
The first way is most direct, and easiest to avoid. Since ingesting IPA causes rapid intoxication, people sometimes drink it when conventional alcohol is unavailable, or as a means of suicide. ingesting isopropyl alcohol has an immediate effect on the central nervous system, which controls the involuntary actions of the body, including heartbeat, breathing and gag reflex. Isopropyl alcohol slows these functions and may shut them down altogether. IPA is so strong that it can induce hypothermia and subsequent cardiac arrest. The blood’s thinning also causes blood sugar levels to fall so sharply that seizures may result.
Limiting access to large amounts of IPA can deter people from misusing the product in this way. IPA should always be kept in a container clearly marked, preferably with a GHS label. It should never be kept anywhere or in anything that might be mistaken for consumption, for example in a water bottle, or near where food is prepared or consumed.
Isopropyl alcohol inhalation occurs anytime you are around an open container, although working with reasonable amounts of IPA is generally safe, it can cause headaches. Inhaling large amounts of isopropyl alcohol can cause nausea, vomiting, irritation of the nose and mucous membranes, throat irritations, and even difficulty with breathing as coughing can occur making it difficult for you to catch your breath.
If breathing is impaired for an extended period of time and there is trouble getting enough oxygen into the bloodstream, you can become dizzy and even lose consciousness and require resuscitation. Always use IPA in a well ventilated area and utilize proper safety equipment in the event of a spill. If someone experiences breathing problems, the individual should immediately be removed and placed into fresh air. If the person’s breathing is still impeded, call 911 immediately.
Isopropyl alcohol is readily absorbed through the skin, so spilling large amounts of IPA on the skin may cause accidental poisoning. Small amounts of IPA on the skin is generally not dangerous, but repeated skin exposure can cause itching, redness, rash, drying, and cracking. Prolonged skin contact may cause corrosion. Always wash thoroughly with soap and water when contact with IPA occurs, and always use safety equipment when dealing with large amounts of IPA.
Some of the effects of IPA poisoning are as follows:
Low blood pressure
Rapid heart rate, or tachycardia
Low body temperature
Throat pain or burning
If you experience any of these symptoms after exposure to IPA, or if you see symptoms in another, the first step is to remove yourself or the individual from further exposure and place them in a fresh air environment. If symptoms persist, immediately seek medical attention.
Further treatment depends on the extent of exposure and the type of exposure. When isopropyl alcohol has been ingested, individuals who are conscious and not convulsing should drink one to two glasses of water to dilute the chemical. Do not induce vomiting, as the chemical can be aspirated into the lungs causing further damage. A medical professional may use laxatives and activated charcoal to clear stomach contents.
In the event of inhalation exposure, the individual should be moved into the open air. If fresh air does not improve symptoms, medical help should be called to provide respiratory support, along with oxygen and fluids when high-level inhalation exposure has occurred.
When contact with the skin has occurred, the affected skin should be flooded with water and then gently and thoroughly washed with soap and water. In the event of a large spill in contact with skin, wash and monitor for signs of poisoning, seek medical treatment if symptoms appear.
If the affected individual is wearing contact lenses, they need to be removed. The eyes should then be flushed with water or normal saline solution for 20 to 30 minutes or longer if necessary, lifting the upper and lower lids occasionally.
This post is not intended to scare anyone, or deter people from using isopropyl alcohol in their manufacturing process, but to encourage awareness and safety practices that can prevent accidents from occurring. The more informed users are of the dangers of products, the easier it is to maintain safety. When using IPA in a workplace, make sure all of the employees are trained in the proper use of isopropyl alcohol, have access to safety equipment, and understand the symptoms of poisoning so that they can recognize it in themselves or others.