When used as a food additive, propionic acid does not result in any adverse health effects. However, either liquid or vapour exposure to the acid in its raw form can have serious health implications and can cause significant personal injuries.
Contact with the eyes can cause severe damage and in extreme cases may result in loss of vision. Skin contact with liquid and concentrated vapour can result in primary irritation and may cause severe burns. Inhalation will cause coughing, choking, headache and dizziness and will generally produce irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract with the amount of damage depending on the concentration level. The effects of ingestion include serious burns of the mouth, throat and stomach and vomiting and diarrhoea will be induced.
On the 23rd of August 2010 a spill of up to 100 litres of this toxic substance – which is commonly referred to as ‘popcorn’ – occurred on a busy public road approximately two miles outside of Banagher in County Galway. It is understood that the spill was caused when a haulage vehicle being driven by an agricultural worker overturned on a road near the Galway-Offaly border.
Media reports suggest that a number of people have sought medical attention after coming into contact with this acid spill, with at least one female motorist requiring medical attention for burns to her feet.
Galway County Council has advised anyone complaining of ill effects from propionic acid exposure to contact the Health Service Executive directly regarding the matter. However, rather unhelpfully, neither the Council’s nor the HSE’s websites contain any further information on the incident. The Council has admitted that it does not know how many motorists had actually come in contact with the propionic acid which was spilt or how many would have known that it was toxic if they had done so.
If you have been exposed to propionic acid, either as a consequence of the spill at Banagher or otherwise, you should immediately seek medical attention by contacting your GP.
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