Sodium carbonate is a compound used for several household purposes: to soften water when washing clothes, to clean oil or grease stains, and as a foaming agent in toothpaste. It is also routinely used in chemistry laboratories when performing acid-base titrations. According to the Material Data Safety Sheet, it can be toxic to humans when ingested.
Sodium Carbonate vs. Sodium Bicarbonate
Sodium carbonate should not be confused with sodium bicarbonate, which is a weaker base used in many baked foods. Sodium carbonate is a stronger base, and according to Medline Plus, it is toxic when ingested.
Symptoms of Sodium Carbonate Poisoning
Medline Plus says that sodium carbonate causes nausea, vomiting, and difficulty swallowing. It can also cause a person to collapse or have difficulty breathing.
Severity of Poisoning
Sodium carbonate is not very toxic in small amounts, so accidental swallowing of a little bit will not cause severe symptoms. Both the Material Data Safety Sheet for sodium carbonate and Medline Plus say that large doses are required for illness to occur. Medline Plus says that people can die from swallowing unusually large amounts of sodium carbonate.
Treatment for Poisoning
If small amounts are swallowed, Medline Plus recommends drinking a glass of water or milk. If the person is vomiting or having difficulty swallowing, he needs medical attention right away. In this case, call 911 or the Poison Control Center. In cases severe enough to warrant an emergency room visit, health care providers will monitor vital signs such as heartbeat and respiratory rate, administer fluids, and treat symptoms. If you have to go to the emergency room, bring the container containing the sodium carbonate so that health care providers can determine the best course of treatment.
Toxicity to Eyes and Skin
The Material Data Safety Sheet for sodium carbonate says that sodium carbonate can injure eyes or skin. If sodium carbonate gets in your eyes, you should flush them with cold water for at least 15 minutes. Contact lens wearers should remove their lenses right away. If you spill sodium carbonate on your skin, you should remove contaminated clothing and shoes and flush the skin with water. Always see your doctor as soon as possible after exposure to sodium carbonate.
- Photo Credit Toxic hazard flag image by Stasys Eidiejus from Fotolia.com
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