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Tar remover poisoning

Tar remover is a chemical product used to get rid of tar, a dark oily material. This article discusses the health problems that may occur if you breathe in or touch tar remover.

This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Poisonous Ingredient

Tar remover contains organic compounds called hydrocarbons. They include:

  • Benzene
  • Dichloromethane
  • Light aromatic naphtha
  • Methane chloride
  • Toluene
  • Xylene

Where Found

Various tar removal products

Symptoms

Airways and lungs:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Throat swelling

Eyes, ears, nose, and throat:

  • Severe pain or burning in the throat, nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
  • Vision loss

Heart and blood:

  • Collapse
  • Low blood pressure

Gastrointestinal tract:

  • Abdominal pain - severe
  • Blood in the stools
  • Burns of the esophagus (food pipe)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting (may be bloody)

Nervous system:

  • Convulsions
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Feeling of being drunk (euphoria)
  • Headache
  • Loss of alertness (unconsciousness)
  • Seizures
  • Staggering
  • Weakness

Skin:

  • Burns
  • Irritation
  • Necrosis (holes) in the skin or underlying tissues

Home Care

Do NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care professional. Seek immediate medical help.

If the chemical was swallowed, immediately give the person water or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider. Do NOT give water or milk if the person is having symptoms (such as vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.

If the person breathed in the poison, immediately move him or her to fresh air.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • The person's age, weight, and condition
  • The name of the product (as well as the ingredients and strength, if known)
  • The time it was swallowed
  • The amount swallowed

Poison Control

The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.

See: Poison control center - emergency number

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The person may receive:

  • Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs, and breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (heart tracing)
  • Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
  • Fluids through a vein (IV)
  • Irrigation (washing of the skin), perhaps every few hours for several days
  • Surgical removal of burned skin (skin debridement)
  • Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage )

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well a person does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a person gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.

Damage can continue to occur for several weeks after the tar remover was swallowed. Death may occur as long as a month later.

References

Lee DC. Hydrocarbons. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al., eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 158.

Mirkin DB. Benzene and related aromatic hydrocarbons. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 94.

Updated: 1/29/2014

Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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