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Effects of a Hydrochloric Acid Spill on Neurobehavioral and Pulmonary Function

Kilburn, Kaye H. MD

Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine: October 1996 - Volume 38 - Issue 10 - p 1018-1031
Original Article
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A container truck leaked 800 L (200 gallons) of hydrochloric acid (HCl) near a mobile home park in Louisiana in August 1993. The investigating officer and residents became acutely ill with burning and tearing eyes, burning throats, headache, chest pain, shortness of breath, and flu-like complaints. Twenty months later, 45 exposed adult subjects and 56 age-matched referents underwent neurobehavioral testing, including balance, reaction time, blink-reflex latency, and spirometry. They also completed health questionnaires and a profile of mood states. The exposed subjects differed significantly from referents by t test and by covariance analysis for balance, simple and two-choice visual reaction time, digit symbol, and for placing pegs in a pegboard. Proximity to the HCl spill increased sway speeds and impaired pulmonary midflow rates. Chronic neurobehavioral dysfunction and airways obstruction were found after environmental HCl exposure.

The escape of large quantities of hydrochloric acid caused much annoyance and destruction of vegetation in the neighborhood and the local land owners sought redress in the courts. The problem was solved in 1830 by William Gossage, who knocked the floor out of a derelict stone windmill near his factory, filled the interior with brushwood and passed the waste gas upward against a descending stream of water which effectively washed out the acid.-

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From the Environmental Sciences Laboratory, University of Southern California, School of Medicine, Los Angeles, Calif., and Neuro-Test, Inc., Pasadena, Calif.

Address correspondence to: Kaye H. Kilburn, MD, Environmental Sciences Laboratory, University of Southern California, School of Medicine, 2025 Zonal Ave., CSC 201, Los Angeles, CA 90033.

© Williams & Wilkins 1996. All Rights Reserved.