Phosphorus trichloride toxicity
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A railroad accident in Somerville, Massachusetts, led to spillage of phosphorus trichloride liquid. Attempted clean-up with water led to the liberation of phosphorus trichloride, phosphoric acid, hydrochloric acid, and phosphorus oxides. Seventeen people exposed to this mixture were studied. Patients experienced eye irritation, lacrimination, nausea, vomiting, and dyspnea. Six patients had transient elevation of lactic dehydrogenase. Although all patients had normal chest roentgenographic findings, pulmonary function tests showed statistically significant decreases in vital capacity (p = 0.02), maximal breathing capacity (p = 0.02), forced expiratory volume in one second (p = 0.02), and maximal expiratory flow rate at 25 percent of vital capacity (p = 0.05) in those closest to the accident site. Further, patients exposed for less than one and a half hours had significantly greater maximal expiratory flow rates at 25 percent of vital capacity when compared with patients who had been exposed longer (p = 0.02). In seven patients, repeated pulmonary function tests one month later showed improvement, suggesting strongly that the acute effects may have been due to phosphorus trichloride toxicity.
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