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illustration: Potential Health Effects of Chemical Constituents
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The following list includes chemicals found in common automotive, custodial, and maintenance products. Each description includes the health effects associated with exposure to the chemical. These include acute effects (those causing severe symptoms that develop rapidly and may reach a crisis) as well as chronic health effects (those causing long-term damage often through repeated or prolonged exposure).

For more information on the health effects of a specific chemical, visit helpful links about reducing toxics.

Click here to go to a specific chemical: A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


A

ACETONE

Acute health effects: Contact can irritate skin. Exposure can irritate eyes, nose, and throat. Exposure in high concentration can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, and unconsciousness.

Chronic health effects: Repeated skin exposure can cause dryness and cracking. Acetone has not been specifically evaluated, however, other solvents and petroleum-based chemicals have been shown to cause brain or nerve damage, including memory loss, personality changes, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and reduced coordination, with repeated exposure.

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ASBESTOS

Acute health effects: Might bring on precursor lesions of colon cancer.

Chronic health effects: May increase the risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma, and nonmalignant lung and pleural disorders.

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AMMONIA

Acute health effects: Can cause headache, loss of sense of smell, nausea, and vomiting. Can irritate skin and eyes, leading to permanent damage. Can irritate nose, mouth, and throat, causing coughing and wheezing. Can irritate lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath; higher exposures can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs.

Chronic health effects: Repeated exposure can cause chronic irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. Repeated exposures may cause bronchitis, with cough, phlegm, and/or shortness of breath.

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ARSENIC

Acute health effects: May irritate skin, eyes, nose, and throat; high exposure can cause poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, and muscle cramps.

Chronic health effects: A carcinogen, shown to cause skin and lung cancer. High or repeated exposure can damage the liver and the nerves, with “pins and needles,” burning, numbness, and weakness of arms and legs. Repeated skin contact can cause thickening and color changes including patchy areas of darkening and loss of pigment.

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B

BENZENE

Acute health effects: Can cause symptoms of dizziness, lightheadedness, headache, and vomiting. Can irritate nose, throat, eyes, and skin. Convulsions and coma, or sudden death from irregular heartbeat, may follow high-level exposure.

Chronic health effects: A carcinogen shown to cause leukemia. Repeated exposure can cause aplastic anemia, which may lead to death. Exposure can cause drying and scaling of the skin.

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2-BUTOXYETHANOL

Acute health effects: Can irritate eyes, nose, mouth, and throat. Exposures at high levels can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, and unconsciousness.

Chronic health effects: May damage liver and kidneys. Long-term exposure may break down red blood cells, causing anemia. May be a teratogen, causing damage to a developing fetus.

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n-BUTYL ALCOHOL

Acute health effects: Can irritate skin, causing a burning sensation or rash on contact. Can irritate and burn eyes, leading to tearing and damage. Inhalation can cause coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath, headache, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness; higher levels can cause unconsciousness and irregular heartbeat.

Chronic health effects: Repeated contact may cause drying and cracking of skin. Exposure can damage liver, heart, kidneys, hearing, and sense of balance.

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C

CADMIUM

Acute health effects: Can cause a flu-like illness with chills, headache, aching, and/or fever. Exposure at high levels may cause nausea, salivation, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Inhalation can irritate lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath; higher levels can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs.

Chronic health effects: A probable carcinogen; there is evidence for prostate and kidney cancer in humans. A probable teratogen that may also affect both male and female reproductive organs. Can irritate lungs; repeated exposure may cause bronchitis with cough, phlegm, and/or shortness of breath. Repeated low-level exposures can cause permanent kidney damage. Long-term exposure can damage the liver and cause anemia, loss of sense of smell, and fatigue.

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CARBAMATES

Acute health effects: Can cause headache, dizziness, weakness, shaking, nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and sweating.

Chronic health effects: Can cause loss of appetite, weight loss, and general feeling of sickness.

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CHLORINATED HYDROCARBONS (a.k.a. ORGANOCHLORINES)

Acute health effects: May cause headache, dizziness, weakness, shaking, nausea, excitability, disorientation, and rashes.

Chronic health effects: May disrupt the function of the nervous system, especially the brain. May accumulate in fatty tissues. May cause nervousness, weakness, and shaking.

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CHLORINE

Acute health effects: Can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, causing tearing, coughing, and bloody nose. Inhalation can irritate the lungs, causing coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain; exposures at higher levels can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs. Direct contact can severely irritate and burn the eyes and skin, causing permanent damage.

Chronic health effects: Repeated exposures may cause bronchitis with cough, phlegm, and/or shortness of breath, and may permanently damage the lungs. Long-term exposure can damage the teeth and cause a skin rash.

