Gasoline is dangerous for your health because it’s toxic. Exposure to gasoline, either through physical contact or inhalation, can cause health problems. The effects of gasoline poisoning can harm every major organ. It’s important to practice and enforce safe gasoline handling to prevent poisoning.
Inappropriate gasoline exposure warrants a call for emergency medical help.
Soluble gases such as chlorine, ammonia, and hydrofluoric acid cause severe burning in the eyes, nose, throat, windpipe, and large airways within minutes of exposure to them. In addition, they often cause cough and blood in the sputum (hemoptysis). Retching and shortness of breath also are common.
Less soluble gases such as nitrogen dioxide and ozone cause shortness of breath, which may be severe, after a delay of 3 to 4 hours and sometimes up to 12 hours after exposure. With less soluble gases, long-term lung damage can occur and cause chronic wheezing and shortness of breath.
Causes of gasoline poisoning
People working around gasoline on a regular basis are at risk of gasoline poisoning.
Most people only come into contact with gasoline and gasoline vapors at the gas station or while using their lawnmower.
People who work with machinery have a higher risk of health problems because they have daily exposure to gasoline, gasoline vapors, or other fuels, such as diesel and kerosene.
Examples of these jobs include:
- gas station workers
- garage workers and mechanics
- gasoline pipeline workers
- marine loading dock workers and bulk loading terminal workers
- people who service and remove underground gas storage tanks
- gasoline truck drivers
- workers who identify and clean up gas spills and leaks
- gas refinery workers
- lawn care providers
- toll booth workers
- miners and railroad workers
- people who operate heavy machinery
Over time, gas pipelines and tanks may leak small amounts of gasoline into the groundwater.
Normal purification processes typically remove these trace levels of gasoline, but some people may occasionally come into contact with contaminated water. These people include those who use water from wells to drink, bathe, or both.
Children are more likely to experience serious side effects from gasoline because they:
- absorb more gasoline vapors due to a greater surface area in the lungs
- are generally shorter than adults, and vapor concentrations are higher closer to the ground
- are more likely to ingest toxins accidentally
- do not recognize the signs or smells of exposure as well as an adult might
Consequences of chronic gasoline exposure
If very severe, exposure to gasoline or gasoline vapors can cause permanent organ damage, coma, or death.
Scientists have linked continuous exposure to gasoline vapors for 2 years to liver and kidney cancer in animal studies. However, not currently enough scientific evidence is currently available to prove that gasoline vapour exposure causes these cancers in humans.
Some people intentionally inhale gasoline fumes, because they like the way it makes them feel.
Chronic inhalation of gasoline fumes can cause a wide range of symptoms, including sudden death.
Symptoms of chronic gasoline abuse include:
- impaired gait when walking
- memory loss
- involuntary eye movements
- muscle spasms
- altered vision
- poor appetite
Over time, chronic gasoline abuse can cause more severe and sometimes permanent health problems, such as:
- kidney disease
- nerve disorders
- brain disease
- muscular degeneration
- behavioral and intellectual challenges
Prolonged skin contact with gasoline can affect the skin’s natural protective layers. This damage can result in skin peeling and cracking, which can cause scarring in severe cases.
Chronic or severe exposure to fuel products made from gasoline, such as diesel and benzenes, can also cause severe health complications, including several types of cancer and organ damage.
What to do about suspected gasoline poisoning
If a person suspects gasoline poisoning, regardless of the exposure route, they should immediately call Poison Control Agency.
There is no antidote for gasoline exposure or poisoning. Once someone is in the hospital, doctors can provide medications and supportive therapy to try to ensure that a person’s heart and lungs continue to function correctly and that they are hydrated.
People should never attempt to treat themselves or others at home.
There are, however, a few general steps that people can follow to help reduce the risk of developing more serious symptoms:
- Move to a well-ventilated area and then call Poison Control if strong gasoline vapors are present.
- Remove all clothing that has come into contact with the gasoline and get in the shower. Rinse thoroughly with powerful running water and soap for at least 15 minutes.
- If the skin is red, blistering, or irritated, call Poison Control. Seek medical attention immediately if these symptoms are severe.
- If gasoline gets in the eye, rinse it with running water for at least 15–20 minutes while blinking frequently. Call Poison Control after rinsing the eye thoroughly.
- If someone has swallowed gasoline, they should call Poison Control. They should slowly drink water if they can swallow, are not having convulsions and are responsive. Never encourage someone to vomit or try to get water down the throat of an unresponsive person.