Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Due Deligence Potential Toxic Substances

Recently a visitor surfed into this site with the search string "dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride is it safe for children"

It think the visitor is questioning whether what is commonly known as alkyldimethylbenzylammonium chloride aka ADBAC is safe for use on children, probably since they may have come across this ingredient in diaper wipes as a sanitizer or other common disinfectant application including, but are not limited to: eyewashes, nasal sprays, hand and face washes, mouthwashes, spermicidal creams, and in various other cleaners.

One list of typical uses found at Wikipedia includes the following applications:
  • Pharmaceuticals such as leave-on skin antiseptics
  • Hygienic towelettes and wet wipes
  • Cosmetics such as eye and nasal drops, as a preservative
  • Cleaners for floor and hard surfaces as a disinfectant
  • High-level surgical instrument sterilizing and disinfection solutions
  • Air and surface sprayable disinfectants
  • Over-the-counter herpes cold sore and fever blister single-application treatments such as Viroxyn
The same source sites toxicity data as follows:

  • ADBAC is highly toxic to fish
  • Very highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates
  • Moderately toxic to birds
  • Slightly toxic to mammals, however, Benzalkonium chloride solutions of 10% or more are toxic to humans, causing irritation to the skin and mucosa, and death if taken internally.
It is found to be an allergen and several studies have cast doubt on its reputation for safety. Manufacturers of over-the-counter artificial tears and eye washes became concerned about chemical sensitivity from long-term daily use and have in some products substituted other preservatives.

But when dealing with common industrial chemicals and toxicity, it is always a matter of degree, meaning frequency of use and how susceptible an individual is to such exposure. Some people can withstand higher doses without showing any signs of adverse effects while others flag at the mere whiff or contact of the same substance. So, like everything else, a certain level of awareness can prevent injury or harm.

Children are particularly susceptible across the board to toxic substances for the simple reason that they have not had the incremental exposure to toxins afforded by a longer lifetime for their bodies to build up a strong coping mechanism as would be found in a healthy adults.

So, when dealing with children, awareness is advised. If you find you must use a diaper wipe, and with limited proper use it does come in handy, it would be advisable to avoid direct contact with the mucous tissue in that area--why go asking for trouble. At the first indication of allergic reaction, discontinue use and contact an knowledgeable medical professional. ADBAC is not readily soluble in water, so it would be good to find a benign method to neutralize the contact area after use (I'd be inclined to sprinkle a little cornstarch on the skin area, but my children are young adults and I sincerely doubt they'd let me test this on them).

Many manufacturers are also supposed to provide some sort of hot line for toxic exposure/allergic reactions and you may want to report the incident, but somehow I doubt any real help will be found there, these telephone numbers are probably used to just log the number of complaints.

It is suspected that long-term use of benzalkonium as a preservative in nasal sprays may cause swelling of mucosa and lead to rhinitis medicamentosa. Contact lens solutions typically contain 0.002% to 0.01% benzalkonium chloride and limited studies have found that repeated use of benzalkonium chloride at concentrations of 1:5000 (0.02%) or stronger can denature corneal protein and cause irreversible damage to the eye; and that stronger concentration of 0.04% to 0.05% solutions of benzalkonium chloride can cause punctures of the corneal epithelium.

A 2009 study found that frequent use of benzalkonium chloride in less than lethal concentrations resulted in an increased resistance to the disinfectant solution, and actually led to an increase in resistance of some bacteria to the certain antibiotics.

For more information on most chemicals consult the Chemical Abstracts Service Database.