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Chemical Burns - Wax Remover

Potassium Hydroxide

 

 

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Michael Fox, PhD.

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Wax Remover

A middle-aged woman received chemical burns while using a liquid wax remover product for 20-40 minutes to remove a wax buildup from her bathroom floor. The woman testified that she had applied one container of a wax remover-water mixture and had just made another container of a wax remover-water mixture when she fell on the bathroom floor. The wax remover was about 50% water with other ingredients.

The first container of wax remover-water was prepared as a 1-to-1 mixture and the second container was a 3-to-1 mixture (3 wax remover to 1 water). The woman, a college graduate and a trained Registered Nurse and married to an MD, also testified that she read the label and understood the label, including the "corrosive effect" of the wax remover and that she knew to "immediately" flush with water when contaminated (wet) with the wax remover.

It was not until after she fell and spilled some of the second mixture on the floor that she took off the long handle from the brush she had been using and got down on her hands and knees with the brush. Given that she did not start the project on her hands and knees, but began that position about halfway through the project, a 40-minute estimate for exposure time seems to maximize the exposure time. She did not notice any burning sensations and only removed her jeans after noticing that they were wet. It was at that time that she became concerned about burns to her legs and then rinsed off for 20 minutes in the shower.

To experimentally determine the ability of the evidence wax remover to cause skin burns, Dr. Fox applied the evidence wax remover to his left forearm in an area about the size of a Silver Dollar. He did not dilute the Evidence wax remover but applied it full strength. The target area on his left forearm was re-wet with more evidence wax remover every 5 minutes until a total exposure time of 40 minutes was achieved. The entire application and re-wetting process was videotaped. At the 40-minute mark Dr. Fox rinsed his forearm with flowing tap water for 15 minutes, which was 5 minutes less than the 20-minute rinse time used by the woman.

For the first 24 hours after the exposure, the exposed area appeared "shinny" or "crusty" perhaps as the result of a de-fatting process, which would be expected from exposure of skin to an alkaline solution. No medical treatment whatsoever was applied to the exposed test area at any time before or after the exposure.


5 Hours After 40-Minute Exposure to Undiluted Evidence Wax Remover


65 Hours After 40-Minute Exposure to Undiluted Evidence Wax Remover

There were no permanent serious or even minor chemical burns whatsoever to the exposed area. It should be kept in mind that the wax remover used in this skin test was the evidence wax remover at full strength (not diluted with any water). It is also important that the exposure time was for the full 40 minutes that was estimated from the start of the woman's project to the moment she noticed she was contaminated (wet) and removed her jeans. Furthermore, the skin test rinse time was 5 minutes less than the woman's rinse time. The test exposure received absolutely no medical treatment whatsoever, whereas the woman received medical treatment by a dermatologist shortly after her exposure and then more medical treatment at a hospital later in the day.

The woman also testified that she threw away her jeans. Had the jeans not been thrown away, they might have been analyzed for residual chemicals. Nevertheless, a pair of jeans were soaked in an exemplar 100% wax remover solution for 17 hours to determine if there might be any degradation of the jeans that would warrant their disposal. The result was that if one did not know what portion of the jeans had been exposed to the 100% wax remover for 17 hours, one could not tell which portion had been exposed. In other words, there was no deterioration of the jeans whatsoever and clearly no reason to dispose of the jeans. They are still fully functional jeans.

The expert for the woman in this case testified that it was the potassium hydroxide (KOH) in the evidence wax remover that caused the woman's burns. The MSDS for the wax remover indicates that the KOH concentration is 6% by weight. However, an actual chemical analysis of the evidence wax remover showed that the concentration of KOH was only 1.7%.

While "concentrated" solutions of KOH can cause chemical burns with prolonged exposures, a 1.7% dilute solution of KOH would not be expected to cause serious chemical burns unless exposed for a very long time far in excess of 40 minutes.

In summary, the woman's testimony about what happened was not consistent with experimental testing on human skin. Based on the results of the skin tests, using full-strength evidence wax remover for a full 40 minutes, the woman's burns were inconsistent with being exposed to diluted evidence wax remover for 20-40 minutes. Furthermore, the 17-hour exposure of jeans to full-strength wax remover does not support any reason to have disposed of the jeans.

The case settled before trial.

Dr. Fox has his Ph.D. in physical chemistry and has extensive experience in chemical-related safety, OSHA, EPA and DOT regulations. He specializes in complex industrial chemical accidents as well as chemical-related consumer product injuries. He is also a Certified Fire & Explosion Investigator and has investigated many high-profile chemical fires and explosions.