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CHROMIUM

Acute health effects: Inhalation can cause “metal fume fever” (a flu-like illness with metallic taste in the mouth) as well as headache, fever, chills, aches, chest tightness, and cough.

Chronic health effects: May cause skin allergy, leading to itching and skin rash with very low exposure.

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COPPER

Acute health effects: Inhalation can irritate eyes, nose, and throat, causing coughing, wheezing, nosebleeds, and/or “metal fume fever” (a flu-like illness with symptoms of metallic taste), as well as fever, chills, aches, chest tightness, and cough.

Chronic health effects: May decrease fertility in males and females. Repeated exposure may damage the liver. Repeated exposure can cause chronic irritation of nasal membranes, including ulcers in the nose. Repeated exposure may cause thickening of skin and add a greenish color to the skin, teeth, and hair.

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CRESOLS

Acute health effects: At high levels, exposure can cause collapse and death within minutes. Exposure can irritate the nose and throat and severely burn the skin and eyes, causing permanent damage.

Chronic health effects: Repeated exposure may damage the liver and kidneys. Long-term exposure can lead to chronic poisoning, with trouble swallowing, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and dizziness.

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D

2,4-D

Acute health effects: Can cause severe irritation of the skin and eyes. Inhalation can irritate nose, throat, and lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath; at higher levels, exposures can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs. High-level or repeated exposures can cause headache, fatigue, muscle weakness and twitching, and poor coordination in arms and legs.

Chronic health effects: Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has been observed in farmers occupationally exposed to 2,4-D. Exposure may cause reproductive damage and damage to liver and kidneys.

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Di (2-ethylhexyl) phathatlate (DEHP)

Chronic health effects: Animal studies have shown that DEHP exposure causes liver cancer, birth defects, infertility and is also associated with thyroid, pancreas and kidney damage. The United States Department of Health and Human Services classifies DEHP as a "probable human carcinogen".

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DIMETHYL ETHER

Acute health effects: Inhallation of vapor can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; high-level exposure can cause headache, dizziness, and lightheadedness. Skin contact with liquid form can cause severe frostbite.

Chronic health effects: Have not been established.

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DIOXIN (2,3,7,8-TETRACHLORODIBENZO-P-DIOXIN or TCDD)

Acute health effects: None identified.

Chronic health effects: Has caused cancer in chemical workers exposed to high levels. Studies show that high levels of dioxin exposure can lead to reproductive and developmental problems, increased heart disease, and increased diabetes. The effects of dioxin on humans were observed only in populations that were highly exposed, so the effects of long-term, low-level exposure normally experienced by the general population are not known.

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DIQUAT DIBROMIDE

Acute health effects: May be fatal to humans if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. Concentrated solutions may cause severe irritation of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomach, followed by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, severe drying out of bodily tissues, gastrointestinal discomfort, chest pain, diarrhea, kidney failure, and toxic liver damage. Very large doses of the herbicide can result in convulsions and tremors. Small amounts can cause skin irritation and sores, as well as delayed healing of cuts and wounds. Causes eye irritation and can cause serious burns and sometimes scarring of the cornea several days after exposure, although initial exposure caused only moderate reactions.

Chronic health effects: Cataract formation is the most significant effect of chronic exposure currently recognized. Effects of repeated or prolonged skin contact range from inflammation of the skin to skin damage and/or systemic poisoning, with injury to internal organs, primarily the liver and kidneys.

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E

ETHANOLAMINE (a.k.a. MONOETHANOLAMINE)

Acute health effects: Can cause severe eye irritation and burns, leading to permanent damage. Contact can irritate and burn skin. Inhalation can irritate the nose and throat and cause coughing and wheezing.

Chronic health effects: May cause liver and kidney damage. May damage developing fetus. Repeated contact can cause redness and itching of skin.

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ETHYL ACETATE

Acute health effects: Can irritate skin, eyes, nose, and throat. High-level exposure can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, and unconsciousness.

Chronic health effects: Has not been adequately evaluated to determine whether brain or other nerve damage could occur with repeated exposure, but many solvents and other petroleum-based chemicals have been shown to cause such damage. May decrease fertility in males. Repeated contact can cause drying and cracking of the skin.

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ETHYLENE GLYCOL

Acute health effects: Exposure can cause a “drunk” feeling, nausea, vomiting, and headache. Can irritate eyes, nose, and throat.

Chronic health effects: May damage developing fetus. Repeated or high-level exposure may cause kidney and brain damage.

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F

FORMALDEHYDE

Acute health effects: Contact can severely irritate and burn skin and eyes, with possible eye damage. Burns may not appear until hours after contact. Can irritate the lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath; higher-level exposures can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs.

