Borax, or sodium borate, is a substance that is used as a detergent, water softener, antiseptic, fertiliser, pesticide and pharmaceutical additive. Borax can have negative health effects if ingested, so it's best to know which products have been exposed to borax in order to avoid the possibility of borax poisoning, which can lead to death when ingested in large amounts. If your skin is exposed to borax, wash the area thoroughly. If borax is swallowed, seek medical treatment immediately and call the National Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222.
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Toxicity in Animal Studies
The Environmental Protection Agency has classified borax as "moderately acutely toxic," with health effects such as oral and skin toxicity, as well as eye and skin irritation. This is based on several animal studies. One such study involving dogs led to blood and metabolism disorders and negative health effects on the testes, endocrine system and brain weight of dogs studied. In other animal studies involving mice and rats, borax was found to not be carcinogenic, but effects on the testes and decreases in body weight were seen in high doses. The EPA has labelled boric acid as a Group E carcinogen, meaning it has demonstrated "evidence of noncarcinogenicity" for humans.
According to the EPA, borax is not toxic to birds, fish and aquatic invertebrates, and "relatively nontoxic" to insects. The EPA has labelled Borax as a safe pesticide, but the use of borax as an herbicide may not be harmful to endangered or threatened plants.
Toxicity in Humans
Borax is very harmful to humans if swallowed or inhaled, and can lead to irritation of the eyes, skin and the respiratory tract. It may also lead to negative health effects in the central nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, liver and kidneys when ingested or inhaled. According to the National Institutes of Health, poisoning normally happens when a person accidentally ingests substances containing borax, such as powdered insect-killing products. The major symptoms of poisoning from borax are blue-green vomit, diarrhoea and a skin rash. Repeated or prolonged contact of borax with the skin may lead to dermatitis. Borax is especially harmful to children--as little as a teaspoonful can be fatal when swallowed by a young child. The infant death rate from borax poisonings is very high.
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