Treating Chemical Eye Irritants
Various chemicals have, from time to time, been implicated in causing
irritation of the eyes. Solvent fumes such as E-6 and etchants such as HF
are known cuses of this problem. The fumes of HydroFlouric acid combine
with water to form a very caustic solution which is strong enough to etch
glass. Solvents, especially degreasers, can alter the tear film layer of
the eye by dissolving out the lipid component of tears. When the lipid
(fat) portion of tears is reduced, the eyes will feel dry and more tearing
results. These tears will also be acted upon by the solvent and the cycle
will continue. Immediate treatment of such cases is removal from the
causative environment. The symptoms are treated with artificial tear agents
which act to stabilize the tear layer allowing the eye to come back to
normal. The accompanying blood vessel reaction is treated with an anti-
inflammatory agent which also acts to reduce the cellular response which
resembles an "allergic" reaction. Generally relief is immediate but the
total response time depends upon the duration and amount of exposure.
Continued exposure can lead to the usual signs and symptoms of chronic
contact reactions with the appearence of scarring, pterygia formation,
thickened lids and drying of the skin. Continued tearing leads to glare
and to skin irritation. Atopic dermatitis is sometimes seen in severe
cases and sensitization of the eyes to other chemicals can occur.
The eye is not the only part of the body to be involved. The mucous
membranes of the mouth and nose as well as the lining of the air passages
and lungs are also reacting to this insult. Some of this material will
find passage into the circulation as well and thereby affect distant,
internal organs. The information on such dispersal is not great. In short,
not much is known. To respect the unknown is prudent and a survival trait
of great value.
OSHA has very clear guidelines to the safety levels of such chemicals
however, these reccomendations are general and do not take into
consideration individual sensitivity. The wearing of contact lenses in
such an environment and under such circumstances is not reccomended.
Electronics fabrication facilities, especially those involved in
manufacturing circuit boards use a variety of exotic solvents. This fact
coupled with the fumes from fluxes and soldering makes such an area a
real eye hazard. It is becoming readily apparent, that while the human
animal is very adaptable and hard to destroy, there is a limit to the
toxicity levels that can be tolerated. We continue to produce "aerosols"
of increasing toxicity with no thought to their longterm effects.
"Guidelines" from OSHA and others not-with-standing, the levels set as safe
are far to high. My advice to the questioner is to demand transfer to a
healthier portion of the plant.