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Journal of Long-Term Effects of Medical Implants

ISSN Print: 1050-6934
ISSN Online: 1940-4379

Journal of Long-Term Effects of Medical Implants

DOI: 10.1615/JLongTermEffMedImplants.v15.i3.70
pages 303-318

Modern Concepts of Treatment and Prevention of Chemical Injuries

Richard Edlich
Legacy Verified Level I Shock Trauma Center Pediatrics and Adults, Legacy Emanual Hospital; and Plastic Surgery, Biomedical Engineering and Emergency Medicine, University of Virginia Health System, USA
Heidi-Marie A. Farinholt
Resident in General Surgery, University of Virginia Health Sciences System, Charlottsville, Virginia; and Resident in Pediatric and Adult Emergency Medicine, University of Maryland, Baltimore MD, USA
Kathryne L. Winters
Website Manager and Information Specialist, Trauma Specialists, LLP, Legacy Emanuel Hospital, Portland, Oregon, 1917 NE 97th St. Vancouver WA 98665, USA
L. D. Britt
Chairman, Brickhouse Professor of Surgery. Department of General Surgery, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Hofheimer Hall, 825 Fairfax Avenue, Norfolk VA 235001, USA
William B. Long III
Trauma Specialists LLP, Legacy Verified Level I Shock Trauma Center for Pediatrics and Adults, Legacy Emmanuel Hospital Portland, OR, USA
Charles L. Werner
Deputy Fire Chief, Charlottesville Fire Dept., Charlottesville, Virginia, USA

ABSTRACT

Chemical injuries are commonly encountered following exposure to acids and alkali, including hydrofluoric acid, formic acid, anhydrous ammonia, cement, and phenol. Other specific agents that cause chemical burns include white phosphorus, elemental metals, nitrates, hydrocarbons, and tar. Even though there are more than 65,000 chemicals available on the market, and an estimated 60,000 new chemicals produced each year, the potential deleterious effects of these chemicals on humans are still unknown. The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act contains extensive provisions for emergency planning and the rights of communities to know about toxic chemical releases. Since 1990, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has maintained an active, state-based Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES) system to describe the public health consequences risked by access to hazardous chemicals.
Most chemical agents damage the skin by producing a chemical reaction rather than hyperthermic injury. Although some chemicals produce considerable heat as a result of an exothermic reaction when they come in contact with water, their ability to produce direct chemical changes on the skin accounts for the most skin injury. Specific chemical changes depend on the agent, including acids, alkalis, corrosives, oxidizing and reducing agents, desiccants, vesicants, and protoplasmic poisons. The concentration of toxic agent and duration of its contact primarily determine degree of skin destruction. Hazardous materials (hazmats) are substances that may injure life and damage the environment if improperly handled. HAZMAT accidents are particularly dangerous for responding personnel, who are in danger from the moment of arrival on the scene until containment of the accident. Consequently, the Superfund Amendment and Reauthorization Act mandates community preparedness for dealing with hazmat accidents. Paramedics and members of the hazmat response team (usually firefighters) must work together to identify toxic chemicals and assess hazardous environments. The contingency plan for hazmat management can be divided into two parts: initiation of the site plan and evacuation. In coping with hazmat incidents, two distinct goals must be achieved concomitantly. First, hazmats must be contained, fire and explosions must be extinguished, and the site eventually must be cleaned. Second, those exposed to hazmats must be treated at the scene of contamination as well as in the hospital and rehabilitation setting.