Concrete poisoning refers to a toxic condition caused due to prolonged exposure to concrete dust or other forms of concrete. It primarily affects the skin, but can also cause respiratory problems.
People who work at construction sites without any protective clothing are prone to prolonged exposure of the skin to the chemical and caustic components of concrete. Such long term contact of skin with an irritant like concrete can cause allergic dermatitis, eczema, or other skin reactions marked by itchiness, skin discoloration, inflammation, and flaky dead skin.
People working next to concrete dust are at greater risk to developing respiratory problems as the chances of inhaling the dust, due to limited or no protection, are high. Concrete also has tars, glues, etc., which can trigger a number of respiratory health conditions, including vomiting and burning sensations in the throat, nose, and eyes. Prolonged contact with concrete dust may also increase the risk to development of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
Symptoms of Concrete Poisoning
Some of the common signs and symptoms of concrete poisoning are listed below:
- Formation of painful sores, blisters, and lesions on the skin areas which come into contact with concrete
- The affected skin areas may dry up; cracks may form on such abnormal skin and fluid may discharge from such cracks.
- Discoloration of the skin to deep blue hue, before it turns reddish and appears excessively inflamed
- The skin integrity undergoes slow, but painful disintegration
- The affected area may be very itchy
- Some patients may develop allergic dermatitis as a secondary health complication of concrete poisoning
- If the skin problem is very severe, then lesions filled with fluids may appear. There may be continuous drainage from such lesions
- In very extreme circumstances, the affected limb may develop gangrene. In such cases, amputation is often the only treatment option.
- Concrete poisoning that affects the respiratory system may be marked by symptoms like breathing difficulties, vomiting, giddiness, swelling, and burning sensations in nose, throat, and ear.
Concrete is abrasive. Hence it adversely affects skin integrity and decreases its efficiency as a barrier to external elements. Concrete is hygroscopic, .i.e., it tends to suck out moisture present in the skin. Chemicals such as hexavalent chromium occur in concrete and it is responsible for causing contact dermatitis.
Concrete when not combined with water has calcium oxide, which is not that harmful to humans. However, when concrete is mixed with water, then calcium oxide becomes calcium hydroxide, which is excessively alkaline with a pH level ranging between 12 and 13.
The pH level of the skin of humans is 5.5. Hence, when wet concrete comes into contact with the skin, it causes burns. The skin burns may not become visible just after exposure to concrete, but it gradually tends to exacerbate over a period of time. Construction workers may continue to work with concrete for many hours without experiencing any adverse sensation on their skin. However, the skin damage does occur and it is continuous. Hence, protective clothing and equipment is a must for all construction workers when using concrete.
Concrete Poisoning – Treatment
Severe cases of concrete poisoning need to be immediately checked by a doctor who will then offer relevant treatment. You may follow the below listed steps for minor cases of concrete skin burns:
- Gently take out wet cement from all body areas which have come into contact with it. Then wash the areas with warm water. It is important to remember that the effect of concrete poisoning on skin becomes more severe with increased period of its contact with skin. Hence, wash the affected areas as soon as possible.
- It is important to use protective glasses whenever working with concrete. If by any chance it enters the eyes, then immediate wash eyes with normal water. You should also go to an eye doctor for a checkup.
- Neutralize the alkaline effect of concrete by washing affected areas with a mixture of water and vinegar. Vinegar or citric juices have acidic pH which can help neutralize cement alkalinity.
- Burning sensations can be alleviated with use of calendula ointment or lotion. It will also help prevent blister formation
- Use aloe vera gel to find relief from itchiness and irritation of skin. Since it has antiseptic properties, the gel will also help prevent secondary infections.
Prevention of concrete poisoning
The below listed safety measures can help prevent concrete poisoning:
- Keep about six to seven gallons of water next to every construction worker. Also keep soaps with neutral pH, towels, pH indicator papers, and buffering spray like Mason’s Hand Rinse, etc. handy
- Use protective equipment such as safety goggles or full-covering glasses with side shields; long sleeve shirts; Alkali-resistant strong gloves; waterproof pads for elbows, knees, and hands; overalls; and water resistant boots.
- Do not wear watches, belts, or other jewelry when working with concrete as cement can get trapped beneath such things.