Chronic health effects: A probable carcinogen in humans. Eye contact can cause damage, with possible loss of vision. Can irritate the lungs; repeated exposure may cause bronchitis, with cough, phlegm, and/or shortness of breath.

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G

GLYPHOSATE

Acute health effects: Contact can irritate skin and eyes. Inhalation can irritate nose and throat. Exposure can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, and convulsions.

Chronic health effects: May damage liver and kidneys. High-level exposure can cause irregular heartbeat and death.

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H

n-HEPTANE

Acute health effects: Exposure can cause headache, lightheadedness, dizziness, and unconsciousness. Can irritate eyes, nose, and throat. Loss of appetite and/or nausea may occur.

Chronic health effects: Repeated exposure may cause skin irritation and dryness; may affect nervous system; has not been adequately evaluated to determine whether brain damage could occur with repeated exposure but many petroleum solvents have been shown to cause such damage.

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n-HEXANE

Acute health effects: Can irritate eyes, nose, mouth, and throat, causing cough and/or difficulty breathing. Exposure can cause lightheadedness, giddiness, headaches, and nausea; higher-level exposures can lead to unconsciousness and death.

Chronic health effects: High-level or repeated exposure can damage the nervous system, causing numbness, tingling, and/or muscle weakness in the hands, feet, arms, and legs. Repeated skin contact can cause irritation, dryness, and cracking, and can lead to a rash.

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HYDROCHLORIC ACID

Acute health effects: Corrosive to the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. Short-term inhalation may cause coughing, hoarseness, inflammation and ulceration of the respiratory tract, chest pain, and pulmonary edema. Skin contact may produce severe burns, ulceration, and scarring.

Chronic health effects: Long-term occupational exposure to hydrochloric acid has been reported to cause gastritis, chronic bronchitis, dermatitis, and photosensitization in workers. Prolonged exposure to low concentrations may also cause discoloration and erosion of the teeth.

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L

LEAD

Acute health effects: Lead dust or fumes can irritate eyes on contact. Inhalation of lead dust can irritate nose and throat. Exposure can cause poor appetite, weight loss, upset stomach, nausea, and muscle cramps.

Chronic health effects: May cause kidney and brain damage and damage to blood cells causing anemia. Probable teratogen that can damage a developing fetus. May decrease fertility in males and females. Repeated exposure causes tiredness, trouble sleeping, stomach problems, constipation, headaches, and moodiness; higher levels may cause trouble concentrating and remembering things, and aching and weakness in arms and legs. Exposure increases the risk of high blood pressure. Accumulates in the body with repeated exposure.

Lead Poinsoning Prevention Program: The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) operates the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program which aims to prevent and control childhood lead poisoning.

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LIQUEFIED PETROLEUM GAS (propane, isobutane, and n-butane)

Acute health effects: Exposure to very high concentrations can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, and unconsciousness; extremely high concentrations can cause death by suffocation from lack of oxygen. Vapor can irritate and burn eyes. Inhalation can irritate nose and throat, causing coughing and wheezing. Skin contact can cause frostbite.

Chronic health effects: Have not been tested.

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M

MERCURY

Acute health effects: Can irritate skin and eyes. Exposure to high levels of vapor can irritate lungs, causing coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath.

Chronic health effects: Exposure may cause kidney damage. May cause an increase in spontaneous abortions in exposed women. Repeated low-level exposures or very high-level single exposure can cause mercury poisoning, with symptoms including tremors, trouble remembering and concentrating, gum problems, increased salivation, loss of appetite and weight, changes in mood and personality, hallucinations, and psychosis. Repeated exposure may cause clouding of the eyes and a gray skin color.

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METHYL BROMIDE

Acute health effects: Can produce central nervous system and respiratory system failure, as well as specific and severe effects on the lungs, eyes, and skin. Common initial symptoms include weakness, despondency, headache, visual disturbances, nausea, and vomiting. Exposure to high concentrations has resulted in a number of human deaths.

Chronic health effects: Central nervous system symptoms, including numbness, defective muscular coordination, tremor, muscle spasms, lack of balance, extreme agitation, coma, and convulsions. Exposure of pregnant women may result in fetal defects. Depending on the dose, gross permanent disabilities or death may result.

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METHYL ETHYL KETONE (MEK)

Acute health effects: Can irritate skin and burn the eyes, leading to permanent damage. Inhalation can irritate eyes, nose, mouth, and throat, causing coughing and wheezing. Exposure can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, headache, nausea, blurred vision, and may cause unconsciousness.

