Personal Decontamination

Your skin can be contaminated by contact with dangerous chemicals, including some common household and lawn products; biological agents such as anthrax powder; or dust, dirt, or other substances that contain radioactive fallout. In many cases, immediately removing all traces of the harmful substance from your skin can minimize any damage.

Watering or burning eyes and stinging or burning skin are signs that you may have been exposed to something harmful. If you know or suspect a hazardous exposure has occurred, take immediate action:

  • Remove clothing, jewellery, eyeglasses, and other items that have come in contact with the substance. Seal the items in a plastic bag.
  • If you wear contact lenses, wash your hands with soap and water, and then remove your contacts.
  • Use soap and water to wash any areas of your skin that may have been contaminated—in some cases this may mean your whole body. A shower works best, but you can also use water from a faucet, a garden hose, or another source. Flush eyes with lots of water. A faucet with a hand-held sprayer works well.
  • Call Poison Control or emergency services to find out what to do next. Further medical assistance may or may not be necessary.

These are general guidelines for removing contaminants and are appropriate for many—but not all— hazardous substance exposures. Poison Control or other local authorities may have more specific instructions for you depending on what you were exposed to.

Current as ofDecember 13, 2018

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Thomas M. Bailey, MD, CCFP - Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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