Common Symptoms of Chemical Exposure

March 5, 2023

The Environmental Protection Agency formally recognizes nearly 800 toxic chemicals linked to adverse health effects. At the same time, the Natural Resources Defense Council reports there are more than 80,000 chemicals used in the U.S. Most of these chemicals have not been adequately tested for their effect on human health.1,2

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that every year, there are 60,000 deaths and 860,000 workplace illnesses from chemical exposure.3 

Exposure can be direct or indirect. Direct exposure occurs when someone comes in contact with chemicals, such as spilling a chemical on their skin. Examples of indirect exposure include drinking contaminated water or working in an area where chemicals are disbursed into the air.

Where and When Your Risk of Exposure Is the Highest

Chemicals can enter your body through skin or eye contact, breathing in chemical gases in the air, or ingesting them. Once chemical are in your body, they can move rapidly within your bloodstream to internal organs.

Detecting chemicals can be challenging. While you may easily identify solids or liquids, dust and mist can contain chemicals, too. Fumes, vapors, and other gases are often invisible. This makes the risk for exposure higher in areas that you do not control, such as the workplace.

Chemical exposure does happen in homes and affects health. However, the majority of people experiencing toxic effects from harmful chemicals are exposed in the workplace, especially in areas without proper ventilation.

While anyone can suffer from chemical exposure, some occupations are more likely to come in contact with toxic chemicals, such as those working in:

  • Aerospace
  • Construction 
  • Factories
  • Farming and agriculture 
  • Food service
  • Healthcare
  • Labs
  • Manufacturing
  • Mining
  • Railroad and transportation
  • Textiles
  • Welding

Toxic tort lawsuits have been filed against employers, manufacturers, and other entities for a variety of reasons, including lead poisoning, asbestos exposure, dangerous pharmaceutical drugs, and other product liability claims. Some cases lead to class action suits that recover millions of dollars.

Telltale Signs of Chemical Exposure

The health effects from chemical exposure can do serious damage, causing acute (short-term) effects that show up soon after exposure to chemicals or chronic (long-term) damage. 

Chemical exposure symptoms include:

Skin and Eye Irritation

Eye and skin irritations are common in chemical exposures. Symptoms include redness, swelling, and blistering, and are sometimes painful.

Blurred Vision

Even mild chemical exposure can cause blurred vision. More serious effects can include chemical eye burns. Along with blurred vision, symptoms often include headaches or dizziness.

Nausea and Vomiting

Certain chemicals cause an immediate reaction. Nausea and vomiting can happen quickly from chemical exposure, but may also develop into a chronic condition, including cramping and diarrhea.

Shortness of Breath               

Exposure to chemicals can cause shortness of breath or other breathing difficulties. Chronic coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and asthma have been linked to toxic chemical exposure in studies. In some cases, this can result in respiratory failure.

Cognitive Impairment

Some chemicals have been linked to cognitive impairment. Symptoms include memory loss, confusion, and difficulty concentrating.

Fatigue and Weakness

Other common symptoms of chemical exposure include muscle aches and pains, fatigue and weakness, and overall lethargy.

Other Potential Symptoms

Other common symptoms from chemical exposure include:

  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Chemical taste and smells even after exposure
  • Acid reflux or heartburn and stomach problems

Potential Health Effects of Chemical Exposure

Chemical and industrial hazardous chemical exposure can have an immediate impact on health or takes years to develop. In many cases, people may no longer be working at the companies or live in areas where they were affected. 

In many cases, symptoms persist long after exposure stops or decreases. For example, cancers can take years or decades to show up. Breathing in asbestos can take time to develop into health problems. And the damage to the lungs may be permanent. 

Some of the potential health effects, especially for long-term exposures, include:

  • Aplastic anemia
  • Asbestosis
  • Cancer
  • Hodgkin’s disease
  • Leukemia
  • Lung disease
  • Mesothelioma
  • Parkinson’s
  • Silicosis

Potential health effects include chronic toxicity, which is linked to various forms of cancer, compromised immune systems, neurological disorders, and reproductive or developmental problems.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a public health agency within the U.S. Department of Health, has linked chemical exposure to a broad range of negative health effects on your body’s systems, including:5

  • Respiratory systems: asbestosis, lung cancer, bronchitis, fibrosis, emphysema, chemical pneumonia
  • Renal systems: kidney tissue damage and kidney cancer
  • Cardiovascular systems: heart disease and heart failure
  • Reproductive system: infertility and birth defects
  • Nervous system: diminished motor functions, feeling, and speech
  • Hepatic system: tumors, weight gain, death of liver cells
  • Skin: dermatitis, rashes, discoloration

When To Seek Medical Attention

If you have been exposed to chemicals and exhibit any of the symptoms above, you should immediately seek medical care. If possible, make note of the type of chemicals involved, how you were exposed, and the duration of the exposure. This can help medical professionals more quickly determine the right treatment.

If exposure leads to significant breathing problems, burns, or symptoms of shock, call 911 immediately. The Centers for Disease Control recommends contacting medical professionals immediately as soon as you are aware of the exposure.

You've Been Harmed by Hazardous Chemicals, Contact Us Today

McEldrew Purtell is a Philadelphia-based trial firm that specializes in catastrophic injury, whistleblower litigation, and toxic tort claims. We support our clients through every stage of recovery and hold the powerful responsible for the damage they cause.

Determining whether you have an actionable claim requires an evaluation by experienced toxic tort attorneys. You need substantial evidence to prove your claims. 

The experienced toxic tort attorneys at McEldrew Purtell can evaluate your case, explain your legal options, and help you determine the evidence to build a strong claim. We’ve recovered more than $2 billion for our clients and our fees are waived until you receive a settlement. 

Call (215) 965-4477 or contact us online for a 100% free and no-risk consultation.