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Irritations of the airways and lungs can vary from mild to acute and the agents are numerous. Corrosive gases and fumes are obvious candidates. Ammonia, sulphur dioxide, nitrous fumes, phosgene, chlorine and fluorine are well known for their irritant effects. Depending on their solubility in water and the concentrations encountered they vary in the effects they have on the respiration system. Ammonia, being very soluble tends not to penetrate beyond the upper airways whereas nitrogen dioxide exerts its effects on the alveoli and is much more dangerous as a consequence. However, the system may be “swamped” by gases like ammonia and they may penetrate to the deeper levels causing a chemical burn of the entire system with life threatening effects appearing any time up to 48 hours later.
Certain cases of these irritations are a prescribed disease under the Department of Social Welfare Occupational Injuries Benefit scheme.
Metal fumes, tiny liquified metal droplets given off by heating metal, either in soldering, heating or cutting metal with an oxyacetylene torch can cause a chemical pneumonitis. Prior to that it can cause “metal fume fever”. It resembles a ‘flu with fever-like symptoms. Zinc, cadmium, copper, megnesium, aluminium, antimony, iron and silver can all produce this condition.