How hazardous substances can harm health

Last updated: 04 Mar 2020

Exposure to hazardous substances can cause range of diseases and conditions. Some might develop quickly, while others take years to develop. The nature of these conditions will depend on the substance, the form that it is in and the duration of exposure, but they can include:

  • cancer of all organs of the body
  • reproductive disorders
  • nerve and brain disorders
  • heart, lung, liver and kidney diseases
  • skin diseases
  • allergies, sensitisation and irritation of the eyes, skin and the respiratory system.

Hazardous substances come in a number of forms, including

  • chemicals, or mixtures of chemicals, such as bleach, acid, solvents or adhesives (which can come in a number of forms)
  • fumes or gases, such as those produced by welding or soldering, chlorine, carbon monoxide, paints or inks
  • liquids or mists, such as those used in metalworking, solvents, cleaning chemicals, even water
  • dusts, such as respirable crystalline silica, wood, flour, cement or metal
  • biological agents, such as fungi, bacteria and viruses.

Exposure can occur through four routes, depending on the form of the substance: inhalation; skin or eye absorption; injection and ingestion.

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