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What can chemical exposure do to the body?

Chemical exposure can happen anywhere and at any job. For example, a teacher is exposed to chemicals when cleaning desks, and a chemist is exposed to chemicals as a part of his or her job. Chemical exposure can be very dangerous. While not all interactions with chemicals will lead to injury, those that do can lead to severe injuries or death.

The way chemicals affect your body depends on what you were exposed to and in what manner. For example, asbestos that is found in old insulation won't cause much harm if you touch it, but it can affect the respiratory system if it is breathed in. Mercury, which is found in thermostats and thermometers, can affect the renal system and damage the bladder, kidneys and urethra if it's eaten or absorbed into the body.

Chemicals such as carbon monoxide or carbon disulfide can lead to problems with the cardiovascular system. Heart failure can result after too much exposure, because the blood is unable to collect enough oxygen for the body or to transport it efficiently.

The reproductive system can be affected by a few different chemicals as well. These include lead and carbon monoxide. Lead can be found in oil paint, and carbon monoxide can be breathed in from car exhaust or a faulty furnace. The chemicals can make a person infertile or effect other aspects of the reproductive system.

These are just a few of the bodily systems that can be affected by chemical exposure. If you're exposed in your workplace, there should be a plan of action for what coworkers or you should do in case of an emergency. For instance, a chemistry lab should have an eyewash station and shower to help wash off chemicals. Work places where carbon monoxide could be a hazard should have carbon monoxide monitors installed to alert employees if the reading is too high. If you have been working without safeguards and are exposed, you may have a workers' compensation case.

Source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, "Health Effects of Chemical Exposure," accessed Oct. 25, 2016

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