Turpentine is a natural substance derived from pine trees and has many industrial and household applications. However, bodily exposure to turpentine through splashes, inhalation of fumes or swallowing can lead to serious health problems. Anyone exposed to turpentine should seek emergency care or contact an emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
At low levels of exposure to turpentine, defined by Occupational Safety and Health Administration as 75 parts per million, people begin to experience irritation to the nose and throat when breathing. Higher concentrations, up to 175 ppm, can lead to more serious respiratory side effects, including shortness of breath, coughing, severe throat pain, choking and chest pain. People chronically exposed to low levels of turpentine in the air over a time period of at least five years might have an increased risk of developing lung cancer. If ingested, turpentine may cause death due to respiratory failure.
Irritation of the eyes develops at exposures of 175 ppm of turpentine vapours. If turpentine splashes into the eye, people might develop severe pain, redness of the membranes (conjunctiva) surrounding the eye and abnormal twitching of the eyelid. In addition, the turpentine might cause temporary corneal erosion, which results in visual problems such as blurriness or visual distortion.
A splash of turpentine to the skin causes irritation, redness and pain to develop at and around the affected area. The skin of an exposed person might take on a bluish tinge. In addition, turpentine might cause burns where it comes into contact with the skin.
If ingested, turpentine causes serious side effects throughout the digestive system. A burning sensation might develop in the throat, followed by nausea and vomiting, possibly with blood in the vomit and abdominal pain. Diarrhoea, possibly bloody, might also occur.
People with any level of acute exposure to the chemical might experience blood or protein in their urine as well as painful urination. Damage to the kidneys might occur, which could lead to kidney failure, a serious health complication.