Arsine is an inorganic compound with the chemical formula AsH3. It is a highly toxic liquified gas that is flammable and pyrophoric (ignites spontaneously when exposed to air). It is water soluble and has a garlic or fish-like odour. Arsine is formed when arsenic comes in contact with an acid. Because arsine is non-irritating and doesn’t cause any immediate symptoms, persons exposed to hazardous levels may be unaware of its presence.
Arsine is used as a doping agent in the semiconductor and metal refinery industries and in the manufacture of crystals for fiber optics and computer chips. It is used infrequently in galvanizing, soldering, etching, burnishing, and lead plating. It was also suggested as a military warfare agent during World War II, but was never implemented on the battlefield due to flammability risks .
The routes of exposure for arsine include; inhalation and skin and eye contact.
Inhalation of arsine may produce respiratory discomfort and distress. Arsine vapours are highly volatile and can quickly fill confined and unventilated areas, acting as an asphyxiant without much warning. Inhalation of 250 ppm arsine gas is normally instantly lethal, while exposure at 25-50 ppm may be lethal after 30 minutes of exposure and exposure to 10 ppm being lethal after exposure for even longer. Symptoms of exposure can include; dowsiness, dizziness, narcosis, reduced alertness, loss of reflexes, vertigo, lack of coordination, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, a burning sensation of the face and throat, hoarseness, tightness and pain in the chest, coughing, nasal secretions, salivation, mental depression, pneumonia amongst others.
Liquid vapours can cause cold burns and frostbite, even when gloves are worn. Symptoms of frostbite include a feeling of “pins and needles”, paleness, numbness, hardening of the skin and colour changing of the skin (from white to blue and eventually, black). Entry into the bloodstream through open cuts and wounds may also produce harmful health effects.
Eye contact with liquid vapours can cause cold burns and frostbite on the eye, possibly leading to sensitivity to light (photophobia), corneal scarring (corneal opacity) and blurred vision.
The routes of exposure for arsine include; inhalation, skin and eye contact.
If inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source and monitor their pulse and breathing. Lay them down and keep them warm and rested. Administer medical oxygen and if trained personnel are available. If the patient is not breathing and you are qualified to do so, perform rescue breathing or CPR, preferably with a bag-valve mask device. Transport to the hospital without delay.
If skin exposure occurs, immediately remove all contaminated clothing, footwear and accessories and flush the affected area with plenty of soap and running water. In the event of frost-bite, move the patient to a warm space and bathe the affected area immediately in lukewarm water. Do not apply hot water or radiant heat. Frost-bitten affected areas may blacken and require amputation. Transport to hospital or doctor.
If exposed to the eyes, remove the patient from the contaminated area and have them open their eyelids to encourage the chemical to evaporate. Flush out the eyes with fresh running water for at least 15 minutes, remembering to look in all directions and wash under the eyelids in order to best reach all parts of the eye. Do not rub or tightly shut the eyes. Transport to hospital or doctor.
Emergency eyewash fountains and safety showers should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical and there should always be adequate ventilation to remove or dilute any air contaminants (install local exhaust if necessary).
The PPE recommended when handling arsine includes; chemical goggles, full face shields, insulated cloth or leather gloves, non-static clothing, full body protective clothing, half-face filter type respirators and non-sparking protective boots.
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