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Chronic Exposure

By: Safeopedia Staff
| Last updated: September 26, 2021

What Does Chronic Exposure Mean?

Chronic exposure refers to continuous or recurring exposure to hazardous substances over a period of three months or more.

Chronic exposure can cause a veriety of long-term adverse effects. Chronic exposure to radiation, for instance, can result in cancer, tumors, changes to the skin, genetic effects, and congenital defects.

Safeopedia Explains Chronic Exposure

Chronic exposure to harmful substances may have effects lasting months or years without any apparent symptoms. These substances can include:

  • Irritants
  • Asphyxiates
  • Narcotics or anesthetics
  • Systemic poisons
  • Carcinogens
  • Mutagens
  • Teratogens
  • Sensitizers

The effects of chronic exposure are often irreversible and the symptoms do not usually subside when the exposure stops.

Some well-known examples of chronic exposure include:

  • Asbestos exposure that can result in mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer
  • Long-term use of tobacco, which can also result in lung cancer
  • Regular consumption of alcohol over a period of years, which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver

Long-Term Disability Due to Chronic Exposure

Many health issues in the construction, metal, and chemical industries are the result of chronic exposure. Heavy metal toxicity is a major concern, as it remains present in the body in some form and affects function. Sources of heavy metals include soil erosion, weathering of the earth’s crust, mining, industrial effluents and sewage discharge.

Heavy metals that can cause chronic health effects include:

  • Arsenic: Exposure can be through air, food, and water. It can cause cancer of the lungs, liver, bladder, and skin.
  • Lead: Exposure can be through lead-based paints, gasoline, cosmetics, and industrial emissions. It can result in reduced mental capacity, birth defects, allergies, paralysis, brain and kidney damage, and death.
  • Mercury: Mercury is released into the environment by pharmaceuticals, paper and pulp preservatives, chlorine and caustic soda production, and the agricultural industry. It can cause brain and kidney damage as well as damage to a developing fetus.
  • Cadmium: Cadmium is released into the atmosphere through processes such as volcanic eruptions, mining, smelting, and smoking. It can cause kidney disease, fragile bones, and lung damage.
  • Chromium: Sources of chromium exposure include protective metal coatings, paint pigments, cement, rubber, leather tanning, and metal plating. It can cause ulcers in the nasal septum, inhibit hemoglobin production, and damage DNA.

Minimizing the Risk of Chronic Exposure

Minimizing exposure to harmful levels of hazardous substances is the best way to reduce the risks associated with them. A risk assessment can be performed for the substances that workers will be handling and the appropriate controls can be put in place, including the use of suitable personal protective equipment (PPE).

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