Chronic health effects: Repeated exposure can damage the central nervous system and brain, causing reduced memory and concentration, personality changes, fatigue, sleep disturbances, reduced coordination, and/or effects on nerves supplying internal organs and the arms and legs. Repeated exposure can cause drying and cracking of the skin.

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METHYLENE CHLORIDE (a.k.a. dichloromethane)

Acute health effects: Liquid or vapor can irritate and burn the eyes, skin, nose, and throat. Inhalation can irritate the lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath; higher exposures can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs. High-level exposure can cause headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, and unconsciousness.

Chronic health effects: May be a carcinogen in humans. May cause liver damage. Repeated exposures may cause bronchitis, with cough, phlegm, and/or shortness of breath. Long-term exposure may damage the brain, causing memory loss, poor coordination, and reduced thinking ability.

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MINERAL SPIRITS

Acute health effects: Contact and inhalation can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, dizziness, and dermatitis. Ingestion can induce central nervous system depression.

Chronic health effects: Irritates skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. Damage to lungs may result if mineral spirits are swallowed and then vomited.

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N

NAPHTHALENE

Acute health effects: Exposure can irritate skin, eyes, nose, and throat. Very high levels can cause headache, fatigue, confusion, nausea, and vomiting.

Chronic health effects: May damage the kidneys and liver. May damage the red blood cells, causing anemia. Repeated exposure can cause clouding of the eye lens (cataracts), damaging vision. May cause a skin allergy, with itching and rash at very low subsequent exposures.

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NITROBENZENE

Acute health effects: Contact can irritate the skin and eyes. High levels can interfere with the ability of the blood to carry oxygen, causing headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, loss of balance, weakness, and a blue color to the skin and lips. Higher levels can cause difficulty breathing, collapse, and even death.

Chronic health effects: Limited evidence of cancer of the liver; repeated exposure may cause liver damage. Exposure may affect vision. May affect blood cells, causing anemia.

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NITROGEN

Acute health effects: Not yet established.

Chronic health effects: Irritation of nose and throat. Increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.

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O

ORGANOPHOSPHATES

Acute health effects: Can cause headache, dizziness, weakness, shaking, nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and sweating.

Chronic health effects: Can cause loss of appetite, weakness, weight loss, and general feeling of sickness.

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P

PARAQUAT

Acute health effects: Highly toxic by all routes of exposure; many cases of illness and death have been reported. Direct contact with paraquat solutions or aerosol mists may cause skin burns, dermatitis, and damage to fingernails. If splashed in the eye, can irritate, burn, and cause corneal damage and scarring of the eyes. If swallowed, burning of the mouth and throat occurs, followed by gastrointestinal tract irritation with abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Other symptoms include thirst, shortness of breath, and rapid heart rate.

Chronic health effects: Has been shown to be mutagenic in humans. Can damage the lungs, heart, liver, kidneys, cornea of the eyes, adrenal glands, skin, fingernails, and digestive system. Inhalation can cause nasal mucous irritation and bleeding of the gastrointestinal tract.

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PERCHLOROETHYLENE (a.k.a. TETRACHLOROETHYLENE ETHYLENE TETRACHLORIDE or PERC)

Acute health effects: Contact can cause skin irritation and burns. Can irritate eyes, nose, mouth, and throat. Inhalation can irritate lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath; higher exposures can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs. High-level exposure can cause headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, and unconsciousness.

Chronic health effects: May be a human carcinogen. May damage the developing fetus. May damage the liver and kidneys and affect the nervous system. Long-term exposure can cause drying and cracking of the skin.

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PHENOL

Acute health effects: Inhalation can irritate the mouth, nose, throat, and lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath. Contact can cause severe irritation and burns, with possible permanent damage to eyes and skin. High-level exposure can cause headache, dizziness, fatigue, fainting, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite; may cause collapse and death.

Chronic health effects: May be a carcinogen and mutagen. High-level or repeated exposure may damage liver, kidneys, and heart. Effects may include reduced memory or concentration, personality changes, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and reduced coordination.

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PHOSPHORIC ACID

Acute health effects: Contact can severely irritate and burn the skin and eyes, leading to permanent damage. Inhalation can irritate nose, throat, and lungs, causing coughing and sneezing.

Chronic health effects: Repeated exposure can cause bronchitis, with cough, phlegm, and/or shortness of breath. Long-term exposure can cause drying and cracking of the skin.

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POLYCHLORINATED BIPHENYL (PCB)

Acute health effects: PCBs have been shown to cause a number of serious health effects in animals, including effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system, and more. Exposure to PCBs can cause damage to eye tissue, skin de-fatting and chloracne (a painful disfiguring skin illness), nausea, dizziness, bronchitis, and liver injury.  

