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ACUTE EXPOSURE INFORMATION

  1. USES: Phosphine (PH3) is a colorless, flammable toxic gas used in the semiconductor industry. It is also used as a fumigant, polymerization initiator, and as an intermediate for the preparation flame retardants. When pure, it is odorless, but technical grade samples have an unpleasant odor similar to garlic or rotting fish. Phosphine can also be generated in illicit methamphetamine labs, especially production involving red phosphorus, hydriodic acid, and ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Phosphine is produced when red phosphorus is heated in the presence of acids. The vast majority of exposures are inhalational; when used as a fumigant, pellets of aluminum phosphide, calcium phosphide, or zinc phosphide release phosphine upon contact with atmospheric water or an organism's stomach acid. Phosphine is a gas at room temperature, so ingestion is unlikely. Toxicity from ingestion of aluminum phosphide or zinc phosphide are covered in separate managements.
  1. TOXICOLOGY: Phosphine exerts its toxic effects via inhibition of cytochrome oxidase and generation of free radical damage. Injury occurs primarily after inhalation exposure, though toxicity can occur from ingestion or transdermal contamination. Phosphine gas may form explosive mixtures with air and self ignite. When phosphine burns, a dense white cloud of phosphorus pentoxide, a severe respiratory irritant, is formed. Phosphine breaks down in water.
  1. EPIDEMIOLOGY: Human poisoning is uncommon, but occurs worldwide and can be fatal.
  1. WITH POISONING/EXPOSURE
    1. MILD TO MODERATE TOXICITY: Exposure to phosphine gas may cause nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, thirst, chest tightness, dyspnea, cough productive of sputum, jaundice, elevated liver enzymes, muscle pains, dizziness, headache, fatigue, ataxia, paresthesias, irritation of mucous membranes, acute renal failure with proteinuria, and hematopoietic cancers.
    1. SEVERE TOXICITY: More severe exposures may cause tachycardia and hypotension, metabolic acidosis, ventricular dysrhythmias, seizures, coma, acute lung injury (which may be delayed), and death. Direct contact with phosphine liquid may cause frostbite, but phosphine gas is not known to produce adverse effects on the skin. Phosphine gas produces no known adverse effects on the eyes. Contact with the skin or eyes to phosphine gas does not normally result in systemic toxicity.
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