Sodium Hydroxide

Expected Concentrations

Sodium hydroxide is commonly used in the clandestine production of methamphetamine to change the pH of the solution to a basic pH so that it can become soluble in an organic.  It is a common ingredient in Red Devil Lye which has become a signal for a clandestine methamphetamine lab.  Many oven cleaners also have sodium hydroxide present and it can be obtained easily from chemical supply facilities.  In solution, sodium hydroxide has little to no volatility and is not normally measured in the air.  The primary health effects occur due to contact with the solution either accidentally or from spills.Current standards for sodium hydroxide are as follows:

OSHA PEL

NIOSH REL

ACGIH TLV

NIOSH IDLH

 2 mg/m3

Ceiling 2 mg/m2

Ceiling 2 mg/m3

10 mg/m3

General Health Effects

Sodium hydroxide is a severe irritant of the eyes, mucous membranes and skin.  As a solid, if it comes into contact with the eyes or skin, it will result in rapid tissue destruction.  Lesser exposures frequently range from mild irritation to severe pneumonitis.  Eye contact may cause conjunctiva and corneal damage, edema and ulceration.  Skin contact may result in severe burns and ingestion can produce abdominal pain, damage to the tongue, lips, mouth, and pharynx. Sodium hydroxide exposures have also been associated with carcinoma of the esophagus.

Health Risks to Children

Children with exposures to hydrogen chloride are likely to have similar symptoms as do adults.  Children may be more susceptible to pulmonary damage due to a greater lung surface area per body weight and a more rapid breathing rate.  The health effects may also be more pronounced due to narrower air passages in the lungs.  Children are also much more likely to ingest sodium hydroxide accidentally.  It is also possible that more damage to ingested sodium hydroxide occurs in children because their stomach acid is less likely to be able to neutralize the sodium hydroxide in the stomach.  Sodium hydroxide is a leading cause of injury to the esophagus in small children due to ingestion.

Fetal Health Risks

No risks to the unborn fetus were found.

References

Salocks, C. and Kaley, K.B.  Technical Support Document:  Toxicity Clandestine Labs: Methamphetamine.  Vol 1., Number 7. Sodium Hydroxide.  Cal/EPA.  Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.  Sacramento, CA .  2003.  10 pp.

Proctor, N.H., Hughes, J.P.  1978.  Chemical Hazards of the Workplace.  J.B. Lippincott Co.  Philadelphia, PA  533 pp.

NIOSH International Chemical Safety Cards: Sodium Hydroxide