Chronic health effects: According to EPA, PCBs may cause cancer, as animal studies have shown.

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POTASSIUM HYDROXIDE

Acute health effects: Contact can cause severe skin and eye irritation and burns that may lead to permanent eye damage. Exposure can irritate nose and throat, causing sneezing, coughing, and sores in the nose.

Chronic health effects: Repeated exposure may cause holes in the nasal septum.

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PYRETHRINS and PYRETHROIDS

Acute health effects: Inhalation may cause asthmatic breathing, sneezing, nasal stuffiness, headache, nausea, loss of coordination, tremors, convulsions, facial flushing and swelling, and burning and itching sensations. Symptoms may also include loss of coordination, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, respiratory failure, and death.

Chronic health effects: Pyrethrins and pyrethroids are of low chronic toxicity to humans, and the most common problems have resulted from allergies. Many of the natural and synthetic compounds can produce skin irritation, itching, and/or pricking and local burning sensations. At high doses, pyrethrum can be damaging to the central nervous system and the immune system.

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S

SODIUM HYDROXIDE

Acute health effects: Can cause severe irritation and burns of the eyes, with possible permanent damage. Contact can cause severe skin irritation and burns. Inhalation can irritate the mouth, nose, throat, and lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath; higher-level exposures can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs.

Chronic health effects: Have not been tested.

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SULFURIC ACID

Acute health effects: Extremely corrosive; can severely irritate and burn skin and eyes. Inhalation can irritate lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath; higher-level exposures can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs.

Chronic health effects: Limited evidence that sulfuric acid causes lung cancer in refinery workers. Repeated exposure can cause bronchitis, with cough, phlegm, and shortness of breath; may cause emphysema; can cause chronic runny nose, tearing of the eyes, nosebleeds, and stomach upset.

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T

TETRACHLOROETHYLENE

Acute health effects: Contact can cause skin irritation and burns. Exposure can irritate eyes, nose, mouth, and throat. Inhalation can irritate lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath; higher-level exposures can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs. At high levels, exposure can cause headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, and unconsciousness.

Chronic health effects: May be a human carcinogen. May damage the developing fetus. May damage the liver and kidneys and affect the nervous system. Long-term exposure can cause drying and cracking of the skin.

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TOLUENE

Acute health effects: Contact can irritate skin and eyes. Inhalation can irritate nose and throat, causing coughing and wheezing. Exposure can affect the nervous system, causing trouble concentrating, headaches, slowed reflexes, loss of appetite, and nausea. Higher levels can cause dizziness and lightheadedness, which can lead to unconsciousness or death.

Chronic health effects: May damage a developing fetus. Prolonged contact can cause drying and cracking of skin, as well as itching and a skin rash. Repeated exposure may cause liver, kidney, and brain damage.

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1,1,1 TRICHLOROETHANE (a.k.a. METHYLCHLOROFORM)

Acute health effects: Can cause headaches, unsteadiness, fatigue, unconsciousness, and death. Affects the nervous and cardiovascular systems. Exposure irritates skin, eyes, nose, and throat.

Chronic health effects: Laboratory studies show repeated, high-level exposure adversely affects liver, heart, and kidneys.

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TRICHLOROETHYLENE

Acute health effects: Contact can irritate and burn skin and eyes, with possible eye damage. Exposure can cause lightheadedness, dizziness, unconsciousness, visual disturbances, nausea, and vomiting. Very high levels can cause irregular heartbeat, which can lead to death.

Chronic health effects: May cause lung and liver cancer. May cause genetic changes. Repeated exposure can cause memory loss, headache, intolerance to alcohol, depression, and weakness in the arms and legs. Repeated contact can cause irritation, blistering, roughening, and cracking of exposed skin.

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TURPENTINE

Acute health effects: Contact can irritate and burn the eyes. Exposure can irritate the nose and throat and can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and rapid pulse. Inhalation can irritate the lungs, causing coughing and/or shortness of breath; higher-level exposures can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs.

Chronic health effects: May damage the developing fetus. May damage the kidneys, bladder, and nervous system. Can irritate the lungs; repeated exposures may cause bronchitis, with cough, phlegm, and/or shortness of breath.

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X

XYLENE

Acute health effects: Can irritate skin and eyes. Inhalation can irritate nose and throat, causing coughing and difficulty breathing. Can cause headache, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, and stomach upset; high levels can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, confusion, unconsciousness, and death.

Chronic health effects: Can cause damage to the surface of the eye. Can damage the liver and kidneys. May damage a developing fetus. Repeated exposure can cause poor memory, difficulty in concentration, and other brain effects.

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