Ascorbic acid, more commonly known as Vitamin C, is an essential nutrient that is naturally occurring in many fruits and vegetables. Ascorbic acid has a white crystal appearance that is soluble in water. It has a pleasant and sharp acidic taste with the chemical formula of C6H8O6. China produces almost all of the world’s supply of ascorbic acid and it is their most exported vitamin.
Vitamin C was the first vitamin to be chemically synthesised and is commonly sold as a dietary supplement for individuals looking to top up their nutritional needs. There is evidence that shows vitamin C supplementation can; reduce the duration of common colds and treat scurvy (a disease caused by vitamin c deficiency).
While many of the claimed benefits of taking vitamin C remain inconclusive, the risks of taking vitamin c are very low as its water solubility ensures any excess is excreted in the body’s urine.
The routes of exposure for ascorbic acid include; inhalation, ingestion and skin and eye contact.
Inhalation of ascorbic acid may produce irritation and inflammation of the respiratory tract. Individuals with existing respiratory diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis as well as circulatory/nervous system or kidney damage, may incur further disablement if excessive concentrations are inhaled.
Ascorbic acid is not considered to be harmful by ingestion, however the material may still be damaging to the health of the individual where they have existing kidney and liver damage. Ingestion of insignificant quantities is not thought to be of concern. Larger doses of the material may cause; nausea, vomiting, headaches, fatigue, disturbed sleep, indigestion and diarrhoea.
Skin exposure to ascorbic acid can produce inflammation, irritation, redness, swelling, blistering and scaling. The material may also worsen any existing dermatitis conditions. Open cuts and wounds should be protected adequately to ensure ascorbic acid does not enter the bloodstream to produce further systemic injury.
Eye exposure is expected to cause irritation and ocular lesions that can remain for over a day after the exposure. Prolonged exposure can cause inflammation, redness, vision impairment and other transient eye damage.
If inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source. Lay the patient down and keep them warm and rested. If the patient is not breathing and you are qualified to do so, perform CPR, preferably with a bag-valve mask device. Transport to hospital without delay.
If swallowed, immediately drink a glass of water. First aid is not generally required.
If skin exposure occurs, remove all contaminated clothing and footwear and immediately flush the affected area with plenty of running water, using a safety shower if possible. In the event of burns; immediately apply cold water to burn, do not remove or cut away clothing over burnt areas, do not break blisters or remove solidified materials, do not apply ointments to burn under any circumstances and do not drink alcohol under any circumstances. Transport to hospital.
If the chemical is exposed to the eyes, flush the eyes out immediately with fresh running water for at least 15 minutes, remembering to wash under the eyelids. Contact lenses should not be removed in the event of thermal burns. Transport to hospital without delay.
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 to prevent overexposure (install local exhaust if necessary).
The PPE recommended when handling ascorbic acid includes; safety glasses with side shields, chemical goggles, filter dust respirators, chemical/fire/heat resistant gloves, flameproof clothing and non-sparking safety footwear.
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