Before you can begin to consider chemical safety and how to keep you and your family safe, you need to understand some fundamental principles. The most fundamental of these is that chemical hazards can be divided into two groups – Health Hazards and Physiochemical Hazards.
Health hazards are the main concern when it comes to toxic chemicals. There are many chemicals that can make you sick or unwell. Exposure to these substances through inhalation, skin contact or ingestion can cause a range of short term (acute) or long term (chronic) health problems.
Typical acute health effects include headaches, dizziness, respiratory irritations, nausea and vomiting. Chronic health effects include nerve damage, contact dermatitis, asthma, cancer and organ damage.
A good example of a health hazard is household insecticide. Most insecticides are highly toxic – after all they are designed to kill. When you spray an insecticide into the air you pose a very high risk of ingesting it through inhalation. Whilst you may feel no immediate effects, the ingestion of these toxins can lead to illnesses down the track including seriously illness such as cancer.
Another example of a health hazard is Triclosan antibacterial hand cleaner. Whilst this type of hand cleaner is marketed as something which will improve your health, the reality is exactly the opposite. Whilst Triclosan was once a common ingredient in personal care products such as hand wash and even toothpaste, it has since been linked to a range of serious health effects including skin cancer, antibiotic resistance and hormone related problems.
Physiochemical Hazards are things like chemical explosions and fires, chemical corrosion and reactions with other substances, which injure people and damage property. These chemicals are usually dangerous when they are inappropriately handled, stored or used.
An example of a Physiochemical Hazard is petroleum. Handled with care petrol poses very few health hazards. If exposed to an ignition source, however, the resultant fire and explosion represents a very high Physicochemical Hazard.
Another example of a Physiochemical Hazard is oven cleaner. Although most oven cleaner is toxic (e.g. a health hazard) the greatest risk it poses to you is its Physicochemical Hazard. Exposure of your skin, eyes or other body parts to oven cleaner can result in severe chemical burns. Chemical burns are an example of a Physiochemical Hazard.