Four Primary Routes Of Chemical Exposure
Routes of Exposure
How Can Chemicals Enter the Body?
Exposure normally occurs through inhalation, skin or eye contact, and ingestion.
Inhalation: The most common type of exposure occurs when you breathe a substance into the lungs. The lungs consist of branching airways (called bronchi) with clusters of tiny air sacs (called alveoli) at the ends of the airways. The alveoli absorb oxygen and other chemicals into the bloodstream.
Some chemicals are irritants and cause nose or throat irritation. They may also cause discomfort, coughing, or chest pain when they are inhaled and come into contact with the bronchi (chemical bronchitis). Other chemicals may be inhaled without causing such warning symptoms, but they still can be dangerous.
Sometimes a chemical is present in the air as small particles (dust or mist). Some of these particles, depending on their size, may be deposited in the bronchi and/or alveoli. Many of them may be coughed out, but others may stay in the lungs and may cause lung damage. Some particles may dissolve and be absorbed into the blood stream, and have effects elsewhere in the body.
Skin Contact: The skin is a protective barrier that helps keep foreign chemicals out of the body. However, some chemicals can easily pass through the skin and enter the bloodstream. If the skin is cut or cracked, chemicals can penetrate through the skin more easily. Also, some caustic substances, like strong acids and alkalis, can chemically burn the skin. Others can irritate the skin. Many chemicals, particularly organic solvents, dissolve the oils in the skin, leaving it dry, cracked, and susceptible to infection and absorption of other chemicals.
Eye Contact: Some chemicals may burn or irritate the eye. Occasionally they may be absorbed through the eye and enter the bloodstream. The eyes are easily harmed by chemicals, so any eye contact with chemicals should be taken as a serious incident.
Ingestion: The least common source of exposure in the workplace is swallowing chemicals. Chemicals can be ingested if they are left on hands, clothing or beard, or accidentally contaminate food, drinks or cigarettes. Chemicals present in the workplace as dust, for example, metal dusts such as lead or cadmium, are easily ingested.